By Sarah Toce
“This is one shady operation, walk there yourself,” wrote concerned citizen Michele Smith to Burien City Manager Brian Wilson.
The subject of that email is the recent, ongoing tree destruction at the Westmark Emerald Pointe construction site near SW 136th and Ambaum Blvd. SW:
Residents in the area said they believed the forest clear-cutting has potential to damage the hillside and even cause landslides during the upcoming winter months when heavy rain is usually prevalent. They also commented on environmental damage that could be caused to Seahurst Park and the stream below.
Burien City Manager Brian Wilson’s office confirmed via email on October 10, 2019 that the City is monitoring the pre-development work happening now and that permits were issued in October, 2016 with a road being installed one year later in 2017. On October 9, 2019, staff from Community Development, PaRCs, and Public Works walked the site and talked with the contractor. They confirmed that the work currently underway is in preparation for two detention ponds, both on the downhill, west side of the site, and that all work underway is consistent with the approved plan.
Smith pushed on in her response:
“Why is the City not monitoring a hillside clearing on a critical slope with high landslide potential? I was told on our slope we have to plant a tree for every tree removed. And what has OSHA said about the liability? There are literally no safety precautions in place while this clear cutting is taking place. It is beyond disturbing that the City is turning a blind eye. Will the environmental damage be permanent? Will someone get injured by felling trees?”
On Monday, Oct. 14, despite promises by the city that work would stop, Smith witnessed further destruction, and posted this on Facebook:
“This company is raping 9 acres unmonitored above the stream and Environmental Science Center at Seahurst Park. They are using no sediment or erosion barriers nor are they using discretion when felling trees over our trails and neighbors have almost been struck. It’s mind boggling to me that the city is not monitoring this and that the clear cut is happening on this grade literally days before rainy season. Please get involved. Email or call the Burien city council.”
Official photos available to the public include an aerial map, site diagram and landscaping plan for the Westmark project. The maps are available at the counter at Burien City Hall.
In a Letter to the Editor published on The B-Town Blog on Oct. 10, 2019, longtime Burien resident Eric Mathison wrote:
“Developers of the Emerald Point apartment project signed an agreement after a lengthy lawsuit brought by the Burien community group, Friends of Seahurst Park. The agreement is very specific on what they can and cannot do and the extensive mitigation required if they go ahead with this environmentally damaging project above the city’s largest park.”
Mathison added, “I am concerned that now the scrutiny is off them they are going ahead and doing what they want without regard to the agreement. My understanding is they agreed not to construct buildings west of Building 7 at Sound Vista condos. The past week, they have bulldozed past that point almost to trails extensively used by the public above Seahurst Park.”
According to the Friends of Seahurst Park:
“Planning for the Emerald Pointe project at SW 136th and Ambaum was started over 23 years ago, but had not been able to move forward because of legal issues over the potential environmental impacts to the steep slopes, wetlands, and Seahurst Park.”
On April 1, 2013, Neighbors of Seahurst Park filed a Land Use Petition trying to stop Westmark from clearing the land. The Land Use Petition followed the first construction permit issued to Westmark by the City of Burien on March 11, 2013. KING5.com has further background to these happenings here and here.
In a press release on September 16, 2013, Neighbors of Seahurst Park provided an update on the appeal settlement with Westmark. Westmark agreed to voluntary mitigation on the development by reducing the number of buildings in the Emerald Pointe development by omitting two apartment buildings and the outdoor pool, reducing their footprint by 30%; retaining more significant trees near the wetlands (40 trees vs. 8); increasing the protective buffer to the wetland by 43 feet (108 feet vs. 65) and agreeing to clear non-native species by hand under the direction of a qualified wetlands scientist or botanist; the planting of native species on the developed portion of the site; the installation of rain gardens to reduce storm water runoff; trail development; and the improvement of the original storm water system with a newly improved dispersal spreader design.
THE CITY RESPONDS
A city official told The B-Town Blog on Oct. 7, 2019 that the city had a plan – Westmark’s permit would expire on Friday, Oct. 11, and the city would deny their renewal on it, thus stopping their work.
But that doesn’t appear to be the case, as work continued unabated Monday morning.
The City of Burien released the following statement on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019:
“Prior to the City of Burien’s 1993 incorporation, Westmark Emerald Pointe LLC submitted permits to King County to build multiple multifamily development buildings for a property on 1300 SW 136th St. The permit applications were transferred to the City of Burien when the city incorporated in 1993. Soon after incorporation, the permits became a topic of litigation. There have been a number of appeals, hearings, and SEPA determinations being adjudicated and challenged. In 2016, the City of Burien issued seven permits to Westmark Emerald Pointe LLC: one for clearing and grading, five for building permits, and one shoring permit. They were given a one-year extension in 2018.
“During the week of October 7, 2019, Westmark Emerald Pointe LLC began clearing and grading under a valid clearing and grading permit. They are allowed to keep working on clearing and grading under that permit as long as they follow the directions laid out in the hearing examiner’s decision (download PDF file here) from September 2013.
“City staff are monitoring the contractor’s compliance with the 2013 hearing examiner’s conditions, which includes among other things erosion control, planting, and revegetation. The clearing and grading permit includes an erosion and sediment control plan and City staff will be monitoring for compliance.
“Questions? Please contact Susan McLain, Community Development Director, City of Burien, firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Below are videos that show the amount of clear-cutting that’s been going on:
We reached out to a representative at Westmark for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.