Citycouncil puts the kibosh on Seagrass condos

Published on Thu, Sep 15, 2005 by ack Kintner

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City council puts the kibosh on Seagrass condos

By Jack Kintner

In one of the first split votes in years, and in the face of threatened legal action, the Blaine City Council narrowly decided 4-3 this week not to consider last-minute changes the Trillium Corporation wants to make in their site plans for the proposed Seagrass condominium development on Semiahmoo spit.

In doing so, the council closed the door on Trillium’s attempt to change objectional features in its original site plan that caused both city staff and the Blaine planning commission to recommend to the council that they deny approval for the project.

Trillium initially asked to make changes to its plan on August 22, the city council meeting at which, following the planning commission’s lengthy review, the council received the proposal and began their own deliberations. Consultant Roland Harper said at the time that the council had three issues before it: to approve or deny the plat itself, its configuration as a planned unit development (PUD) and whether or not to approve a shoreline substantial development permit for the project, required because of the project’s cost and close proximity to the shoreline.

When they learned that Trillium wanted to make some changes in their plan, however, in remarks made by Blaine community development director Terry Galvin, the council decided to delay action until they could be advised by city attorney Jon Sitkin on how to proceed, and no decisions were made on any of the questions. Three days later Trillium’s attorney, Alexander “Sandy” Mackie of Olympia, sent a letter to Sitkin threatening legal action, citing several instances in which he claimed that the staff and the planning commission had been in error. “The concerns raised above, and in the attached materials, give rise to a proper claim of damage by Trillium within the [scope] of the statute,” the letter concludes.

Under Blaine’s approval process, applicants are allowed to modify their plans up until the close of the public comment period, according to Sitkin. Trillium’s proposed modifications were unveiled several months after the deadline, but Sitkin advised the council that they had the power to make an exception for Trillium and consider the changes they proposed.

He outlined a procedure in a letter sent out to council members after the August 22 meeting that requires two council votes. At this week’s work session before their regular meeting they were to consider first whether or not to address the issue at all. If they voted to do this, then they would consider the modifications themselves at the next work session set for September 19.

The proposed 22-acre development at the east end of Semiahmoo County Park, originally proposed in the early 1980s as a part of the over-all Semiahmoo development and then re-submitted in modified form three years ago, would allow 72 owner-built condominium units in duplexes. Modifications introduced at the August 22 meeting included cutting three lots from the east end of the development on the Drayton Harbor (south) shoreline, combining the duplex units in the middle of the peninsula into seven four-plexes, adding a six-plex and eliminating a proposed and controversial relocation of Semiahmoo Parkway. Not relocating the road also means that the well-known eagle snag would stay in its present location. A two-story parking garage would also remain near the east end of the 22-acre parcel. The number of living units would be reduced by eight, from 72 to 64.

In discussions during the council work session prior to its scheduled meeting, councilman Ken Ely said that his understanding was “that as a practical matter, it’s like a house plan where you get into it and then decide you don’t like it and want to make some changes. It’s hard to consider the practicality of beginning the process all over again.”
Council member Bob Brunkow expressed concern at setting a precedent, “stopping the process and making changes like this. We’re short circuiting the process by making an exception that also sets a precedent. ”

Council member Marsha Hawkins agreed, adding that “all of a sudden there’s a new plan. Makes me feel railroaded. We need to follow our process.”

Also at issue was how much of the record generated so far by the proceedings would remain if the application were to be remanded back to the planning commission with changes.

Sitkin responded by saying that “there are legitimate positions on each side, one side wanting to save time and effort while responding to changes as against the council’s intention to see the process out to the end.”

The council then adjourned for a half-hour executive session prior to the 7 p.m. meeting at which they discussed Mackie’s threatened litigation for damages on Trillium’s behalf. Later in the evening, during regular business, the decision was made, beginning with Trillium attorney Jack Grant and mayor Liebert working out appropriate wording for a motion allowing Trillium to present its changes to the Seagrass proposal to the council next Monday, September 19. The council would then choose whether or not to remand it back to the planning commission after reviewing the changes.

Councilman Ely stated the motion and Liebert seconded, but when the role call vote was taken only councilman Mike Myers voted with Ely and Liebert. Hawkins, Bruce Wolf, Bonnie Onyon and Brunkhow voted no. For Trillium to modify its proposal at this point would require starting over at the beginning with a new proposal.

Next Monday the council meets in a 5:15 p.m. work session to consider two appeals to rulings made on Trillium’s application by Terry Galvin acting as Blaine’s state environmental policy official.