Applications Begin with Environment Impact Statements
In the Fall of 2009, Yarrow Bay, a major land developer in Western WA, proposed two major Master Planned Developments (MPD’s) comprising over 6,000 homes and over 1.1 million sq ft of commercial/business space in the City of Black Diamond. This would quintuple (not a misprint!) the current population of 4,000. These are the largest MPDs in King County history.
The first step of the process was their submission of draft Environmental Impact Statements (EIS’) to the city. At this time, large signs went up at the various property locations surrounding the existing city. This was the first time many citizens became aware of the expected developments.
Final Environmental Impact Statements (EIS’s) were released in December of 2009, coinciding directly with the holidays. A few dedicated and heroic citizens in Black Diamond and the surrounding area gave up much of their holiday that year and began filing an appeal to these flawed and rushed EIS’s.
Master Planned Development Application and Appeal Hearings
Yarrow Bay went ahead in early 2010 and filed their Master Planned Development applications – one for “The Villages” MPD and one for the “Lawson Hills” MPD. In March of 2010, hearings began before a Hearing Examiner (like a judge in these matters) for both the legal appeal to the EIS, and public input for the MPD applications. Hundreds of comments were received from citizens, adjacent cities, King County, and WSDOT- 99% negative!
After the spring hearings, the Hearing Examiner found that the EIS’s met the very low threshold of State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) adequacy, but many deficiencies were found as well. Consequently, he imposed over 150 conditions on the approval of the MPD applications.
In the summer of 2010, the Black Diamond City Council received the Hearing Examiner’s recommendations and then held “Closed Record” public hearings on the MPD Applications.
On the first night of the closed record hearings, council women Leih Mulvihill and Kristine Hanson recused themselves. Mulvihill faced challenges on her ability to fairly judge the projects from six people who gave examples of her bias in favor of Yarrow Bay. Mulvihill began defending herself, but decided to leave the proceedings after the six spoke. Hanson stepped away next, stating her property abuts The Villages development site.
The three remaining council members stated their ability to act fairly, some despite objections from Yarrow Bay at memberships in the Lake Sawyer Community Club. However, in an interesting turn of events the following night, council man Bill Boston changed his statement that he could be fair despite his past Lake Sawyer Community Club membership and also recused himself. The proceedings were then stalled without a quorum as only two council members remained. The stall didn’t last long – a “doctrine of necessity” was invoked, and all council members were brought back to continue and vote anyway.
Hearings before City Council and Approval
The Closed Record hearings on the MPD Applications began, and although only those who had testified previously in the open record hearings were allowed to speak again, most of those citizens testified again orally or in writing. The hearings lasted weeks. Once again, adjacent cities and King County testified 99% negative. This was the only time the city council was able to hear and see the testimony. No dialogue was allowed.
After the hearings concluded, the council held deliberation sessions. Some of their statements clearly demonstrated misunderstanding of the testimony or the facts. Unfortunately, no process was allowed to correct the information. When City Council deliberations ended on September 20, it was decided to approve the MPD Applications. There were over 150 conditions, some watered down or changed from what the hearing examiner had recommended.
Development Agreements Move Ahead
On September 21 (yes, the very next day!), Yarrow Bay submitted to the City draft Development Agreements that outline the plan over the next 15 – 20 years for the design, development, and build-out of the MPDs. A Citizens’ Technical Team immediately formed to review those Development Agreements to ensure compliance with the MPD Approval Ordinances, Black Diamond Municipal Code, and Black Diamond Comprehensive Plan. The result was a 28-page document containing 274 comments and questions, submitted to the City Staff on November 5, 2011.