Commissioners Vote Split 2-to-1 Against GNA Appeal

On Tuesday, County Commissioners faced a standing room only crowd of Steamboat Peninsula residents, wearing “No Conference Center” stickers, to vote 2-to-1 against the Griffin Neighborhood Association appeal to declare the conference center application to be expired. While the Commissioners admitted county staff made errors in the handling of the timelines associated with the application, Diane Oberquell and Cathy Wolfe voted to allow the application to go forward. Bob Macleod expressed concerns that this or any developer could, as reported in The Olympian, tie up projects for years by “banking development rights” only to “have them be reviewed later under archaic guidelines.” Macleod voted with the GNA.

You may want to read that again. The commissioners agreed that our county staff should have monitored the approval process deadlines better. But, county staff didn’t, so the application to build a large, commercial conference center, on residential property, can move forward. Incredible.

In related news, the Thurston County League of Women Voters has officially come out against the conference center. In an email to commissioners, E.L. Johnson, president of the League, wrote, “The availability of water, sewer, roads and other utilities cannot sustain a large development on that small tract of land. We join [the] Griffin Neighborhood Association in opposing this effort to put a totally inappropriate ‘community center’ in an area designated rural.” The Olympian is reporting that Johnson said, at Tuesday’s meeting, “The cost of that project will be borne by everyone from Tenino on up to Lacey.” “A variance is not called for.”

What This Means – When the Application is Complete

At any time convenient to them, the Willis Family Trust will file the Environmental Impact Statement required by the County to complete the application. There will then be a public hearing on whether to grant the Special Use Permit required to allow this commercial facility to be built on land zoned for residential use.

Public testimony will be taken, at the hearing, and you had better believe that your neighbors and the Griffin Neighborhood Association will be there.

When will that happen? The County has given this developer carte blanche to take however long they want.

What This Means – Possible Legal Action

Meanwhile, legal counsel for the GNA is awaiting the Commissioner’s vote on whether to issue a formal written decision on this appeal. The Board and its lawyer will review that decision and will need to choose whether to appeal the county’s ruling to the Thurston County Superior Court or abandon a challenge in the courts.

A decision to challenge the conference center in court cannot be made without the financial support of the community. Click here to contribute to the GNA legal fund.

If we succeed, in Superior Court, we will not only squash this application, but we will set an important precedent which can be used by others seeking to ensure that development applications are handled by the County in a timely manner.

A case before the Superior Court will also put us in an excellent position if we need to appeal a decision by the County to grant the Special Use Permit, or if we need to defend an appeal by the Willis Family Trust, should the County deny their application.

What You Can Do

Do you feel that developers should not be able to grab residential land for their commercial use? Do you think large, commercial developments are out of place in our rural community? What do you think about the county’s decision to let this building go up along a two-lane road, sending traffic through the interchange with US-101 (to say nothing of that underpass heading south with the intersection of WA-8)? Does your idea of a “community center” include a for-profit facility which competes with the Little Creek Casino, St. Martin’s University, and the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center?

Make your opinion known.

Tell your neighbors. Ask them to visit our web site to learn more about this development.

Click here to write a letter to the Editor of The Olympian. Stuck on some of the details? Click here for plenty of information about this development.

Join the Griffin Neighborhood Association. If you’re not yet a member, we need your support. We don’t want the Willis Family Trust and their plans to keep us from our other projects on the peninsula, such as our partnership with the Griffin Fire Department and Griffin School District to prepare for major disasters. Join us online at https://steamboatisland.org/joinus/

Together, we can work to ensure that large, commercial facilities that don’t serve our community won’t get built near our school, our homes, or our shorelines.

Commissioners to Announce Conference Center Decision Tuesday, Feb 20 at 4PM

On Tuesday, February 20 at 4PM, the County Commissioners will announce their decision regarding an appeal made by the Griffin Neighborhood Association against the Conference Center.

No public testimony will be taken.

The GNA Board is asking all opponents of the Conference Center to turn out and demonstrate their opposition to this project.

Last year, the GNA asked the county to declare the application to build the Center had expired. When the county refused to do so, the GNA went to a Hearing Examiner for the County. The Hearing Examiner found the developer of the Conference Center was under no deadline to complete the Environmental Impact Study requested by the county more than a year ago. The EIS is required for the county to consider the application for approval.

The GNA appealed the decision of the hearing examiner and filed legal arguments with the County Commissioners. This Tuesday we will hear the decision of the Commissioners on that appeal.

If the Commissioners rule against the Conference Center, any new application to build would be filed under more restrictive rules for facilities of this kind. Even the representative of the conference center developer has admitted an application made under the current regulations is unlikely to pass.

If the Commissioners rule against the GNA, we will have to decide whether to take our appeal to the courts. We could only do that with the continued financial support of those in the community who don’t want to see residential property converted for commercial use in the way necessary to grant the Special Use Permit.

Join the GNA for the Commissioner’s meeting this Tuesday afternoon. We will have stickers to wear, so the Commissioners will know where we stand on the project, even if we cannot speak at the meeting.

Meeting of the County Commissioners
Tuesday, February 20
4PM
Thurston County Courthouse
2000 Lakeridge Road, Building 1
Click here for a map.

To download a poster you can put in your car, click here

To contribute to our legal fund, click here

For more information on this project, see our web site here

State Legislature Works to Close “Vesting” Loophole That Could Benefit Developers

Vesting refers to the ability of a land owner to lock in (“vest”) the right to develop property consistent with existing zoning laws and other development regulations, so that the development is not subject to subsequent changes in zoning or development laws.

Washington, however, has an approach to vesting that allows irresponsible developers to surprise communities and circumvent the community’s vision for their future.

There are basically three points in time that different states use to determine vesting rights. In most (about 30) states, a landowner vests when they have obtained approval for the project and taken substantial steps to develop the property. In most of the remaining states, landowners vest when they actually obtain a permit.

Washington is in the minority in allowing vesting to occur so early in the process – all a developer need do is apply for certain permits.

While developers and others should be assured a reasonable level of certainty in the rules after investing substantial sums in the development process, Washington’s liberal vesting rules create major loopholes for irresponsible developers seeking to sidestep community standards.

Representatives Simpson (D-47th Legislative District) and Williams (D-22nd Legislative District) have sponsored HB 1463. Companion bill SB 5507 has been introduced by a number of Senators. The effect of these bills will bring Washington’s vesting rules up the standard the majority of states are using and close this loophole that gives developers an easy way around new protections for critical areas, farmland, and rural communities.

Click on the links above to read the bills, track their progress and tell your elected representatives where you stand on the issue of property vesting rules in Washington state.

Controversies Over Geoduck Harvesting Apparent in Hearing Over House Bills

Steamboat area residents with waterfront property are probably already familiar with some of the questions surrounding commercial shellfish harvesting, particularly some of the techniques employed to harvest geoduck. It is no surprise, then, to read in The Olympian about hearings held on two bills presently working their way through committees in the State House.

Where does the truth lie? Is geoduck harvesting harmful to the environment or does the benefits to the Sound of shellfish outweigh some of the practices employed by harvesters?

House Bill 1547, sponsored by Gig Harbor Democrat Pat Lantz, would prevent the state Department of Natural Resources from granting new geoduck farm leases on state-owned lands until scientists figure out whether the practices cause environmental damage.

House Bill 1728, was introduced by our own Representative Bill Eickmeyer on behalf of the growers. It extols the benefits of the shellfish industry. It seeks to streamline regulation and create a job in the state Department of Agriculture to promote the industry.

Click on the links above to learn more about these two bills and to make your opinion known to Representative Eickmeyer.

Building Industry Opposes “Homeowner’s Bill of Rights” – UPDATED

“In Washington state, you’ve got more consumer-protection rights when you buy a $25 toaster than you do when buying a $500,000 home, says a former high-stakes trial lawyer who now heads the Senate consumer protection committee.

Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island, wants to change that, but his “Homeowner Bill of Rights” proposals are facing tough opposition from builders as well as fellow Democrats.”

The paragraphs above appear in the Seattle P-I on February 5 and is regarding SB 5550, now in committee.

The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) has vowed to kill the bill. “These bills are at the top of our agenda right now — we want them dead,” said Erin Shannon, spokeswoman for the BIAW.

If enacted, the bill would require that:

  • For two years, the home is free from defects in materials and workmanship.
  • For three years, the home is free from defects in electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilating systems.
  • For five years, the home is free from defects resulting from water penetration.
  • For 10 years, the home is free from structural defects.

One would think a trade group that was honest and ethical would support reform. Why honest builders continue to support the BIAW – an organization that has lost so much credibility over the last 2 years, is beyond me.

There are a lot of homeowners who have either experienced the kinds of shoddy workmanship SB 5550 is targetting, or know of someone who has. What do you think about regulation of this kind? Click here to read more about the bill and to contact your representatives regarding your support or opposition. While you’re about it, click here to contact Tom McCabe, Executive Vice President of the BIAW regarding his organization’s position on the bill.

UPDATE:

Representative Williams, D-Olympia in the 22nd Legislative District, prime sponsor of House Bill 1935: The Homeowners’ Bill of Rights, wrote an editorial that appeared in the Olympian. Click here to read that piece, which was published February 11.

A companion to the Williams editorial was this piece, written by Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester in the 20th Legislative District.

MARK MESSINGER

Annual Meeting Updates Public on Conference Center, New GNA Board Elected – UPDATED

More than 200 people met in the Griffin School Cafeteria January 31st to get an update on the Conference Center application and to elect a new Board for the Griffin Neighborhood Association. Reporters and a photographer from The Olympian were on hand and an article describing the meeting appeared in the next day’s paper. The Conference Center is planned by a developer from California, the Willis Family Trust.

An attorney hired by the Association, Tom Bjorgen, delivered a brief description of the steps we have taken to oppose construction of the Center. He then took questions from the audience. At the end of more than an hour on the Conference Center, Jerry Handfield, outgoing Chair of the GNA, literally passed a hat to those assembled. By the end of the night, nearly $3000 had been collected to help offset our current legal expenses.

Voting members of the Association in attendance returned 14 of last year’s Board members. Kathy O’Connor, who has worked tirelessly on the County’s Cluster Development Task Force and has represented Association interests elsewhere with the County, has moved just outside the boundaries of the Griffin School District. Bob Whitener, an executive with the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Island Enterprises, was voted to replace O’Connor.

Conference Center Update

Tom Bjorgen described efforts by the Association to convince the County to declare the application has lapsed. While the Willis Family Trust has not yet filed the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) required by the County, a Hearing Examiner in December decided the application would not lapse.

If the application were to lapse, Robert Patrick of the planning firm Patrick Harron & Associates in Lacey, hired by the Willis Family Trust, has been quoted as agreeing that current county zoning would not allow the conference center to be built.

County Commissioners to Announce Decision on February 20 – Please Join Us at That Meeting

The Association has appealed the decision by the Hearing Examiner. The County Commissioners will announce their decision on whether to declare the application to be lapsed in public session on February 20 at 4 PM, at the Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Road, Building 1, Olympia.

All members of the public are encouraged to attend this meeting. While the public will not be permitted to speak, either to oppose or support the project, it is important that we make our opposition to the project known to the Commissioners. GNA members will be on hand to distribute stickers which we can wear to express our position against this project.

Unfortunately, the public cannot contact the County Commissioners on this matter, prior to the decision on February 20. The attorney for the GNA has filed the necessary legal arguments and individual Commissioners would have to recuse themselves from the decision, were they to have specific conversations with us about this appeal.

Next Steps, If the Application Is Not Lapsed

If, on February 20, the Commissioners decide the application has not lapsed, it will be up to the Willis Family Trust to complete their application with an EIS. Once their application is complete, there will be a public hearing on whether the County should issue the Special Use Permit required for the application. This will be a public meeting and we will want all our neighbors to turn out to testify against granting the permit.

We have no known date for any public hearings on the Special Use Permit.

If the County Commissioners rule, on February 20, the application is not lapsed, the GNA may choose to take the matter to Superior Court. To do so, we will need the financial support of the community.

What Can You Do, Right Now?

  1. Attend the Commissioner’s meeting on February 20 at 4PM. Bring 2 friends with you.
  2. Make a contribution to the GNA Legal Fund. Click here to make contributions online or by mail (checks payable to “GNA”) to 4931 Oyster Bay Rd., Olympia, WA 98502-9548.
  3. Display a “No Conference Center” sign on your car, home, and place of business. Click here for your copy.
  4. Tell your friends, “The conference center is not dead.” They can get more information online at www.GriffinNeighbors.org.
  5. Join the Griffin Neighborhood Association. As this application moves forward, we will continue to coordinate effective efforts to oppose it. Click here to join the GNA.

UPDATED: An editorial, written by GNA Board member Steve Lundin, was published in the Olympian on February 11. Click here to read that editorial. Better yet, read the editorial and then attach your own comments, about the conference center, on the Olympian’s web site.

Click here to read our prior Conference Center Update.

Noise Abatement Bills Worth Supporting

Off-road vehicle noise can be a real problem, here in rural Thurston County. Two bills, one in the state Senate and the other in the state House, are well worth supporting. Griffin residents may express support by calling the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. You may also email your support of these bills by visiting the web site of the Washington State Legislature.

To address the need for peace and quiet in homes in residential neighborhoods, free from unnecessary engine noise from Off Road Vehicles (ORVs), this legislation sets reasonable limits on noise from recreational ORV operation in residential neighborhoods, sets fines, and allows costs and fees to be reimbursed to a party who has to sue to enforce the law.

Sets Reasonable Limits

  • It reduces allowable tailpipe noise from 105 decibels to 96 decibels, consistent with the national standard and industry recommendations.
  • It makes it a violation of the motor vehicle code (RCW 46.09) and the Noise Control Act (RCW 70.107) to cause noise from an ORV in a residential neighborhood that can be heard inside or immediately adjacent to a residence.

This new state law provision is reasonable because it focuses on keeping noise out of homes. It supplements the current decibel noise limits for ORVs in state regulation and is easier and less costly to enforce. It also does not unnecessarily restrict ORV use as long as the ORV is operated so that noise cannot be heard in and around the home. This legislation does not change any of the current exemptions set in state regulation (173-60-050).

  • It establishes reasonable lengths of time where ORV noise can exceed decibel standards set in current state regulation for express purposes, such as loading and unloading the ORV for transport.

Sets Fines

  • It establishes penalties for violations ranging from $100 for the first violation and increasing penalties for subsequent violations, up to a maximum of $800.

Allows Costs and Fees

  • It allows attorneys fees and costs to the prevailing party who brings an action to enforce the noise standards.

This legislation does not prevent local governments from taking actions under local ordinances in addition to those authorized by this legislation.

The increasing use of ORVs in residential neighborhoods, especially rural ones, is disrupting the peace and quiet of communities and negatively impacting the health of residents. This legislation allows simple, common sense tools to be available to neighbors so that peace and quiet can continue to be available in residential areas.

These bills are SB 5544 and HB 1434. Click on the links, in the bill numbers, for more details regarding each.

Transportation Lobby Day – February 6

FutureWise asks, “How can you influence your Legislators about transportation issues that are important to you?

The answer is: Come to Transportation Lobby Day 2007!

Mark your calendars now for Transportation Lobby Day – February 6.

This year transportation lobby day will be focusing on 4 major priorities:

1. Carbon Assessments
2. Mobility Education
3. Revising State Transportation Goals
4. Additional Revenue and Policy Changes for Local Sidewalks, Bike Lanes, and Transit

Participants in lobby day will meet with Legislators, view presentations by special guests, network with fellow transportation advocates, and having a big impact on the transportation decisions that are made in 2007.

Representative Judy Clibborn, the new Chair of the House Transportation Committee will be our guest of honor and give us her take on what’s happening in the Puget Sound region.

This year FutureWise is teaming up with other partners in the environmental community – including All Aboard Washington, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, the Cascade Bicycle Club, Feet First, Sierra Club, Transportation Choices Coalition and WashPIRG – to make a big splash in Olympia.

RSVP NOW: megan@futurewise.org

What: Transportation Lobby Day
When: February 6, 2007; 9:00am – 4:00pm
Where: United Churches of Olympia, 110 11th Avenue SE (across the street from the Capitol),Olympia

For more information, visit the FutureWise web site.

Thurston County Hearing Thursday, Jan 11 on Renewing the Residential Subdivision Moratorium

Last year the Thurston County Board of County Commissioners issued a development moratorium on all new subdivisions in unincorporated Thurston County, protecting our oyster beds, working farms, and drinking water supply. Now the Commissioners are being pressured to lift this moratorium.

This Thursday, January 11th at 6pm, there is a public hearing on Renewing the Moratorium on Residential Subdivision at the Thurston County Courthouse (Building One) in Room 280, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Olympia, WA 98502-1045. It is critical that we are there to speak in support of keeping this protection. Arriving early increases you chance of testifying.

We believe the work that must be done before the moratorium can be lifted is not yet complete.

The Board of County Commissioners did the right thing by stopping the continued creation of substandard lots in unincorporated Thurston County. These substandard lots:

  • Put Puget Sound and oyster beds are risk by allowing high density development in rural areas.
  • Allow the subdivision of current unprotected working farms.
  • Increase costs to taxpayers by allowing land development that will require urban services where they will expensive to provide.
  • Put drinking water supplies at risk by allowing high density development in areas that contribute to drinking water for county property owners and residents.
  • Harm the character of Thurston County by allowing urban style developments in rural areas.

The moratorium will continue to prevent these adverse impacts on Thurston County.

However, we believe the best reason for retaining the moratorium is to allow continued quality staff time and public input into the County’s comprehensive plan. Retaining the moratorium will:

  • Retain choices for Thurston County as it updates its comprehensive plan. Preventing inappropriate vesting allows the county to update its plan without having to worry that the new plan will be undermined by poorly planned vested developments.
  • Conserve resources. The moratorium will allow limited county staff to focus on the updating the plan rather than reviewing poorly planned developments.

Please attend Thursday’s hearing and testify!

Conference Center Update

It is again time to provide an update on the status of the proposed Steamboat Island Community Center at the corner of Steamboat Island and Sunrise Beach roads. More than 100 of our neighbors attended our public meeting on the proposal that we held in June of this year. Most opposed this project.

The Griffin Neighborhood Association (GNA) needs additional money to continue our opposition to this project. We have hired a local land use attorney to assist in opposing this project. Please send your contributions, payable to “GNA” to: Griffin Neighborhood Association, 4931 Oyster Bay Road, NW, Olympia, WA, 98502. Use the memo field, on your check, to note the contribution is for the “GNA Legal Fund.” Contributions may also be made online at the GNA’s website. Click here to make a contribution, over a secure internet connection, using your credit card.

The GNA feels that this project violates the county zoning code. It is proposed to be located in a single family residential zone, not a commercial zone. The applicant filed for a special use permit authorizing a “community club”. This project does not meet the definition of a community club, which is “a building in which members of a community or association may gather for social, educational or cultural activities.” A full-scale banquet kitchen is proposed. This is a 18,000 square foot conference/convention center that is more than twice the size of Saint Martin’s Worthington Center. A 4,900 square foot covered patio is also proposed, along with 150 on-site parking spaces.

The proposed facility will have many adverse impacts on the surrounding area and Griffin community in general. It is not designed to serve local community needs. It is a large, urban intensity facility that will serve the whole south Puget Sound region. It is not compatible with the neighboring area and will create an ever spreading web of large scale commercial enterprises up Steamboat Island Road. It will dramatically increase traffic congestion along roads and through the busiest intersections in our area. Overflow parking will most likely be located along Steamboat Island Road and Sunrise Beach Road. This dense congestion could adversely impact the ability of the Griffin Fire District to respond to emergencies. Urban level public services will be required. Many residents have concerns with the facility’s impact on ground water and the sewage carrying capacity of the site. Many residents have concerns with storm water runoff impacts on Eld Inlet. Many residents object to adverse noise and night lighting impacts.

It appears that the project has lapsed, as the applicant failed to start preparing an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in a timely fashion. After many months of inaction and no communication with the County, the applicant began communicating with the County and finally submitted an EIS. The GNA filed an appeal with the County claiming that the project had lapsed, requiring the applicant to reapply and proceed under newer, stricter zoning controls. The County rejected this so the GNA appealed this decision to the Hearing Examiner. Briefs were filed and the Hearing Examiner will render a decision on this matter in a few weeks. If we prevail, it is likely that the applicant will appeal. If we lose, we may appeal. If the project application proceeds, we will oppose the project before the Hearing Examiner. A public hearing on the project will be held at that time. We will notify you of the public hearing. Potential appeals may follow any decision on the permit.

Again, we would appreciate contributions to continue our fight against the Steamboat Island Community Center.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Griffin Neighborhood Association

Click here for more information regarding this project.