Sound Transit Parking Garage approval process slowed

Friday, June 5, 2020

LFP City Hall is closed and meetings are on Zoom
Photo by Steven H. Robinson

By Tracy Furutani

The Lake Forest Park City Council declined to move policy recommendations submitted by the Planning Commission regarding the proposed Sound Transit Parking Garage at LFP Town Center forward, opting instead to continue a review of those recommendations.

This decision was made at the council’s Committee-of-the-Whole meeting Monday night.

“It seems to me that we’re in alignment that we’re not ready to give direction to the Planning Commission,” said committee chair and Deputy Mayor Phillippa Kassover.

The recommendations were in the form of a table that broke down the Garage project into different categories such as “Base Height – Max. 35 feet” and “Landscape all sides”, with each category being rated as either covered by the city’s building code or by general design guidelines. The categories were then further rated as whether they were required (“shall” in the language of the building code), recommended (“should”) or optional (“may”).

“I feel that the community would get more of what they want if the code is very clear up front,” said Councilmember Semra Riddle. “If I [as a developer] know what we’re designing to, we’re more successful in achieving that.”

There are two parts in getting a major project like the garage approved by the city, according to Stephen Bennett, the city Planning Director.

First, the adoption of new or modified regulations, in which the city’s Planning Department drafts code based on recommendations from the Planning Commission, which then ultimately must be approved by the City Council.

Next, the developer submits an application for a project that is submitted to the city Planning Department, who writes a report with an opinion on whether the application is in compliance with city regulations. That report goes to the Mayor-appointed, Council-approved Design Review Board, which gathers public feedback on the application, and then writes their own opinion on the project’s compliance.

With me so far? Great!

Finally, the opinions are presented to a Hearing Examiner (basically, a judge for these sorts of matters) who makes the final decision on whether the project complies with regulations, and the developer is then free to apply for various permits from the city.

“You can tell your constituents about the development proposal, but not the permit application for it,“ said Councilmember Lorri Bodi. She added that the first is a legislative function, and the second is an administrative or quasi-judicial function.

“What we do as council members is talk to our constituents,” said Councilmember John Resha, “This is the one space where [we have to say] don’t send me that extra information. [That’s] not easy as an elected representative.”

“I’d like to see this as an ongoing discussion of the ‘shoulds and ‘shalls, and see what the community thinks through public comment.” said Councilmember Tom French. “I would not feel comfortable in the quasi-judicial role.”

There could also be a development agreement, according to Bennett, which would involve the city staff negotiating with the developer about one-time variances to the building code for the specific project, while the two-part approval process was occurring simultaneously. The City Council would have to approve the final agreement. Even within this process, Bennett added, the Planning Commission would still hold a public hearing before making any report to the Council.


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