Crowd speaks out on issue of private school's expansion

A public hearing last week about the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a controversial expansion of the Seattle Country Day School on Queen Anne Hill was supposed to gather comments specifically about the document. But with rare exceptions, that didn't happen, despite repeated pleas from Department of Planning and Development (DPD) staffer Colin Vasquez to more than 100 people who gathered in the Queen Anne Community Center gym on Aug. 17.

Instead, like a town-hall meeting, there were sometimes-strident objections to the plan, along with passionate - but largely irrelevant - statements of support for the school.

In all, 50 people spoke at the hearing about the school's proposal. Of those, 13 were against the idea while the rest supported the plan to expand the existing 43,000 square feet of classroom and administrative space to 77,000 square feet in two phases over roughly a decade.

The proposed plan also includes the construction of a 10,000-square-foot garage, the demolition of five to six single-family homes already owned by the school and the addition of a road across the campus from Fourth Avenue North to Nob Hill Avenue North.

The new cross-campus road would provide queuing space for approximately 29 vehicles, and the current 29 parking places would be increased to 54, according to the Draft EIS. The existing parking lot has since been restriped to include 35 spots, according to the school's response to a notice of violation issued by the DPD last spring.

The discrepancy in the number of parking places was something picked up on by Michael DeCaro, who also lambasted the Draft EIS characterization of local streets as two-way when parking on both sides makes that impossible. "There are too many irregularities in this," he said of the document. "This needs to be redone."

Country Day School parent Joan Morse conceded that traffic is an important issue for the neighborhood. "The plan will reduce the effect of school traffic," she said.

"I feel like this school serves an incredible need," Morse added, making a plea for understanding. "I think the community needs to recognize our efforts are true."

Bob Ordal, who has two sons at the school, said he thought a "fabulous job" had been done preparing the Draft EIS. Ordal also considers school traffic to have been an issue for at least a decade. "My point is, the no-action alternative is worse for the neighbors."

Elliott Ohannes, chair of the Mayfair Neighbors Association, blasted the Draft EIS as "bogus," charging that the DPD was biased in favor of the school. He also said a scoping hearing last October about what should be included in the Draft EIS was flawed because the neighborhood group wasn't told that a less intrusive alternative had been dropped from the mix.

'I think it's self-evident that parking will be substantially improved," said Vincent Buck, a school parent from Leschi. He also said the expansion plan ties into the state's Growth Management Act, which calls for concentrating future population growth in urban areas rather than allowing suburban sprawl. "So the burden has to be shared among all neighborhoods in Seattle."

Rose Boyle, president of the school's board of trustees, insisted that the school has made sure neighborhood comments are taken into account. The building plan shifted the majority of construction to the upper part of the slope at the south end of the site in response to those comments, she said of one example. "I want to emphasize," Boyle added, "that our plan is not to expand enrollment."

According to the Draft EIS, there were 173 students at the school during the 1979-80 school year. That number had shot up more than 75 percent to 305 during the past school year, and the number is expected to climb an additional 23 students this year because of what school officials say is a temporary move made as part of a reorganization effort.

Keith Weinberger, who lives near the school, said the jump in student and staff numbers over the years has caused problems in the neighborhood. "The city has failed in the past to buffer the impact," he added. "What's really needed is a reduction in square footage of this project."

John Caldbick, who lives near the school, said that no one who had spoken in favor of the expansion up to that point lives in the neighborhood. He also said the Mayfair group had offered to modify its complaints if school officials would agree in writing to limit enrollment.

The offer was refused, Caldbick said. "We do not believe them when they say there will be no expansion of enrollment."

A school parent who lives near Coe Elementary School on Queen Anne Hill, Isabel Davis said her daughter walks to school every day. Davis said the school is interested in creating a plan that addresses environmental and neighborhood concerns. "I really feel there should be good will on both sides," she added.

Winnie Young, an art teacher at the school, was all for the expansion. "I teach in a hallway," she said. "We really do need more space."

Parker Davis, a parent of a school student who lives near the zoo, excused himself at the meeting for actually addressing the Draft EIS, which he described as comprehensive and detailed. The document also addresses "a litany of objections and concerns," Davis added. "We may disagree with the conclusions ... but they've thoroughly addressed the issues."

Carol Eychaner begged to differ. A land-use expert hired by the Mayfair Neighbors Association, she charged that the Draft EIS ignores cumulative effects of the school's slow but steady expansion over the decades. Eychaner also said the DPD failed to closely examine the project's impacts on local traffic. "This I don't believe has occurred in the Draft EIS."

Most of Eychaner's comments were submitted in writing because she went over the three-minute limit on speaking at the meeting. Others on both sides ignored the time limit, including Deeann Glamser, a project opponent who spoke for more than 10 minutes. Glamser objected to, among other things, Warren Avenue North being left out of traffic counts. Vasquez tried to get her to put an end to her remarks, but Glamser ignored him, saying she should be able to speak because others on a sign-up sheet had declined to speak.

Vasquez said there will be another chance for the public to comment about an administrative conditional use and a variance needed for the project.

The comment period for the Draft EIS itself was supposed to end on Aug. 26. However, in an Aug. 19 letter sent to project proponents and opponents, Vasquez said he would continue to accept and consider comments "until a decision is made by the Director."

Also still to be resolved is a DPD notice of violation that called for capping school enrollment at 247 students. A decision on that issue is expected this week, according to the DPD.

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