Seattle Country Day School: DPD deems enrollment cap not valid

Five violation notices filed in May against the Seattle Country Day School have been sustained in part, modified in part or rescinded, according to an Aug. 27 decision issued by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD).

The private school had addressed four of the violations in one form or another this summer, according to the school's land-use attorney, Melody McCutcheon.

But the remaining and potentially most devastating violation - one that would have capped school enrollment at 247 students and limited staff to 33 - has been completely shot down.

The school plans to have approximately 327 students this school year and more than 50 staff members. The Mayfair Neighbors Association had argued that those numbers violated earlier land-use permits.

DPD review officer Thomas Camp-bell disagreed. "The permit history for the SCDS properties does not provide a basis for ordering the reduction of student enrollment to 247 and staff to 33," he wrote in the ruling.

However, Campbell noted, the permit history does contain one instance in which numbers were a factor. That instance dealt with a 1985 land-use permit for demolishing existing classrooms and a caretaker's home and constructing a two-story addition to the main school building.

"The student enrollment shall be limited to 208 within five years from the date of the Certificate of Occupancy issuance," according to the decision. "Any number exceeding this limit shall be reevaluated by the DCLU."

To begin with, the five-year limit on enrollment expired in 1990, Campbell wrote, and the permit condition "merely provides that if the maximum number of 208 students is exceeded, the DCLU [the former acronym for DPD] shall reevaluate the enrollment."

The permit does not impose a cap on enrollment, he went on to say in reference to a 1989 Hearing Examiner ruling.

The Mayfair Neighbors Association noted that there were "several examples of discrepancies between the actual student population and the number of students that SCDS stated on various permit application and SEPA submittals."

That didn't matter, according to Campbell. While the figures provided by the school may have been inaccurate, he wrote, "none of those examples offered are violations of an explicit cap on student enrollment, because no such cap exists in the permit history of SCDS."

Campbell conceded that it's against the law to misrepresent any material fact in a land-use application. "However," he added, "the question of intentional misrepresentation of student enrollment is not within the scope of this Director's Review."

Elliott Ohannes, chairman of the neighborhood association, isn't surprised by the DPD ruling, but he questions Campbell's logic.

"Why give the number at all if it has no meaning at all?" Ohannes wondered.

"We will continue to fight," he said of a likely appeal to a DPD Hearing Examiner challenging Campbell's decision. "This is not going to be the last the DPD or the school hears from us."

The other violations

No one from Seattle Country Day School immediately returned a call for comment, but the K-8 school didn't get off scot-free.

One of the violations called for a six-spot increase in the number of on-site parking places to 33, two of which are handicapped places. The school restriped the lot in July and ended up with 37, according to the DPD decision.

"However," Campbell wrote, "the restriping was not done in accordance with plans submitted for [the permit]." As a result, the school has to submit new plans, show that the parking places conform to city standards and go through another inspection before the project is approved, according to the decision.

A violation dealing with an encroachment of the gym on private property was invalid because an easement was already backed up by an earlier deed of sale, according to the school. According to the DPD decision, though, the school failed to apply for or receive a "lot boundary adjustment" as required under the land-use code. The decision includes an Oct. 24, 2004, deadline for compliance.

The office and storage use of a single-family house at 369 Newell St. was also prohibited, according to the violation notice. According to the decision, a 1998 Master Use Permit did allow for such a use, but only if certain conditions were met.

The conditions included widening the west side of Fourth Avenue North, where a planting strip currently exists, putting in a new curb and adding new landscaping to screen the house.

But none of those steps was taken, according to Campbell's decision. So the school has to start from scratch on the whole conditional-use permit process, according to the ruling.

In the meantime, the school removed all of its property from the home in July and no longer uses it for school purposes, according to an earlier statement from SCDS attorney McCutcheon.

Another violation notice concerned an expired permit for classroom use of one of the school's buildings. That violation, at least, was easily resolved when a new permit was issued last April, according to the decision.

E-mail News reporter Russ Zabel at

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