Hearing Examiner's office issues decision on The Madison

Save Madison Valley loses bulk of appeal; drainage, P-Patch protections remanded to SDCI

Hearing Examiner's office issues decision on The Madison

Hearing Examiner's office issues decision on The Madison

The Seattle Hearing Examiner’s Office has issued a decision that could allow construction of a six-story mixed-use development with a PCC Market in Madison Valley to proceed later this year.

The decision follows a lengthy hearing that started in December and was extended for two days in early February.

Appellant group Save Madison Valley argued that the director of the Department of Construction and Inspections erred in its issuance of a Determination of Non-Significance for The Madison project and the design review approval that took two years for developer Velmeir Properties to acquire.

The Madison would replace City People’s Garden Store and includes 82 housing units and a PCC Market. A tree canopy sloping down from East Madison to Dewey Place East would also be removed; six townhomes are planned to front Dewey.

The East Design Review Board cleared the project in September 2017, after four meetings. Each time architecture firm Studio Meng Strazzara made multiple tweaks to the design, including an increased setback on East Madison Street.

The SDCI director’s decision approving final plans for The Madison was published last July, and Save Madison Valley filed a timely appeal in August.

The appeal hearing lasted seven days, and began on Dec. 10.

Save Madison Valley had also appealed a land use code interpretation, but the deputy hearing examiner dismissed it back in November.

In her Feb. 26 finding and decision, Deputy Hearing Examiner Barbara Ehrlichman found that Save Madison Valley failed to meet its burden of showing the project did not comply with applicable design review guidelines. She noted multiple modifications were made to the project as requested by the EDRB that addressed height, bulk and scale. That included facade changes on East Dewey and the addition of townhouses to better blend with the residential community adjacent to the project.

Former Seattle city councilmember and architect Peter Steinbrueck was among the expert witnesses Save Madison Valley called on to testify about the design review process and issues of height, bulk, and scale; he is now a Port of Seattle commissioner.

“While Mr. Steinbrueck is certainly qualified to express an expert opinion on the adequacy of the design of the project, one opinion differing with the unanimous decision of the Board (which is in part comprised of design professionals), the decision of the Director, and the expert opinions of two other witnesses ( Magda Hogness [SDCI planner] and [project architect] Charles Strazzara) is not enough to reverse the decision, given the deferential standard of review,” Ehrlichman writes in her decision. “Mr. Steinbrueck is correct that height and bulk are measurable, but the opinion about whether the building is out of scale with the neighborhood in the (Mercer) bowl is still a matter of professional opinion.”

Ehrlichman also found that attempts to mitigate height, bulk and scale impacts were adequately addressed, Save Madison Valley having long fought the loss of the tree canopy. While the aesthetic impacts were obvious, Ehrlichman’s decision states that the developer made “reasonable attempts” to save a portion of the tree canopy.

“The building was even redesigned to allow a portion of the grove and the exceptional tree to remain,” her decision states. “It was, however, the arborist’s firm conclusion that these trees would not survive the trauma of the building construction process and the changes to hydrology related to the construction. This is due in no small part to the fact that this slope was artificially created, and the hillside is constructed of fill.”

SMV argued in its appeal that there are at least 39 trees on the site that are significant by city definition. Removing the canopy will have “severe stormwater, aesthetic, environmental, and other impacts on members of SMV,” and the size of the new development will also “tower over SMV members’ homes,” according to the appeal.

The deputy hearing examiner found that there is no sensitive habitat within the site, “such as a wetland or stream,” and “the isolated habitat on the site is not part of a habitat corridor, and there are no uncommon or exceptional species using the site.”

Ehrlichman conceded that the testimony of resident and engineer Tom Spangenberg “may well be correct” — that city infrastructure improvements made since a massive flooding event in 2006 were insufficient —but “it is not up to this developer to fix this problem for the entire 170-acre area of uplands above the Madison sag.”

But Ehrlichman did find the DNS was erroneous in its threshold determination related to drainage, and that decision was reversed and remanded to SDCI for further action.

“The code requires designing for a 25-year storm event. The storm that occurred in

December 2006 was over a 100-year storm event. According to the University of Washington, one of the projected changes due to climate change is that winter precipitation extremes are [stet] will increase,” Ehrlichman writes. “Specifically, the heaviest 24-hour rain events in western Oregon and Washington are projected to intensify by 22% on average and occur more frequently — up to 8 days per year from a historical average of 2 days per year.”

The deputy hearing examiner determined the conceptual drainage report submitted by Velmeir to be outdated, which states the drainage system would discharge into a 15-inch pipe under Madison Street. Velmeir’s engineer Joe Taflin provided testimony that it would actually go through a newly located eight-inch pipe.

“The evidence in the record is conflicting regarding the details of the system,” Ehrlichman writes, “but the testimony is uncontroverted that the system will be brought into code compliance in the next stages of permit review.”

Engineers have estimated the residences and PCC Market will generate 1,230 daily vehicle trips, with 244 new p.m. peak hour trips and 51 a.m. peak hour trips. The Madison will have 140 parking stalls, 70 accessible for residents from East Dewey Place and 70 for retail customers on East Madison, which is also where delivery trucks will back into a loading bay with the assistance of traffic flaggers for the life of the project. Ehrlichman writes in her decision the use of flaggers will need to be guaranteed with a commitment letter recorded with King County.

“The East Madison Street Proposal will also introduce significant public safety issues, especially new traffic and congestion onto the streets in the area that are used by members of SMV,” the appeal states, “including the quiet, narrow residential street, Dewey Place East.”

Ehrlichman found no significant adverse environmental impacts would be presented by the project’s transportation plans and that SDOT was able to show compliance with code.

The deputy hearing examiner did side with SMV in reversing and remanding a decision back to SDCI that did not consider the Mad P-Patch as a public open space that should be protected from shadow impacts.

“Although it consists of cultivated beds, it is generally characterized by natural features,” Ehrlichman writes in her decision. “The Mad PPatch is protected by the SEPA policies that require the minimization or prevention of light blockage and shadows on open spaces.”

SMV was not aware of the hearing examiner’s decision being published when reached for comment by the Madison Park Times, and is now assessing the document before deciding next steps, according to SMV member Melissa Stoker.

Velmeir managing director Geza de Gall similarly needed to analyze the decision before offering comment, but tells MPT the development company is still hopeful construction can begin this summer.

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