Photo by Steve Shay
Westmark's Emerald Pointe apts. were just given a permit by the City of Burien to clear 9,6 wooded acres of ravine adjacent to Seahurst Park. Pictured on that site, vocal opponents of the project, Melessa Rogers & Brian Stapleton, say removing trees and building 179 apts. there will cause mudslides.

Westmark's Emerald Pointe apts. permitted by City of Burien, but what about those mudslides?

Developer & Burien attorney site rigorous Environmental Impact Statement: Land will remain stable

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Back in 1990, Westmark Development Corporation filed an application with King County for a permit to construct a 216-unit apartment building to be known as “Emerald Pointe on the Sound” on 9.6 acres of wooded ravine property in then-unincorporated King County, adjacent to Seahurst Park, at 13401 12th Av. SW, near 136th St., in what would become Burien. Burien officially incorporated on February 28, 1993 and assumed responsibility. Westmark believed King County was close to issuing a decision on its application when the project was transferred to Burien, which didn't issue a decision on Westmark's revised application for three more years. Westmark sued for intentional interference. In 2007, the state Court of Appeals upheld a $10.7 million judgment against Burien, plus interest and other expenses. The city's insurance carrier, Washington Cities Insurance Authority paid most of the award.

June 10, 2008, Burien issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS, for the project, prepared by a third party, EDAW, in Seattle. Last March 13, the city approved a permit "authorizing clearing and grading of approximately 9.62 acres to allow for the development of a 179-unit multi-family residential complex." (This current apartment plan was once the 200-unit condo development.)

The Neighbors of Seahurst Park, a well-organized group staunchly opposed to the development has just filed two law suits to stop Westmark, a Land Use Petition Act, or LUPA, appeal filed in King County Superior Court, and an administrative appeal with the City of Burien's hearing examiner. Their major grievances include building adjacent to wetlands, the clearing of trees which could result in mudslides, prone in that area, and impractical easement proposals including a narrow road hugging the edge of the new Navos Mental Health Solutions campus.

City Attorney Craig Knutson believes these issues have been adequately addressed in the Impact Statement.

"The City of Burien issued a clearing permit for the Westmark project," he told the Highline Times. "The clearing permit was based on an environmental impact statement issued by a third party. The city's position is that we followed the steps we were required to take under the state's land use laws and city code. Now that the city has had an appeal filed, (the Neighbors of Seahurst Park lawsuit) the city will be defending the steps that it took.

"I'm not really surprised, but it is an unusual situation where both a superior court appeal and an administrative appeal have been filed within such a short time frame," he said.

Asked if the city was too compliant with Westmark in its permitting due to the $10 million lawsuit, and the city's desire to avoid trouble, Knutson said, "I suppose it's human nature to think in those terms, but that's not what is motivating the city. I think the city's community development department has been doing what the law requires them to do.

Regarding mudslides, he again cited the FEIS and said, "I think the erosion issue is at rest. There is a fairly lengthy list of conditions. Some address that issue."

The study states, in part, "Native plants are used to create a transition between the native growth areas to the ornamental plantings of the development (...) All disturbed/created steep slopes to be hydroseeded and jute netting to be installed for slope stability (…) No clearing shall be allowed on site until the city approves tree retention and landscaping plans."

"Tree retention" amounts to eight individual trees in total on the 9.62 acres.

Westmark' Development's attorney, Charles Klinge, of Bellevue-based Groen Stephens & Klinge (GSK) told the Highline Times, "In any site like this, trees will be removed, and trees will be replanted. The benefits include providing some new housing, tax revenues into the city, and in some respects, creating a site that has some (natural) benefit with the maintenance of walking trails."

He did not mention specifics on labor and job creation, but construction workers and others would of course be hired.

"From my clients' perspective, the city has completed the environmental impact statement," Klinge said. "It's a confusing situation where the city has a complete environmental impact statement paid by the applicant and done by a third party. They concluded there are no significant impacts. Most of the time projects have the short form environmental review, the 'midigated determination of nonsignificance'. This one has a full environmental impact statement. EDAW looked at all of the issues and decided the project should go foreword."

"Not so fast" say Neighbors of Seahurst Park and their supporters. They cite the recent devastating Coupeville mudslides as an ominous warning. They urge others to take a look at the City of Burien's website's "Updated April 9, 2013 Critical Areas" map. Critical landslide areas are indicated in hot pink, and Emerald Pointe on the Sound lies completely in the pink, as does much of the Burien coast, plus swaths of residential areas slightly inland.

"The issue is safety and protecting the park," said Melessa Rogers, volunteer secretary and treasurer of Friends of Seahurst Park, an outspoken critic who has followed the controversial development for years.

"Westmark Development never wanted to do environmental impact statement," said Rogers. "Neighbors of Seahurst Park took them to court and forced them to do a statement. They are not adhering to many of the the statement's items. The access to the land is specifically stated, and they are trying to circumvent it because the plan is expensive and inconvenient.

"If, and, I believe when, mudslides occur, the Environmental Science Center at Seahurst Beach will be taken out, and also the fish hatchery," she said. "There will be a ripple effect that can't be fully predicted but is definitely impending. When they start taking out trees that hold the top soil, the possibility of landslides will go up exponentially.

"We have difficulty dealing with the city because of their reticence," Rogers said, alluding to the $10 million law suit, and contradicting Knutson's point. "They have been burnt by this project and I understand why they are cautious (to criticize it). They are reluctant to force the developer to comply with the Environmental Statement. It is frustrating they lost that case on a procedural error. It had validity."

Another outspoken critic of the development is homeowner, Brian Stapleton, a retired Boeing engineer who lives adjacent to Seahurst Park.

"The best thing that could happen is that the land could become part of Seahurst Park," he said. "We think the developers have already made a lot of money from this for nothing. They could afford to sell the property for a song. If it's not buildable, it's not worth much. So what do you pay for high, steep slopes used only by hikers and bikers?

Added Stapleton regarding heavy rains and mudslides, "This all became escalated because of Coupeville, but there have been slides all around here."

Just ask David Manley, whose house at 1903 SW Cove Point Road, and his neighbors' houses, were socked with mud from a Dec. 17, 2007 slide. He lives at the edge of Seahurst Park, and his block sits in the "pink" landslide zone.

"It came across my driveway," he recalled. "I wan't hit too badly. The one hurt badly was the neighbor across the street. It was a disaster for her. Her house was half-buried. The mud knocked her car into her house. Luckily no one was hurt. They removed between 50 and 100 dump trucks of mud from our cul-de-sac. They engineered the slope considerably by installing a massive drainage system."

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