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Federal Way residents appeal High Point project, hearing set for July 28

Leah Boehm-Brady has been the leading force in appealing the High Point project with more than 80 neighborhood supporters. Boehm-Brady contends the 3-6 stories of building will compromise the integrity of her neighborhood, which would abut the north end of the apartment complex property.  - Raechel Dawson, the Mirror
Leah Boehm-Brady has been the leading force in appealing the High Point project with more than 80 neighborhood supporters. Boehm-Brady contends the 3-6 stories of building will compromise the integrity of her neighborhood, which would abut the north end of the apartment complex property.
— image credit: Raechel Dawson, the Mirror

Federal Way residents, city officials and a developer are gearing up to argue two appeals on the highly controversial Hight Point mixed-use apartment complex proposed for the former bus barn site.

Tentatively scheduled for July 28, the city’s Hearing Examiner will hear arguments on both sides of the appeals.

Federal Way resident Leah Boehm-Brady filed an appeal on May 1 of the city’s environmental threshold determination and an appeal on June 19 on the land-use decision for the High Point project. Both appeals were signed by more than 80 in support.

Boehm-Brady’s home is in the neighborhood that abuts the north side of the 9.8 acre property, located at 1066 S. 320th St. in Federal Way, across from Safeway.

“I’ve lived here three years,” Boehm-Brady said in an interview. “I moved into this quiet neighborhood because I loved it — the kids can play with their bikes, people watch out for each other. It’s a special little place and that’s being threatened now.”

The project includes 308 apartment units and 26,095 square feet of commercial and amenity space on the ground floor. The proposal calls for 15 buildings and a parking lot that provides 1.5 stalls per apartment unit.

Allowed under current city zoning, the apartment buildings will range between 3-6 stories in height.

Boehm-Brady, a retired teacher, said that a project this massive doesn’t belong near a single-family home neighborhood because it will compromise its integrity.

She said her neighbors would severely lose their privacy if city officials allow the Bellevue-based developer DevCo to remove the trees and vegetation behind the houses directly behind the property, a violation of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, she says.

“The buffer on the north side is mature and will help mitigate the impacts of the apartments,” she wrote in her appeal. “The city bases its decision to allow all the vegetation to be removed on the north side based on one arborist report declaring that ‘23 of the 25 trees along the north property line are either dead, dying or in poor condition.’”

But after reading the report, Boehm-Brady said the same arborist said there’s several excellent quality English Laurel and healthy fir trees, which would be killed if the developer were to remove them.

Isaac Conlen, the city’s planning and division manager, said the buffer of trees and bushes isn’t city-owned, it is property the developer would acquire if the property transaction goes through.

“We’re talking about everything on the developer’s property,” Conlen said. “Tall trees, most or all of the trees on the developer’s property would be removed. That would be replaced by fencing and new landscaping.”

There’s 10 homes near the project that have tall trees behind their backyard.

However, a six-foot-tall fence is not adequate, the appeal states.

“It is far too easy to climb a fence of this type,” Boehm-Brady wrote in her appeal. “We feel the developer should have to put in a solid six foot concrete ... fence to separate this city frame development from single family residential, with the design subject to the approval of the homeowners.”

And with only one-and-a-half parking stalls per unit, Boehm-Brady worries that the pedestrian access near the back of the complex by her neighborhood will encourage people to park in that neighborhood if they can’t find parking in the complex.

While many are concerned about neighborhood privacy, Boehm-Brady and others also worry the density will make South 320th Street’s traffic much worse.

“The idea is that 320th is such a busy street and the bus barn moved because the traffic and because it was so busy,” said Betty Bjorklund, a Federal Way resident who’s lived in the neighborhood for 45 years. “I can’t imagine putting that number of people and apartments in that small area.”

Francine Becker, a resident of the neighborhood for 44 years, said there’s “plenty of other property in Federal Way that DevCo could go to.”

“It doesn’t have to be in the downtown core, is my whole point,” Becker said. “There’s property that isn’t on the main drag.”

Becker said she remembers when South 320th Street was two lanes and quail and deer would cross the road every day.

“It was full of wild animals, now we just have squirrels and crows,” she said.

But Conlen said the traffic generated by the High Point project along South 320th Street would be less than the traffic from when the bus barn was located at the site.

And the city currently doesn’t have the funds to put any additional roads or entry/exit points on South 320th Street to deter traffic.

“They’re building a public road through their property,” Conlen said. “The reason it’s not connecting at this point in time is because it’s not the city’s immediate priority on the list of projects and there’s no funding for it yet. In the future, other improvements will be made.”

Boehm-Brady and other residents thinks the road should be constructed before the project is built.

“Residents should be able to drive down the hill, out the back of the property to connect with 14th,” she wrote. “This will offer a much more acceptable configuration.”

The Hearing Examiner will also hear an appeal on the State Environmental Protection Act review decision, as residents claim the determination of non-significance was incomplete, false and misleading.

The residents hired Greg Wingard, an environmental specialist, who said contamination on the property is likely worse than what initial data has shown.

The property once hosted shop areas for hydraulic lifts, vehicle maintenance and fueling and “there are fairly good odds that once they remove the site structures and other improvements, that they will find additional, previously undiscovered contamination,” according to Boehm-Brady’s appeal.

The appeal claims that when a developer is “chomping at the bit to turn the developed property over for a profit,” it’s “foolish to rely on the developer to provide an adequate information base to assure the job was done right.”

Because of the potential unknown chemicals, residents call for more stringent levels for cleanup, as well as additional steps to ensure they don’t become a liability and leave cancer-causing materials for future tenants to become ill.

“We want the Washington state Department of Ecology, not a third party signing off on the cleanup,” the appeal states. “We want an open, transparent, public process to this cleanup, a public participation plan. A third party would not have the same responsibility to the community.”

Conlen said there are plans to remove the buildings and the plan calls for “tons of testing and sampling under the existing buildings,” it just won’t happen until they get the permits.

“It seems like the appellants are supposing it’s not going to be done correctly,” Conlen said, noting the Department of Ecology will be involved in the process.

The tentative date for the hearing is at 1 p.m. July 28 in the Federal Way City Chambers.

While the hearing is public, city officials want the public to know that only those entitled to participate in the appeal may provide oral comments directly to the Hearing Examiner during the public hearing or submit written comments.

Because more than 50 people signed both appeals, the Hearing Examiner will determine the number of appellants who can provide comment on the hearing date. For information, visit www.ci.federal-way.wa.us. or the appellants Facebook page, www.facebook.com/NeighborsFor320thLiveability.

A perspective from the back end of the property that was once a transportation center for school buses for the Federal Way Public School district. Raechel Dawson, the Mirror

A Federal Way resident is concerned she will lose  her privacy. Her backyard would abut the property and the developer has stated the trees to the north will be removed, which would include the two tall trees pictured here. Raechel Dawson, the Mirror

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