The Port Townsend School District has been granted its second requested parking variance for Salish Coast Elementary, but the school's neighbors and other area residents are not done having their say …
The Port Townsend School District has been granted its second requested parking variance for Salish Coast Elementary, but the school's neighbors and other area residents are not done having their say about it.
HEARING EXAMINER'S DECISION
Emily Terrell, hearing examiner for the city of Port Townsend, issued her findings and decision July 27 on the requested variance to waive a code requirement for 96 on-site parking spaces.
In lieu of all 96 on-site spaces, the school district representatives had proposed to provide for 46 on-street parking spaces, including 15 new on-street parking spaces, with the rest created by re-striping existing spaces; 22 peak hour off-site parking spaces, through provision of a shared parking agreement; and the addition of an off-site staff parking lot for 28 spaces.
Terrell's decision quoted the requirements of Port Townsend Municipal Code 17.86.065(A), under which requested variances to decrease the parking standards set forth in Chapter 17.72 of the municipal code may be granted if:
1. Joint use parking opportunities have been fully explored.
2. A parking study has been submitted which provides a basis for reduced parking and mitigation necessary to offset any negative effects.
3. The site is served by transit, or can be served within six months of occupancy.
Terrell's findings stated the district “has explored multiple opportunities for joint use of off-street parking in the vicinity of (its) school project,” including the Port Townsend Friends Meeting Church, which has agreed to allow for joint use of their existing parking facilities, for a total of 22 spaces.
Terrell also noted the district provided a Transportation Technical Report and Parking Demand Analysis, which she stated “has demonstrated the ability to provide” the total requirement of 96 parking spaces, through the use of existing and proposed on-street and off-site spaces.
Terrell additionally stipulated that a condition of approval would require the district to provide a Transportation Management Plan , pursuant to the recommendations of the Transportation Technical Report.
“The TMP must be reviewed and approved prior to issuance of certificates of occupancy for the school,” Terrell wrote. “A further condition of approval will require the District to update the TMP annually for bi-annual review by the City.”
Terrell elaborated that the Salish Coast TMP must be submitted for city review at least four weeks prior to the district’s target date for the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy.
She also made her approval conditional on extending the study area for the Transportation Management Plan by a quarter-mile mile in all directions, from the boundaries of the project site.
And because the site is currently served by Jefferson Public Transit, Terrell stated the transit service criterion had been satisfied.
The remainder of Terrell's decision cited review criteria outlined in the Port Townsend Municipal Code 20.01.235(D).
With the exception of the proposed parking variance, Terrell stated the overall project was consistent with the Port Townsend Comprehensive Plan, as well as the zoning code.
Terrell further determined that adequate provision had been made for public health, safety, and general welfare, and concluded, “No detriment, with the project as conditioned, is ascertainable.”
Terrell also stated the development adequately mitigates impacts identified under Chapters 19.04, pertaining to the State Environmental Policy Act, and 19.05, regarding Environmentally Sensitive Areas, as well as Chapter 8 of the municipal code on SEPA and ESA.
Terrell noted the city issued a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance, which became final on June 15, 2017, and that no appeal to the SEPA Determination was filed.
Likewise, she could find no mapped Environmentally Sensitive Areas (i.e. Critical Areas) on the site, nor any that were observed during a city site visit.
“The site does not contain any confirmed critical areas that require review under the City's Critical Areas code (PTMC 19.05),” Terrell wrote. “This criterion is satisfied.”
SCHOOL DISTRICT'S RESPONSE
Port Townsend School District Superintendent John Polm touted what he saw as the benefits of the parking variance's approval.
“The parking variance helps us retain the character of the school site, with forested areas and ample outdoor learning spaces,” Polm said. “Had we not received the approval for our variance application, we may have had to put parking in areas we want to retain as natural, or in areas we plan for gardens or play fields.”
According to Polm, completing a Transportation and Parking Management Plan, as a condition of the approved parking variance, contributes to ensuring that the district's transition to a new school will be as smooth as possible, by addressing those transportation and parking considerations beforehand.
“This plan will be submitted to city officials, and the district will implement and monitor the plan as required,” Polm said. “Overall, we anticipate the new school to be a wonderful replacement to the old school, and we feel the community will be well-served by Salish Coast Elementary for many years.”
NEIGHBORS, RESIDENTS REACT
Not everyone shares Polm's sanguine outlook.
Julia Rouse is one of the neighbors of Salish Coast Elementary, and while she was unable to attend the July 13 public hearing on the district's requested parking variance, she arranged to have her objections to it read into the record.
According to Rouse, a group of neighbors and concerned citizens plan to continue conversations with district and city officials on the parking, with the intention of exploring other alternatives.
“We fought the conversion of four residential lots — a valued and limited commodity in this town — to a parking lot last summer, resulting in some mitigation of that impact,” Rouse said. “This summer, we were shocked to learn that the district was asking for even more, essentially making their problem our problem, flooding residential streets with school traffic and parking.”
Rouse opined that the district's focus on environmental values “seems to only apply to the school's eight-plus acres, not to its surroundings,” and called upon the district to be “a better neighbor, above and beyond the minimum legal requirements.”
Rouse quoted Port Townsend Municipal Code 17.86.050(C) and (E) on the approval criteria:
“The granting of the variance will not be materially detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to the property or improvements in the vicinity and zoning district in which the subject property is located. ...
“The special circumstances of the subject property are not the result of the actions of the applicant.”
In the district's application for a variance, the school's outdoor education and gardening program was listed under “special circumstances,” when Rouse sees it as falling under “the result of the actions of the applicant.”
“I do not understand how the hearing examiner could have ruled as she did,” Rouse said.