Newport Woods community concerned about proposed development

November 11, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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NEW — 2 p.m. Nov. 11, 2014

Newcastle resident Rick Bell is questioning his commitment to the city of Newcastle for the first time.

The longtime Newport Woods resident is an active community member, who donates much of his free time cleaning up city parks and trails with the Weed Warriors organization. He poured thousands of dollars into remodeling his Newcastle home, rather than buying a new one, because, as he puts it, “We love the people and the quietness of the location.”

But a proposed multifamily, mixed-use development along Newcastle Way, just beside City Hall, has him and his neighbors wondering how much longer the city will remain the quaint Newcastle they fell in love with.

“We’re not against development,” he said. “But we never thought it would be a monster like this.”

More Bellevue than Newcastle

The application calls for a 76-unit, 64-foot mixed-use building set on just under an acre of land in what is now a wooded area next to Newcastle City Hall. A trail along the Olympic pipeline is about the only thing that would separate it from homes on the edge of the Newport Woods community.

If approved as is, the six-story building would be the tallest in the city.

Neighbors are concerned the building would violate their privacy and change the character of the community. They argue it would increase noise, traffic and crime, and pose a serious hazard as construction occurs along an Olympic pipeline carrying fuel to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“We all moved into this neighborhood because it was quiet and we wanted to be part of a community,” resident Jessaca Jacobson said. “We feel that this building will destroy our community due to its excessive and intrusive height and the noise and disturbance that a high-density apartment building will bring just steps away from our homes.”

 

Office space?

For months, Newport Woods residents have attended Newcastle City Council and Planning Commission meetings, pleading their case against the project. They’ve also collected dozens of resident signatures opposing the development.

Neighbors feel blind-sided, Jacobson said, believing that the space, zoned as “Office,” would be used for just that.

“We all assumed that would be office space,” she said. “And we could’ve coped with that.”

But just because the property is zoned as “Office,” doesn’t mean it exempts it from the type of multi-use housing development being proposed, according to city code.

As Newcastle Community Development Director Tim McHarg explained at an Oct. 7 City Council meeting, multifamily use is permitted in an office zone, though only as part of a mixed-use development that’s subject to conditions in the city’s codified Development Standards and Community Business Center Design.

“Our primary responsibility is we have a set of regulations that are in place that apply to this project,” McHarg said in an Oct. 31 interview. “This project submitted a complete application, so it’s vested to those regulations in place when it was determined to be complete.

“It’s our job to go through those regulations, ensure compliance with all of them and where there aren’t areas of compliance, to either get them to comply or work our way through that and hopefully end up with a project that’s going to not just fit the regulations, but is going to address any concerns that might be outside of the scope of the regulations.”

 

Get involved

A community meeting about the proposed Newcastle Way apartments is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at Newcastle City Hall. Representatives from architecture firm Studio Meng Strazzara will be present to take feedback and answer questions. Anyone wishing to have input may submit comments at the meeting, email them to David Lee at davidl@ci.newcastle.wa.us or mail them to 12835 Newcastle Way, Suite 200, Newcastle, WA 98056. View the site plans here.

Complicated code

McHarg, who joined the city at the end of 2012, said as a newcomer, he assumed people were familiar with what was permitted in the Community Business Center.

“It has been in place for a really long time, and so, you know, it’s unfortunate that this has come as a surprise to them. That’s not what anyone wants,” he said. “You never want citizens to be unaware of what can happen in close proximity to their property.”

That’s why McHarg said he wants to make it a point to help Newport Woods residents, and anyone else, understand the city regulations.

“I think the primary issue in any of these situations is, you know, these regulations are complicated,” he said. “It’s not something that the average person can just pick up and clearly understand.”

Residents have been commenting on the project for a few months and all of those comments are passed on to the development’s applicant, McHarg said.

It’s McHarg’s job to facilitate a conversation between those who have concerns and the developer, and attempt to find a middle ground to compromise, within the context of the regulations, he said.

“Often times, they’re good ideas that are good for the project, quite frankly,” he said of citizen comments. “They do add value, and we try and convince people of the value of some of the changes.”

 

An open process

Residents will next get a chance to speak directly with the developer at a community meeting Nov. 20. Representatives of architecture firm Studio Meng Strazzara will be on hand. A final decision regarding approval of the project is not expected until January, at the earliest, McHarg said.

“It’s an open process. No decision has been made,” he said. “We’re still reviewing the application. I’d encourage anyone who has questions about the project or the process, to get in touch with us. We’re happy to meet with whomever.”

Residents are feeling a bit helpless through it all, Jacobson said, as if no one is really listening to their concerns. It’s doubly important, she added, because this could set a precedent for future development in Newcastle, making way for similarly sized, dense buildings.

 

A different setting

Robert and Kristina Baugher have lived in their Newport Woods home since 1978. They live in one of the homes just west of the pipeline, so the proposed development would go up behind their house.

In a letter to the city, the Baughers wrote that they love their home, but that the proposed apartment building will “directly affect our living experiences every day for the remainder of our years in our home.”

“It is not residents that are our concern,” they wrote. “Rather, it is the creation of an architectural/environmental setting that would create an atmosphere we are sure the owners of this proposed building would not themselves tolerate.”

Jacobson is convinced that no matter what they do or say the project will move forward. Neighbor Tiffany Berry agrees, though she said she’s hopeful the developer will make changes to the current plan.

“I’m not quite as convinced that it’s going to go in very similar to the current proposal, but I still think we’re going to have something that is beyond what we’d be happy with,” she said.

Jacobson, Berry and many of their neighbors said they feel very strongly about opposing the project, and it could result in taking legal action.

“We’ve put a lot of money, life into this community,” Bell said, “and now they’re stripping it from us essentially.”

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