Much chatter but little progress at WOODINVILLE city council meeting

  • Written by Don Mann
The Woodinville City Council hadn’t met for three weeks, then Tuesday convened for two hours on essentially two orders of business.

It’s often like that in December, though it might make some citizens question its leadership.

First the council unanimously designated the Woodinville Weekly the city’s official newspaper of record for 2012, though lame duck Councilmember Jeff Glickman recused himself from the vote, citing a “conflict of interest.”

Then the council continued its painfully elongated public hearing for Ordinance No. 524 which amends and clarifies development regulations for the downtown master plan area.

It was the council’s 10th public hearing on the ordinance since May 17, 2011, as it time and again remanded a number of items to the planning commission for re-study and further recommendation.

Prior to Tuesday’s discussion on the item, Woodinville Mayor Bernie Talmas said he’d spoken to Councilmember Paulette Bauman, who was sick and absent from the gathering, but asked that no vote be taken on the item until she returned next week.

The council agreed in an informal, friendly head-nod.

Background: Over the course of the hearings since the spring, the council agreed on several of city staff’s and planning commission’s proposed changes to the ordinance, but there were still a number of unresolved issues still to be decided: the minimum residential requirement for the Pedestrian Overlay District; the proposal to encourage high quality retail development; the proposal to encourage high quality residential development and the definition of “Northwest woodland character.”

Back in July both city staff and the planning commission took their shots at defining the latter term, yet Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders provided one of her own — and it was the prominent source of discussion during council deliberations on Tuesday.

After reworking her definition a time or two, Boundy-Sanders, a technical writer by profession, obviously a conservationist by nature, and a well-documented vocal opponent of what she fears could result in overdevelopment, thrust the following delineation into the public record: “As a city-wide aesthetic, ‘Northwest Woodland Character’ means that mature native trees are a prominent and valued feature in Woodinville’s viewscape. Although it begins as an aesthetic value, Woodinville’s Northwest woodland character also provides the tangible benefit of preserving native woodlands as a first line of protection against environmental problems, such as erosion, landslides and stream degradation.”

She went on to write that the concept “evokes Woodinville’s agrarian heritage and the Northwest tradition of using local materials to construct buildings and combines those design elements with the well- documented Northwest character architectural style that emphasizes exposed framing, uses shapes and materials that complement the natural environment and uses plants in landscaping.”

She continued to say that iconic components of the concept should “include timber framing, exposed wood, paned windows and native vegetation.”

And despite the earlier head-nod about a no-vote on the topic, she made a motion to set her personal plan in stone.

Councilmember Liz Aspen took issue: “Didn’t we agree on not taking any votes tonight?”

Aspen said she preferred city staff’s recommendation, thought Boundy-Sanders’ was “really long” and wondered how it would affect developers. “We’re talking about our downtown development plan here, not the city as a whole.”

Councilmember Scott Hageman concurred, saying his colleague’s proposal allowed for “a little too much wiggle room and not enough clarity.” He said he preferred that staff define the concept in a succinct manner.  “In my opinion this is not ready to be put in code.”

City Manager Richard Leahy chimed in: “We have to make it nice and clean for developers so they understand what we’re talking about.”

Boundy-Sanders, speaking to her motion, warned of the repercussions if her proposal were not heeded and fear-mongored: “It means all of a sudden developers can come and clear-cut the hillsides. It means that all our design standards are suddenly in jeopardy. Developers would love for us to go with the staff recommendation I’m sure because then they have a lot more flexibility to clear-cut the rest of the city but we would be betraying our citizens.”

She may have forgotten this was strictly a downtown development issue and then relented: “Although I agree we might come back with some reconsideration of that second sentence of the first paragraph, I do stand by the overall structure of the proposal.”

Glickman, unusually silent in his next-to-last meeting as an elected official, then spoke up: “I think the council may be a little bit confused about what its role is here in this process. This is not a planning commission; a city council is a policy-setting body. We’re not here to rewrite the work of staff or the planning commission ... I absolutely believe we have to specify what we mean by Northwest woodland character ... or we have to take that out of our comprehensive plan.”

Councilmember Art Pregler, the appointed newcomer, politely waited his turn to speak and spoke softly: “In the (proposed) definition (Boundy-Sanders’) it refers to a ‘well-documented’ Northwest character architectural style ... As an architect I’ve never heard of a Northwest character architectural style.”

Boundy-Sanders later retracted her motion and no vote was taken.

With one more council meeting before the holidays and before Les Rubstello gets sworn in January, the debate will continue. And they still haven’t gotten past the first-reading.

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