by Jeff Switzer
BEAR CREEK--To relieve urbanizing pressures and strip mall development on Novelty Hill Road, the Northridge UPD is to have an intensely maintained buffer and no streetfront for its eight-acre retail area, the hearing examiner in the case has recommended.
King County Hearing Examiner Stafford L. Smith, who recommended approval of the Northridge urban planned development (UPD) and fully contained community (FCC)--a 1,046-acre site with 229 acres of residential uses--revised a few of his recommendations two weeks ago in response to requests for reconsideration from the City of Redmond and from Quadrant, the developer, who asked that the 100-foot perimeter buffer near the retail area be cut to 50 feet.
In his revision, Smith allows for implementation of an alternative, narrower buffer based on approval of a final management plan, though he maintains that Quadrant's "quite understandable desire to maximize highway pass-by retail exposure along Novelty Hill Road cannot be accorded weight in the decision-making process."
Smith said the prohibition of strip-mall development presents a strong regulatory case for the deletion or relocation of the proposed eight-acre retail area: "...At a minimum, the Northridge retail area needs to be set back and buffered sufficiently to avoid creating land-use conflicts and urbanizing pressures on adjacent rural residential properties to the north."
Consequently, Smith recommends the retail area should have 100 feet of native vegetation buffer along Novelty Hill Road, or an intensively maintained 70-foot buffer with 50 feet of dense tree cover, recognizing that the "stringent buffer requirements may result in downsizing or growing at a pace more in step with surrounding UPD/FCC ... development."
Smith rebuffed the City of Redmond's request, which challenge Smith's fundamental analysis that the EIS documents adequately describe the traffic impacts and mitigate appropriately.
"The City and the Examiner fundamentally disagree as to what SEPA requires, and such differences are appropriately dealt with within an appeal context," the report read, citing the lack of weight of older judicial cases within the context of current state environmental protection act (SEPA) policy, and the city's lack of "adequate evidential basis."
Smith conceded one of Redmond's technical points, and raised the total mitigation cap subject to negotiation to $10.385 million, an increase of $285,000.
In addition to the residential and retail uses, the project proposes to build a 122-acre business park, public facilities, and 602 acres of open space. When completed, it would have a total of 1,300 to 1,500 units and an estimated population of 4,150, developed over a 5- to 15-year period.
Smith's recommendation is expected to reach the King County Council, which has final say on the project, on October 11.