April 10, 2000
Faulty traffic studies were used to obtain approval for two large developments proposed for a plateau east of Redmond, a citizens group is claiming in a lawsuit filed March 31 against King County and Quadrant Corporation, a division of Weyerhaeuser.
The lawsuit, filed in Pierce County Superior Court by Friends of the Law, claims that King County staff and Transpo, the consultant for Weyerhaeuser, inflated the capacity of Novelty Hill Road in order to claim the projects would not exceed the capacity that could be handled by the road, said Joseph Elfelt, head of the group.
"In order for the projects to get approved, traffic studies were required," said Elfelt. "They did those in 1995 and 1998. Both developments passed the studies, even though the Novelty Hill Road will have only one through lane each way, with a few token turn lanes here and there."
But the latest study refutes those findings, he said. "The study done last year proves we are right," said Elfelt. "The current study predicts gridlock when the developments are built out."
The four-square-mile developments consist of Redmond Ridge on the south side of Novelty Hill Road, and Blakely Ridge on the north. No homes have been built so far on either of the West Novelty Hill developments, but three building permits were issued within the last couple of weeks.
Plans for Redmond Ridge include 1,500 dwelling units, with eight acres of retail and a business park. Blakely Ridge will consist of 2,250 houses, with retail and office space.
Elfelt said the latest study concluded that traffic, after the developments were constructed, would be "whizzing along at 5.6mph during rush hour. That is not what the earlier study claimed."
Elfelt said a stop light is planned for 208th, which will slow traffic, plus there will be four more traffic lights on Novelty Hill Road.
"Earlier studies used to approve the projects showed that the intersection of Novelty Hill Road and 208th would work fine," he said. "But the latest study says it will take 26 minutes for traffic to work its way from Avondale through the light on 208th."
Then, he said, the King County traffic planners decided the road needs to be widened to five lanes, but because the developments were approved with minimal road mitigation, the taxpayers have to pay for it, at a cost of $50-100 million.
"The developers are supposed to mitigate their own impacts," he said. "But they have shifted the burden to the taxpayer."
The lawsuit also asks the court to void the final plat approval the County Council gave on October 4 for the development because the council had not conducted a hearing and did not make findings of fact required to make "because the earlier traffic studies were grossly in error, as shown by the new study," he said.
"The law requires the council to vote on it, but they didn't vote," said Elfelt. "The chairperson at the time, Louise Miller, signed it with no vote, and on October 5, the final plat was recorded. Because of that, Norm Maleng, the King County Prosecutor, is also named in the suit."
Elfelt explained that state law says that if a final plat gets recorded without being approved by the legislative body, then the prosecuting attorney shall file a lawsuit against the county to unrecord the final plat.
"We are asking him to do what the law requires," he said.
In addition, the lawsuit asks the court to order the county to do a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and in that to do a new, correct traffic study that would reveal the true impacts.
Elfelt said clearing and stormwater retention and utilities work has been done at the Redmond Ridge site, along with the beginnings of some left turn lanes on Novelty Hill Road. Building permits have been issued for three homes. Work has not begun on Blakely Ridge.
In a separate issue regarding the developments, Friends of the Law has challenged in court that the projects, as "fully contained communities," violate the state's Growth Management Act (GMA).
The forested site was originally approved in 1993 and is the only development in the county marked for urban growth that is not connected to an incorporated or other urban area. Friends of the Law contend that as such, the developments violate the GMA.
The legal challenge ended up in the Supreme Court, but last year, the Court remanded the case back to the growth-management hearing board, which will review the case on April 17. Elfelt said the board will decide if the notion of having urban growth as a Quadrant project violates the Growth Management Act.
"Quadrant had filed a motion seeking dismissal, saying the case is moot," said Elfelt. "But the motion was denied. The board will go full speed ahead on the issue on April 17."