A hearing examiner has rejected a proposed new housing development near Ebright Creek in Sammamish, saying the city didn’t follow its own rules meant to protect the kokanee-spawning stream.
A hearing examiner has rejected a developer’s plan to build 30 houses and a bridge over Ebright Creek in Sammamish, one of the primary spawning streams for kokanee salmon in the Lake Sammamish basin.
The ruling is a victory for neighbors who argued that the proposed subdivision threatened Ebright Creek and nearby Pine Lake Creek, and the extensive efforts over the past two decades to restore and preserve habitat for the kokanee, a freshwater relative of sockeye salmon whose numbers had fallen to about 50 spawning fish in 2008.
The decision also suggests the city of Sammamish didn’t follow its own rules for protecting critical habitat and requiring that open spaces created as a condition for one subdivision remain permanently as open space.
“The extensive nature of the ruling indicates that the city is going to have to be more diligent in protecting sensitive areas,” said Wally Pereyra, a fisheries biologist who lives downstream from the proposed development.
Pereyra and other neighbors challenged the city’s preliminary approval of the new homes, arguing the traffic and road into the new neighborhood, as well as the removal of vegetation and trees to construct the bridge, could increase stormwater runoff and the risk of landslides, threatening the kokanee eggs laid each fall along the creek bottom.
The builder, William E. Buchan, could ask for a reconsideration of last week’s decision, appeal to King County Superior Court or submit a new plan to build houses on the property on the western edge of the Sammamish Plateau.
“We are weighing our options,” said Carl Buchan, the company president. “It’s been a very contentious process. A lot of people put a lot into it. We didn’t have any contingency plans.”
Buchan proposed clustering 30 homes on 85 acres. But to reach the site, the developer wanted to build a road from an existing housing development, Chestnut Estates, and a 150-foot double-truss bridge over Ebright Creek.
The road and the bridge were both to be built on an open-space tract created in 2001 as part of the city’s requirement that 50 percent of the land in Chestnut Estates remain undeveloped.
The city approved Buchan’s plan to move the existing open space to a new tract of land within the new development. Sammamish planners also signed off on reducing the required critical area buffers on the steep Ebright Creek ravine.
The city did require Buchan to extend the bridge’s length from 150 feet to 180 feet, a provision Buchan challenged in the hearing that lasted 12 days over three months.
Hearing examiner John Galt said the city’s regulations require that subdivisions in the R-1 zone (one house per acre) be clustered away from critical areas and wildlife corridors and that the 50 percent of open space remain open space.
Because access to the development depended on using the open-space tract for the road and bridge, Galt said, the project couldn’t be approved. He said the language in the city’s municipal code was unambiguous.
And although he said that that ruling renders the other issues moot, he did address the efforts to restore kokanee runs on Lake Sammamish tributaries and noted that the Ebright Creek ravine is designated on city planning maps as a landslide hazard area.
“Given the sensitivity of the Ebright Creek ravine and the importance of its fishery resource, why would one consciously increase that risk by building closer to the edge of the ravine than normally allowed by code?” Galt asked in his ruling.
The city released a brief statement. “In most of our cases over the past 15 years, hearing examiners have agreed with the city’s perspective. But not always. We will respect the hearing examiner’s decision,” said spokesman Tim Larson.
Ilene Stahl, of the Friends of Pine Lake, who also appealed the city’s approval of the development, said the case raised awareness about threats to critical areas.
“We’re encouraged that so many more people recognize the value of protecting salmon streams. We’ve only got a few left, and most of them aren’t doing too well,” Stahl said.
For Pereyra, who in 2012 spent $300,000 to remove a narrow pipe on a concrete slab on his property that blocked kokanee passage up Ebright Creek, the ruling brings satisfaction.
At 78, he knows he won’t be able to fight development along the creek forever. But he said the ruling that half the land established as open space in the city’s R-1 zones must remain open space, means that undeveloped forests and critical areas set aside as a condition of previous developments will remain untouched.
“It gives me better peace of mind that there’s a legacy here that has enduring value,” Pereyra said.