Council OKs conditional use permit for bleachers, fencing at former Woodway HS

By a 5-2 vote, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night approved a conditional use permit for bleachers and fencing for a new multi-use sports fields at the former Woodway High School, following a closed-record review of City Hearing Examiner Phil Olbrechts’ April 10 recommendation.

Three parents representing a group that has been lobbying for modifications to the fields project — a joint venture of the Edmonds School District, the city and the Verdant Health Commission — were visibly disappointed after the decision. “The council raised many unanswered questions regarding this project, yet they still voted 5-2 to approve the variance permit,” said parent Laura Johnson.

The council decision covered phase one of what has been envisioned as a three-phase “health and wellness campus” project featuring a walking track, resurfaced tennis and basketball courts, four year-round multi-use turf fields with lights, concessions, and bleachers. A $2.5 million grant by the Verdant is funding the first phase, which would include two sports fields, bleachers and safety fencing. The proposal originally included field lights, but the school district withdrew that request after City Hearing Examiner Phil Olbrechts recommended against approving them.) There is no funding available currently for phases two and three.

The council held two previous meetings on the issue, both closed record reviews of the hearing examiner’s decision, on April 21 and 28. Councilmembers were limited to ruling on the issues the city has control over — in this case a conditional use permit for bleachers and fencing — for fields located next to the former Woodway High building at 23200 100th Ave. W. The Woodway building now houses Edmonds Heights K-12 school, Scriber Lake High School and the district’s V.O.I.C.E. program.

Councilmembers were not able to address two hot-button issues for parents and community members since they fall under the Edmonds School District’s jurisdiction: Whether the district should be using artificial turf — in particular turf made from tire crumb rubber — that some have connected to possible cancer risks, and whether the project overall will have negative environmental effects on area wildlife, since no environmental impact statement was prepared. (The Edmonds School Board is expected to make a final decision on a turf choice for the fields at its May 12 meeting.)

However, the council did discuss at length whether the project would increase traffic and whether there had been sufficient community involvement during the project’s development. City staff noted that Edmonds’ Architectural Design Board held a public hearing and that the school district hosted two community meetings in March, but both Bloom and Petso questioned whether that qualified as adequate community engagement.

Petso then proposed that the council deny the conditional use permit on the basis that having bleachers would impact traffic in the neighborhood and that the process didn’t comply with the city’s comprehensive plan due to lack of public involvement. Petso’s proposal failed, but the council did pass by a 4-3 vote an additional condition proposed by Councilmember Kristiana Johnson, which initially called for the city “to involve the community in the design of the field,” but was then amended — on the advice of City Attorney Jeff Taraday — to read “to continue to involve the community,” to acknowledge the earlier Architectural Design Board meeting.

Bloom and Petso registered their opposition to that addition, and other councilmembers wondered how the condition would be implemented since field design is actually under the school district’s jurisdiction.

Among the conditions included as a result of the final review:

  • The traffic gate that separates the fields from the neighboring street at 102nd Place West will remain closed to all traffic except emergency vehicles.
  • No public address systems or noise amplifications will be permitted.
  • Playfield lights will not be permitted per the hearing examiner’s recommendation.
  • Games must be scheduled so that all play is finished by 10 p.m.

At the end of the meeting, Councilmember Tom Mesaros acknowledged that he shared some of the concerns expressed by community members about the fields project and was hopeful that the project partners — the city, school district and Verdant — would ensure “they are responded to appropriately.”

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