Community service project tangled up in county permitting net


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Chris Fitzgerald, KP News

Since September 2005, the Key Peninsula Metro Parks District (KPMPD) has been attempting to obtain a Pierce County building permit to allow the Key Peninsula Lions Club to construct a simple picnic shelter for public benefit at the Home Park, at the corner of Eighth Street and Key Peninsula Highway North. Initial plans were designed by Ed Robison, son of former KP Lions President George Robison. Ed Robison is a civil and structural engineer, and donated his professional services to KPMPD for this project. The Lions chose the shelter as one of their community service projects.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Dardarian

The KPMPD Website lists Home Park as “a success story of what determined individuals can do”: The park was created on an illegal dump site by volunteers, who organized garbage cleanup and park maintenance. The Website states that construction of the 18-foot by 36-foot, covered picnic shelter “is set to begin in early 2006.” More than a year beyond that projection, Pierce County Planning and Land Services continues to reject each newly submitted requested plan revision.

As early as November 2005, county plans examiner Scott Erickson sent review comments with four specific required changes to KPMPD. Erickson concluded the plan review with the following comment: “Please be aware that as additional information is provided, further code requirements may be revealed.” Also late in 2005, county development engineer Jeffrey Sharp called for a “Flood Boundary Delineation Survey,” which the county had said would not be required, according to George Robison.  A “Separate Driveway Approach Application” was also required; site access for parking must be off Eighth Avenue, and would have to conform to specified county regulations.

One year later almost to the day, in early November 2006, KPMPD sent a letter to plans examiner Donna Magnussen in an attempt to reach county compliance. KPMPD Executive Director Scott Gallacher directed the planning department to its own language identifying a “neighborhood park” as “small in size” (about 3 to 10 acres) and may include “picnic facilities, trails, nature area.” Gallacher subsequently received an email from Magnussen stating, “Building (the picnic shelter) has been approved and we are waiting for development engineering (Sharp) to complete there [sic] section.”

At about the same time, George Robison sent an email to Gallacher and others requesting their presence at a meeting on Dec. 7, with Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee in attendance. The email revealed Robison’s apparent frustration with the seemingly endless permit resubmission cycle.

On Jan. 30, another letter was received from Sharp, stating, “The (newly designed) stormwater runoff control design is not acceptable,” and calling for yet another revision of the site plan per his “comments above and the attached redlined plans.” George Robison reminded Gallacher that county staff had agreed at the December meeting that the 5,000-square-foot exemption (of an engineered water retention structure) applied to this permit. The exemption does not, however, release the proposed project from construction of an approved runoff containment system. This was later corroborated in an interview with Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee, who said, “The Home Park picnic shelter must comply with right-of-way constraints and make a PALS-acceptable provision for storm water retention.” The good news is that since the project is less than 5,000 square feet of impervious cover, he says regulations do not require an engineered retention system, although the design will need to show how storm water is captured through infiltration using the “county retention manual.”

Robison’s email was also his resignation from the project. “Please advise the park directors that I am withdrawing from the Home Park project… I am sorry I ever got involved in Home Park.” Robison said there is no doubt in his mind that continuing planning department difficulty with the permitting process is because he “forced them to admit numerous discrepancies and errors in the original checklist.”

Meanwhile, his son, Ed, has been deployed to Iraq, where he continues to attempt assisting in resolving the stormwater issue. In an email to Gallacher in early February, Ed wrote, “By all reasonableness what was proposed meets the intent of the design manual and exceeds anything that should be required for this project because of the receiving waters and project scope.” He advised KPMPD to insist that Planning and Land Services approve the current revision. He concluded by writing, “If you allow them to insist on these changes, the project cannot be built without completely changing the site plan because of the conflicts with the wetland and wildlife buffers that you will incur.”

In his 2006 budget, Lee set aside $2,500 to assist in permitting costs and construction. Gallacher reports those funds were used to pay $390 in permit/application fees to date, and to purchase materials for the project. He takes a broader look at the scope of difficulty encountered with getting this small project approved. “Most of the requirements are unfunded mandates set forth by the state through the Growth Management Act,” he wrote in an email to the KP News. “I know we don’t fall into GMA boundaries, but those regulations have to be considered for not just this project, but all.”

Meanwhile, Gallacher still works to meet compliance with the county so construction can begin. “I have a meeting with AHBL (the engineering and design company that assisted with another initial KPMPD design project) … and hope to be able to take care of this issue,” he said. “I don’t know what it will cost, but we have to move forward. I would hope to have our permit and be completed by summer, but I would not want to speculate.”


Investigate before you leap into construction

Why has construction of a simple 648-square-foot, open-sided, covered picnic shelter become so complicated that it cannot seem to get past county planners to be built on 1.74 acres of park district-owned “parked-out” land? According to Councilman Terry Lee, all projects both large and small must go through Pierce County review. Pierce County must, in turn, comply with mandated state and federal regulations concerning even the most minute of details. The construction of this shelter at Home Park, he says, may “seem to be of little consequence, but still impacts neighboring properties of adjoining uses, and requires a wetlands review. What makes this so bitter is that it’s so small in scale… People are frustrated about the process.” He admits the county makes these projects “challenging.” In retrospect, Lee says it is in everybody’s best interest, prior to beginning a commercial project of any size or kind, to set up a “pre-construction” meeting with Pierce County Planning and Land Services. “There’s a minefield of regulations to weave through,” he says. Lee encourages anyone considering “the fiscal impacts on a proposed project” to call his office for assistance in setting up either a small ($300) or large ($1,700) pre-development interdepartmental meeting prior to layout of construction-related funds.[/box]