Laurelhurst Community Club                                                     

Serving 2800 Households in Seattle’s Laurelhurst Neighborhood

 

October 27, 2004

 

 

For Settlement Purposes Only: Not to be Used For Any Other Purpose

 

 

Robert Wicklein, President

Seneca Group Inc.

1201 Third Avenue

Suite 2350

Seattle, WA 98101

 

Re:  Talaris Institute

 

Dear Bob:

 

            Thank you for your letter of July 30, 2004 regarding Talaris project issues.

 

            We have reviewed the letter and Talaris’ June 25, 2004 revised plans, which we obtained after our June 25 settlement meeting.  We offer the following comments on issues contained in your letter as well as on additional Settlement Agreement issues that were omitted from the letter but were discussed at the June 25 settlement meeting and/or subsequent June 29 site visit, including landscaping and roadway changes, parking quantity, and the parking garage structure.[1]  In addition, we have identified a new compliance issue regarding the overall height of the revised Phase 1 building, which was not present in the original building design but became apparent upon review of the revised plans for the parking garage.

 

1.           Loading Dock Hours of Operation:  At our June 25 settlement meeting, LCC proposed limiting the hours of operation at the loading dock so neighboring residents will not be disturbed by truck alarms and other loading activities in the evening and early morning hours.  The proposed hours were:  8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

 

In its July 30 letter, Talaris responded that it would comply with noise levels established in the Noise Ordinance but nothing more.

 

As discussed at the June 25 meeting, the Settlement Agreement established a 25-foot setback for building structures and other improvements along the west property line of the Talaris site.  The retaining wall structures for Talaris’ proposed loading area/dock are located within the setback and, if pursued by Talaris, would require an amendment to the Settlement Agreement.  In addition, the criteria for an Administrative Conditional Use (ACU) approval (which Talaris must obtain) requires that the location of noise generating activities and equipment be considered for the purpose of reducing noise impacts, and allows noise impacts to be mitigated beyond simple compliance with the Noise Ordinance by limiting the hours of operation (SMC 23.44.022.H).

 

The best location for noise generating facilities like the loading dock is the interior of the Talaris site – not along the perimeter near residential uses and properties.  However, in an effort to accommodate the Talaris proposal, LCC indicated at the June 25 meeting its willingness to amend the Agreement so the proposed retaining walls and loading area could be located in the required setback if there was a limitation on when the loading dock could be used.  Talaris has generally represented that it did not anticipate much (or any) evening or early morning deliveries, but without a specific limitation the loading dock could be used by Talaris or a future permitted use as frequently throughout the night as desired.  Talaris’ offer to comply with the Noise Ordinance does not resolve the concern, especially when the Noise Ordinance would appear to exempt noise-generating activities like truck back-up alarms (SMC 25.08.530.A.9) and when the ACU criteria provide for additional mitigation of noise.  In addition, even if the Noise Ordinance provided sufficient mitigation, it would be nearly impossible for the neighbors to monitor, document and seek enforcement for any violations of the Noise Ordinance that may occur as a result of the loading dock activity.

 

LCC is willing to discuss alternative hours of operation or other proposals that would provide similar certainty regarding the use of the loading dock and mitigation of its impacts.  However, Talaris’ offer to simply comply with the Noise Ordinance is insufficient mitigation for allowing the loading area retaining walls to intrude within the Agreement’s required setback.

 

2.           Access to the Talaris Site from 38th Avenue NE:  At our June 25 settlement meeting, LCC initially proposed that the access at the northwest corner of the Talaris site be used for emergency vehicles only, but as a compromise proposed that the access be narrowed to a single lane and signed for ingress only.  The purpose of this was to prevent traffic generated by a significantly expanded Talaris use from exiting the site at this location.  Unrestricted Talaris use of the northwest access would significantly worsen existing congestion and hazards on side streets, which are caused by delivery trucks, overflow parking and the unsignalled NE 45th Street intersection.  It was never to “solve the neighborhood transportation impacts from the NE 45th Street commercial district . . .” as stated in the July 30 Talaris letter.

 

Because there appears to have been a misunderstanding regarding the issue and, apparently as a result of this misunderstanding, Talaris rejected LCC’s proposed modification, LCC asks Talaris to reconsider the modification.  LCC is aware that in the DEIS for the Talaris project, there is no analysis of transportation impacts on the local neighborhood streets near the northwest access.  This is presumably because Talaris has represented that project traffic will only enter and exit the site through the access points on NE 41st Street and that there will be no project-related increase in traffic through the northwest access and on the nearby neighborhood streets.  LCC supports the use of access points off NE 41st Street instead of the northwest access, but physical modifications of the northwest access are necessary to accomplish this – a garage exit sign alone will not be a sufficient deterrent.  Without the modification at the northwest access, the Talaris project will have significant transportation impacts on the abutting neighborhood.

 

3.           NE 41st Street Sidewalk.  We note that a sidewalk has been shaded on the project plans (thank you).  Please provide a note that identifies the shaded area as the approximate location for the new sidewalk construction and include language in the note that the final location and design of the sidewalk will be determined based on minimizing impacts to the existing trees (as we discussed with Talaris’ consultants at the June 29 site visit and as your July 30 letter suggests).

 

4.           Wetlands Conservation.  In response to Talaris’ proposal in the July 30 letter, LCC is not willing to reduce the Settlement Agreement parking requirement in exchange for a conservation easement on wetlands and buffers that are already afforded protection under the City’s ECA regulations.  LCC is willing to consider the Agreement amendments related to structure setback, landscaping, roadways, parking garage height and building height in exchange for a conservation easement and resolution of other concerns identified in this letter.

 

5.           Use of IAS Facilities, including the New Auditorium.  LCC agrees that the Settlement Agreement and Land Use Code determine the uses that are allowed on the Talaris site.  While a reception for visiting scientists or research conference attendees may be part of an IAS use, weddings, parties and other similar non-IAS-related uses and events are not permitted under the Agreement.  LCC concurs that an Agreement amendment is not needed regarding this issue, but raised the issue at the June 25 meeting to alert Talaris of the community’s concern about past potential misuse of the site.

 

6.           Relationship between the Center for Mind, Brain and Learning (at the UW) and Talaris.  Thank you for informing LCC that the relationship between CMBL and the UW has expired.  LCC is aware that CMBL is now called the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, is part of the UW and, under the Agreement, cannot lease, purchase or otherwise control any part of the Talaris property or project.  We presume that the termination of the relationship between Talaris and CMBL also applies to the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.  Please confirm whether Talaris has an arrangement with the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, or any other major institution, that involves use of the Talaris site.

 

Additional Issues Not Included in July 30 Letter

 

7.           Landscaping and Roadway Changes along North and East Property Lines.

 

North property line:  At the June 25 meeting and a subsequent site meeting on June 29, LCC agreed that, if a satisfactory agreement was reached on all issues, landscaping required by the current Agreement along the eastern portion of the north property line did not have to be completed in conjunction with Phase 1, but would be required for any future development in the northeast portion of the site or other locations that could be viewed from residential properties to the north (alternative plantings could be discussed, if desired, prior to any future development).

 

East property line:  LCC agreed generally that in the event a satisfactory agreement were reached on all issues, LCC would accept  the proposed roadway changes (shift to the west, different parking location and configuration, and widened travel lane), the removal of existing evergreen trees now located to the west of the road, and no additional landscaping between the road and east property line provided:  1) the building setback from the east property line is increased and extended west from its current location to align with the proposed west line of the “parking lot buffer” (shown as a heavy dashed line on Sheets L2.3 and L2.4), and trees/landscaping within the extended setback area are protected from future construction impacts and development; 2) the new landscaping that will be installed will provide evergreen screening of Phase 1 development (and any future development in the northeast portion of the Talaris site) from neighboring residences to the east and the screening will be effective within a reasonable period of time; and 3) the new landscaping would be installed at the earliest possible time after the existing trees are removed (for example, as soon as the roadway improvements on the east side are completed and well prior to final landscaping around the Phase 1 building).

 

The need to provide evergreen trees to replace those that would be removed and to provide effective, continuous screening of Phase 1 from elevated, neighboring residences was acknowledged by Talaris’ consultants at the June 29 site meeting. However, the June 25 plans (Sheet L2.3 and L2.6) do not convey the type of building screening we have all discussed.  Instead, the plans show non-continuous trees plantings and call for “parking buffer” screening, which is different than and perhaps not as effective as a continuous, evergreen building screen.  LCC had also asked Talaris’ landscape architect to provide information about when the trees and shrubs could be expected to provide the intended screening (based on species growth rate, size at time of planting, etc.), so LCC could confirm that the screening would be effective within a reasonable period of time.

 

LCC indicated that in the event an overall agreement were reached, it would not require a more detailed landscape plan for this buffer in order to amend the current Agreement (that is, a plan calling out each specific tree species and location), but the project landscape plans (which would presumably be incorporated into the amended Agreement) would first need to be revised to be consistent with the purpose of the screen and our discussion.  This revision should include a note to the effect that tree and shrub species and size at time of planting should produce an effective visual screen of the Phase 1 building within “x” years of planting.

 

8.           Landscaping Changes along West Property Line.  At the June 29 site visit, LCC and Talaris’ consultants looked closely at the existing and proposed landscaping in the vicinity of the west façade of the Phase 1 building.  LCC indicated that it would consider a modification of the landscaping that is now required by the Agreement along the west property line.  However, because of the proximity of the Phase 1 building to neighboring single family residences and of the resulting significant aesthetic and other impacts, LCC stated that it was not sufficient to provide only a general description about plantings that would comprise this buffer area (Sheet L2.6).  In addition, LCC pointed out that the tree locations shown on the landscape plans appeared to be arbitrary, with little indication of any design concept or ability to provide the essential screening. 

 

LCC believes that an alternative landscape plan for the west property line is possible and is willing to work with Talaris on developing the details for such a plan, which would include identification of trees to be removed and the location and species of trees to be planted (similar to the level of detail provided by the current Settlement Agreement plan).

 

9.           Façade Design and Lighting.  At the June 25 meeting and subsequent site visit, LCC asked Talaris consultants to provide more information regarding the Phase 1 building’s façade design and materials, and commitments regarding the same, as this information is relevant to aesthetic and interior light impacts and landscaped screening needs along the property lines.  LCC notes that DPD has repeatedly asked for similar information from Talaris, but we have not found it in the DPD project file and no additional information is provided on the June 25 plans.

 

10.       Parking Quantity:  At the June 25 meeting, LCC confirmed that the basic parking quantities calculated by Talaris for Phase 1 appeared to comply with the Agreement:  88 spaces for 2370 sf of conference space; 314 spaces for 89,800sf of office (IAS non-conference) space; 5 spaces for childcare; and 233 spaces for the existing facilities that would remain.  (Note:  LCC is not able to confirm whether the square footage determined for each type of use is accurate because the floor plans are irregularly shaped, have no dimensions and are not individually labeled with their square footage.)

 

Since the June meetings, LCC’s land use consultant Carol Eychaner was able to compare the number of parking spaces calculated by Talaris with the number of spaces shown in the parking garage and surface lots, and has found the following discrepancy:  The parking garage is supposed to have 375 spaces but has only 371 spaces (including all van and accessible spaces).  The error appears to occur because 4 small spaces on the ramp between Levels PB and PA were counted twice and included in the summary counts for each level.  The actual number of small parking spaces shown on the plans for Levels PB and PA and their corresponding summary totals are:

 

                Level PB:  48 spaces shown, 52 in summary total

                Level PA:  53 spaces shown, 53 in summary total

 

There are other inconsistencies on the plans regarding the summary totals (such as simple errors in addition) but these were taken into account and did not affect the 4-space shortfall.

 

The plans should be revise to provide the full 375 parking spaces.

 

(Note:  LCC is not able to confirm whether the parking spaces comply with size requirements because of the lack of dimensions on the plans and because space size is not labeled in the surface parking areas.)

 

11.       Above-Grade Structured Parking:  Per our discussion at the June 25 meeting, Carol. Eychaner re-checked the parking garage for consistency with the Agreement’s requirement that new parking be provided “on or below grade” and its prohibition on “above grade parking structures” (Section 5.4).  No one plan sheet depicts the proposed parking in relation to existing grade nor is there an elevation for the parking garage ceiling (only floor elevations are provided).  However, based on information compiled from several plan sheets, Ms. Eychaner confirmed that portions of the eastern half (approximately) of Level 1 of the parking garage are above grade, and would require an amendment to the Agreement.  The extent to which the garage is above grade varies throughout the eastern half of Level 1, but is most pronounced along its eastern line where the existing grade is about 33 to 34 feet (not the 40+ feet indicated by Talaris’ architect), while the proposed floor of Level 1 parking is 30 feet and its ceiling roughly 42.5 feet.

 

LCC is willing to consider an amendment to the Agreement to accommodate the above-grade parking garage structure if other outstanding issues identified in this letter are resolved.

 

12.       Phase 1 Building Height:  In conjunction with reviewing the parking garage height, Carol Eychaner also reviewed the existing grade and roof elevations depicted on Plan Sheet A2.00 to determine if the overall structure complied with the Agreement’s height requirements.  Ms. Eychaner found two problems with overall building height:

 

·          The Agreement establishes a maximum structure height of 30 feet and defines “maximum height” as “the highest point of any structure as measured from the average of the highest point and the lowest point of the pre-construction grade” (Section 2).  The highest and lowest points of the preconstruction grade are shown on Plan Sheet A2.00, and at elevations 52 and 24 appear to be reasonably accurate.  The average of these two heights is elevation 38, which means that the maximum structure height allowed under the Agreement for the Phase 1 building is 68 feet (30+38).  The height of the revised Phase 1 building is greater than originally proposed, and at 71’-6” exceeds the height allowed in the Agreement.  An amendment to the Agreement would be necessary to accommodate the revised height.

 

·          The existing grade elevations depicted along gridline “G” (elevation 41.5 feet +/-) appear to be in error and exceed the existing grade contours shown on the topographic survey, which are in the range of 33 to 34 feet.  Because the Land Use Code measures height from existing grade, the proposed 71.5-foot structure height along the same gridline may exceed the Code’s 30-foot height limit.

 

LCC is willing to consider an amendment to the Agreement to accommodate the structure height if other outstanding issues identified in this letter are resolved.

 

            In summary, LCC will consider amendments to the Agreement related to Items #1, #7, #8, #11 and #12 if these and other issues in Items #2 through #6, #8 and #9 are resolved along the lines described in this letter (many of which are close to resolution).  Of course, LCC would agree to not appeal the MUP as part of any amended Agreement.

 

            As your July 30 letter points out, a substantial amount of time has passed since LCC first attempted to negotiate with Talaris on potential changes to the Settlement Agreement. Talaris’  uncertainty about its long range plans and the broad sweep of those it has disclosed have contributed to the passage of time.  LCC has been patient as Talaris has worked through the process.  We are ready to bring it to a successful conclusion as soon as Talaris can  provide the necessary information and address the outstanding issues.

 

            Therefore, please contact us at your earliest convenience to continue discussions regarding the amendment to the current Settlement Agreement.  You may also contact Carol Eychaner directly if you would like more information regarding the parking shortfall, above-grade parking garage and building height issues.

 

Sincerely,

                                           

Jeannie Hale, President                                     Stan Sorscher, Battelle Committee Chair

3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE                                  3716 NE 43rd Street

Seattle, Washington  98105                                          Seattle, Washington  98105

206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631                              206-522-7660

jeannieh@serv.net                                                        sorscher@comcast.net


 

[1] As a point of clarification, the issues listed in the July 30 letter are described as being “outside of the Settlement Agreement” when, in fact, several of the issues are directly related to the Settlement Agreement.  For example, discussion about the loading dock’s hours of operation has been necessitated by Talaris’ proposal to build the loading dock/area retaining walls within the Agreement’s required 25-foot setback, and use of the Talaris facility for parties or by the University of Washington’s Center for Mind, Brain and Learning are also related to the uses permitted under the Settlement Agreement.