Issaquah funeral home proposal raises traffic congestion concerns

June 21, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Concerns about traffic congestion prompted downtown Issaquah residents and business owners to mobilize last week in a neighborhood effort to thwart a funeral home operator from opening a facility in a church along East Sunset Way.

The municipal Planning Department is considering a proposal from Service Corporation International, a Houston-based funeral products and services provider, to renovate Abide Baptist Church, 425 E. Sunset Way, into a funeral home. (The company also operates Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Bellevue and Greenwood Memorial Park in Renton, plus funeral homes in the same cities.)

The applicant’s parking proposal attracted the most ire from project opponents. Plans call for aisle parking, similar to the lineup near a ferry dock, to accommodate about 20 vehicles for services and visitations at the funeral home. The proposal also calls for using a parking attendant to direct vehicles before and after events.

“I can’t say that that’s going to work,” city Senior Planner Marion O’Brien said. “There are some problems with what they’re showing there as well as with dimensions. We will need to have clarification on some of these proposals. That’s a given.”

The proposal also outlines seven parking stalls on site for use during regular business hours. The applicant also seeks to pave the gravel parking lot.

Other plans outline a proposed roof extension to provide cover for the handicap accessibility ramp along the east side of the building and adding a canopy roof above the entrance facing Fourth Place Southeast.

“We’re working with the city in this process to see what it is that we need to do to make sure that we fully comply with all of the city’s rules and regulations,” Service Corporation International spokeswoman Lisa Marshall said. “We want to be a good neighbor, and we fully expect that the city will treat us fairly as we go through this process.”

Congestion concerns prompt action

East Sunset Way near the proposed funeral home also includes left-turn restrictions in place during the morning and afternoon commutes. Opponents said the restrictions could create additional congestion, especially as mourners coming to Issaquah from elsewhere attempt to reach the funeral home.

The site also attracted attention from neighbors because the proposed facility is a block from Flintoft’s Funeral Home. Neighbors said services from the long-established funeral home did not cause traffic congestion in the neighborhood, because the existing funeral home includes space for parking on several nearby parcels.

Owners Tom and Allen Flintoft hired a Bellevue transportation engineer to conduct a traffic study related to possible impacts from the proposed funeral home.

The study estimated the parking supply to be adequate for 30 percent to 40 percent of average-sized funerals. Overflow parking is bound to spill into the surrounding neighborhood, the study showed.

“Many times, people need to leave early to get back to work or like having the freedom to leave early,” Tom and Allen Flintoft wrote in a letter to the Planning Department. “Many memorials are now followed by a time of fellowship, sharing of memories and refreshments, thus lessening the chances attendees will want to commit themselves to such a trapped-in style parking.”

Former Councilman David Kappler, a homeowner in the neighborhood, organized a meeting June 15 to organize people against the proposal. The meeting attracted about 35 neighborhood residents and business owners.

“When you have an entire neighborhood walk in and say, ‘You know what? We have parking issues already, and you are adding to our parking issues,’ that’s some pretty good stuff to go against granting a modification,” said Issaquah Environmental Council President Connie Marsh, a project opponent.

Applicant aims to be ‘good neighbor’

The team behind Sherwood Chiropractic, Mark and Misty Sherwood, raised concerns about losing street parking spots during events at the proposed funeral home.

“We do have a lot of people that, basically, pull up front, come get adjusted and they’re in there 10 minutes,” Misty Sherwood said.

City Senior Planner Christopher Wright said the Planning Department received about 30 comments related to the application, including more than 150 signatures on a petition urging the city to reject the proposal.

City planners sent the feedback to the applicant June 20. The city also asked the applicant to respond to the comments, per standard procedure.

Then, after city planners receive a response, the application can be approved outright or approved after planners require the applicant to meet certain conditions. The city could also deny the application.

Or, planners could send the application to the Development Commission, a city board responsible for overseeing large-scale projects, for consideration.

“I’m also hoping that, maybe, the proponent will decide that this is not a good idea,” Kappler said.

In any instance, Service Corporation International can appeal the decision to the hearing examiner, a municipal official responsible for certain development-related decisions.

The applicant can also withdraw the application or provide no response. Following six months without contact, the Planning Department considers the application withdrawn.

Service Corporation International has no target opening date for the proposed Issaquah funeral home, but spokeswoman Marshall said the company is eager to open in the city.

“We want to be a good neighbor to the community, and so our goal here is not to reach out and make everybody mad, obviously, because we hope that they’re our customers at some point,” she said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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