Residents doubt flood-handling promises for Gilman
March 11, 2014
By Peter Clark
City and developer assurances couldn’t hold back a flood of doubt March 4.
The Rivers and Streams Board held a public hearing about plans for redevelopment on Seventh Avenue Northwest and Northwest Gilman Boulevard. Almost 40 people attended to hear how developer Lennar Multifamily Investors’ residential building plans might affect the existing floodplain.
“We’re primarily here to hear the public’s comments,” City Environmental Planner Peter Rosen said at the meeting. “There’s a lot of information and a lot of issues in terms of the building design, and that’s going to be dealt with by the development commission. Here, we’re trying to focus on the natural resource issues and flooding.”
Lennar Multifamily Investors Development Director Tom Bartholomew presented schematics for how the development of the three five-story residential units plans to mitigate floodwater.
Essentially, the design features a 6-foot canal through the center of the property that will carry floodwater to the culvert under Seventh Avenue Northwest, and a flattening out of the ground near Issaquah Creek will contain a greater capacity.
“It is a tricky site,” Bartholomew said, describing the manner in which the storm water currently sheets across the parking lot. “Water breaches this on an average of every eight years. Because of what we’re doing, it will be every 14 years. These stores should be better off.”
City Surface Water Manager Kerry Ritland said city restrictions kept Lennar from negatively affecting the surrounding properties. He approved of the plans the developer presented.
“I’ve been working with these guys for six to 12 months or more trying to figure this out,” Ritland said. “They have to re-create the current flood situation as it currently is.”
He said the developer had the challenge of controlling the floodwater on the site without impacting neighbors.
“I can vouch for the technical analysis that has gone into this proposal,” Ritland said. “There aren’t really any other options when you have a situation like this. I’m completely satisfied.”
Business owners who attended the meeting had a lot of flood memories and were even more skepticism about Bartholomew’s proposal.
“It’s not going to be enough,” Darlene Cohen, owner of Gilman Galleries, located in the property’s strip mall. “We’ve waded in it. I’ve watched it with my own eyes.”
Local dentist Gary Folkman owns property on the other side of Issaquah Creek, across from the proposed development. He expressed concern that the plans were designed for the two-year flood, not the high mark of the 10-year flood, and he said he doubted their effectiveness.
“This just doesn’t make sense to me,” Folkman said. “I don’t believe it. My logic is having a hard time computing those mathematics.”
He said the city made him extend the floodplain much like Lennar’s plans provided. He said he spent a lot of money to provide landscaping that did not last long.
“The first flood washed every single plant away,” Folkman said. “My whole property is just a noxious weed patch. The water does incredible things.”
The low elevation of the land, so close to the water table, has caused business owners problems even when no flood conditions exist.
“This is a really difficult property,” Cohen said. “I couldn’t even put my flooring down because below that level wouldn’t set. I’m just wondering how this is all going to work on this piece of property, because that ground is saturated if you have a lot of rain. Because, the fact is, you’re at water level.”
Local resident Connie Marsh could not see how neighboring properties would remain unaffected.
“I don’t believe any of this, frankly,” she said. “I don’t see how this will not impact surrounding areas.”
Rivers and Streams Board member Jeff Wood sounded convinced as he explained what he took from the presentation.
“What I’m hearing is they’re creating more floodplain, they’re raising the building and they’re trying to lower the impact,” Wood said. “This plan provides a better flood plan for that area while giving less impact.”
What happens next
The property will receive an environmental review addressing flood mitigations through March. Then, the site development permit will go to the Development Commission. That commission will hold a number of public meetings regarding design and building plans.
City officials have repeatedly said they want as much public comment as possible moving forward. The redevelopment marks the first large project under the Central Issaquah Plan.
At the board meeting, officials cautioned against neighbors thinking Lennar’s plans would improve flood conditions for others, and said simply that it would not make things worse.
“Ultimately, that Seventh Avenue roadway is the real control of the flooding,” Ritland said about the inevitability of the weather. “That’s a natural phenomenon that happens now, with or without this project.”