Community council votes to require protection of historic structures

In a long and spirited meeting Monday night, the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council decided that new construction next to an existing King County landmark has to complement the historic structure.

The body voted 20-11 to agree with a request by the council’s Town Plan Committee to amend the Vashon Town Plan in an effort to protect four structures considered landmarks within the rural town’s boundaries — The Hardware Store Restaurant, the Mukai Cold Process Barreling Plant, a restored greenhouse at the Beall Greenhouse complex and the Blue Heron Arts Center, a former Odd Fellows hall.

Some objected to the use of the word “shall” in the amendment — which said, in part, “any land use changes next to landmark properties shall complement the landmark’s style and character.”

But Natalie Sheard, a member of the Town Plan Committee, said such language was needed.

“This gives residents a voice,” she said.

The move, she and others acknowledged, is in part an effort to ensure that a new arts center next to the Blue Heron match the historic look of the white-washed 1912 building. Vashon Allied Arts, owner of the Blue Heron, supports the new language, Sheard added.

Changes to the town plan must be approved by the King County Council and won’t go before the nine-member body until March 2012.

The issue was one of many that come up at the wide-ranging, two-and-a-half-hour meeting, which also included some strongly voiced concerns about the direction of the council and what one member called its ongoing “crisis” in leadership and governance.

Early in the meeting, Hilary Emmer, who recently stepped down from the council, made an impassioned request that Tom Bangasser — a newly elected member of the council’s board — drop a public information request he recently made of her.

Bangasser has made two requests of Emmer under the auspices of the far-reaching state Public Disclosure Act, one of which asks to “see and inspect all your personal public records” between Aug. 1 and Jan. 6 and requesting an “expeditious reply.”

Noting that she’s a full-time caregiver, Emmer told the approximately 30 people in attendance Monday night, “Tom’s broad and repeated requests are a real burden to me.”

“I’m at a loss as to why he’s doing this,” she added to applause.

Later in the meeting, John Runyan, a leadership consultant, expressed concerned that nobody on the community council’s board answered or even acknowledged Emmer’s plea. “It just sails on by like it didn’t happen,” Runyan said, adding that he believes the board is failing to initiate “a dialogue about what truly matters.”

Carl Sells, the board’s acting president, answering Runyan, said he believed Bangasser’s request of Emmer “was a personal request. ... I don’t believe we have the right to do that.”

Monday night’s meeting followed a daylong retreat by the board at the Gold Beach community center, which board members described as fruitful and positive. At the beginning of the retreat, however, Tag Gornall, one of many Islanders who has begun to question the community council’s structure and effectiveness, stood before the group and told it that he and others believe the council is no longer legally construed and does not comply with Washington state law.

The reason, he said, is that state law requires a non-profit corporation such as the community council to notify its members of any action it plans to take at its annual meeting. But because of the council’s membership makeup — every Islander age 18 or older is a member and can vote at a meeting — it has no way to contact its membership in advance of a meeting.

“It’s impossible, because you don’t have the names and addresses,” Gornall told them.

Gornall, after his brief statement to the council’s board, said he and others who have begun looking into the council’s legality realized they had to quickly let the board know their discovery, which was made by Rex Stratton, a well-known Island lawyer.

“We had to notify them that everything is not fine,” Gornall said.

Bernie O’Malley, another member of the group, said he thinks it’s a serious matter.

“This isn’t a trick or a device. ... We think this is a real show-stopper,” he said.

At Monday night’s meeting, however, no one on the board made mention of the contention by a group of Islanders that the council is not a legally solid entity.

Rather, the board members and those in attendance tackled one tough issue after another — including the fact that King County has sharply reduced its budget for its six unincorporated area councils (UACs), Vashon community council’s current designation. In recent years, King County has given its six UACs $10,000 a year to cover various costs, including insurance to cover its board members from potential lawsuits. Because of the county’s financial crisis, it’s offered up only $1,200 for six months.

The other five UACs have signed contracts with the county for 2011. So far, Vashon hasn’t. At Monday’s meeting, the council decided to table a motion requiring the board to sign the contract.

Instead, members agreed to an emergency motion drafted by Bangasser and Frederick Woodruff, another board member, to send a letter to the county council’s nine members to “immediately correct this regrettable moment in our democracy” and restore Vashon’s community council budget.

The council also approved three new members to the board: Tim Johnson, Gay Rosser and John Staczek.

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