Comment period begins for VAA's proposed performing arts center

Islanders have until June 7 to submit comments to King County about Vashon Allied Arts' proposed performing arts center under state rules that require a comment period to explore a project's environmental impact.

Comments submitted to the county's Department of Development and Environmental Services will become a part of the proposal and will be included in the county's review, said Dave Sandstrom, a planner with DDES.

"We're not adversaries or advocates of the proposal," he said. "We'll do the best analysis we can and take what's relevant (from the comments). It's an ongoing process."

Kirk Robinson, who's managing the project for VAA, said he expects the county will issue a "determination of non-significance," meaning that the county has found that the project is unlikely to have an adverse environmental impact.

"Everything we're doing is clearly allowed," he said.

The review is part of VAA's effort to secure a building permit as well an exception under the county's critical areas rules; the critical areas review is triggered by the existence of wetlands adjacent to the building site.

Islanders can comment on any aspect of the project, from its environmental impact to the architectural character of the building to VAA's plans to restore wetlands on the property. "We're looking at the whole site," Sandstrom said.

VAA has proposed building a 20,000-square-foot performing arts center, which will extend 255 feet along Vashon Highway S.W., from the corner of the intersection to close to the Blue Heron Arts Center. At its peak, the roof will be 44 feet tall. According to documents filed with DDES, the main floor will be buried four feet "to reduce the height and scale of the new building."

The building is being designed by LMN Architects, a Seattle-based firm that has designed other performing arts centers, including Benaroya Hall and McCaw Hall in Seattle. Architects hope the structure will attain a silver-level LEED certification — or third out of four possible levels a building can receive under an international rating system for environmental friendliness.

The total site is about four acres, with two acres of it made up of wetlands or the buffer area surrounding the wetlands. VAA proposes installing 100 parking spots in two paved parking lots — one to the south of the Blue Heron where a gravel lot now exists and another along the eastern edge of the new structure, off of Cemetery Road.

King County's Historic Preservation Office has raised concerns about the structure's impact on the historic character of the corner, one of the most historically intact intersections in the county. According to the county, the size and scale of the project will overwhelm the corner and the barn-inspired character will fit in poorly.

VAA, in a five-page addendum to its state-mandated environmental checklist, said its architects looked to well-known principles of design to make the structure compatible with the historic buildings on the corner.  A design can attempt a literal replication or intentional opposition, for instance, VAA said in its addendum. The design team, it went on, "consciously avoided a literal resemblance of historic styles" and instead "chose to make abstract references to the surrounding historic setting."

VAA's proposal also includes extensive wetlands restoration, including the removal of invasive weeds and the installation of a "structurally complex native plant community," according to the document it submitted to DDES. A proposed sculpture garden that would be located within the wetlands area is not included in the project's current permit application.

Robinson said he expects the project will receive a green light from the county within two to three months. Groundbreaking won't occur, however, until VAA has nearly all of the money it needs pledged or in-hand, he said. VAA currently needs to raise another $6 million for the $16 million project.

Written comments should be sent to DDES, Building & FIre Services Division, 900 Oakesdale Ave. S.W., Renton, 98057-5212. For more information, contact DDES Project Manager Mark Mitchell at 296-7119 or email him at


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