K2 rezone debate grabs attention

A standing-room only crowd of Islanders crammed into Courthouse Square’s meeting room Monday night to hear what many thought would be a spirited discussion about whether the King County Council followed the rules when it voted to rezone the K2 property last month.

Tom Bangasser, an Island businessman, planned to introduce an emergency motion before the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, asking the assembled masses to support him in seeking a raft of public records on a rezone that he and some other Islanders say was slipped into a county plan update with scant review.

But like a party that suddenly fizzled, his motion went nowhere. A two-thirds vote of the community council’s board — or six of the eight board members present — had to approve the motion for the general membership to then discuss it. Only five did.

Thus, with hardly a word on the subject spoken, one of the most well-attended community council meetings in recent memory ended and everyone filed out — with a visibly shaken Bangasser vowing he would continue his effort.

“I’m going to apply (for the documents) under my own personal right,” he said as the crowd dispersed. “But it’s the community nity council’s responsibility to be on top of this stuff.”

Others, however, said they were frustrated by the ongoing controversy over the proposed K2 redevelopment, a controversy some contend is being driven by Bangasser.

Jim English, who ended his nine-year career on the community council Monday night with cake and a round of applause, was one of the three votes that kept Bangasser’s motion from reaching the floor.

Asked why, he said crisply, “I’m tired of playing this game with the K2 rezone.”

At issue is the county’s decision to change the K2 property’s zoning from industrial to commercial, a designation sought by the owners of the sprawling property and which they say is needed if they’re to sell it to two potential developers on Vashon — Dick Sontgerath and Truman O’Brien.

In a July 30 letter to County Councilman Dow Constantine, Robert Markovitch, president of K2 Sports, urged the council to support the corporation’s request for the rezone. Its designation as an industrial site doesn’t work on Vashon, Markovitch said, where transportation costs are high and interest in industrial activity is low.

“This property will simply deteriorate and fall off the tax records without some change to the zoning in the form of commercial business,” he said in his letter.

The rezone request was included in a mammoth update to the county’s comprehensive plan, which the county council approved on Oct. 6 and County Executive Ron Sims signed into law several days later. County officials say they followed the letter of the law in the process, posting the proposed changes on the county’s Web site and sending out a 12-page mailing to thousands of people, agencies and organizations weeks in advance of a September public hearing on the proposed changes to the plan.

That mailing includes an entry on the Vashon K2 rezone on page 11, with the words “Vashon K2” in bold type. Bangasser, according to the county’s mailing list, received two copies, representing his two different business interests in the near-vicinity of K2; the community council also received a copy, as did about 45 other Islanders or Island organizations.

Even so, none of the community council board members knew about the pending rezone, according to several interviews with board members and others active in the community council, and “everyone was dumbstruck” when the council members learned of its rezone at a meeting last month, said incoming board member Bill Tobin.

The mail is picked up by board member Jolene Lamb, who said she turns it over to English, the board chair for the past several years. English said he had no recollection of receiving the rezone information.

Bangasser, too, said he has no memory of the packet coming to his post office box. The county administrator in charge of the process, meanwhile, said she did not receive any undelivered packets from Vashon.

But even if he had received the publication, Bangasser said it appeared to him that there was insufficient notice. Looking at a copy of the packet obtained by The Beachcomber, he said, “If this is the only thing that was sent out, I think it’s wholly inadequate.”

Bangasser, a businessman known for taking strong and sometimes controversial stands on issues, has made the K2 rezone a bit of a one-man campaign on the Island. Over the last week, he has met with the Vashon Chamber of Commerce, the Vashon Park District board and Friends of the Library in an effort to get the rezone front and center and to address what he sees as a huge problem in the county’s rezone decision: It opens the door, he says, to the possibility of the Vashon Library moving to the K2 site, should Sontgerath and O’Brien find the financing to close on the pending deal next month.

“The community should have a say about where the library is, and they’ve been totally cut out of that process,” he said.

Sounding frustrated, he said the reason so few people are standing up to address the issue is in part because of the personalities behind the K2 redevelopment — and in particular, Dick and Melinda Sontgerath.

“Dick and Melinda are like the prom king and queen,” Bangasser said. “You get attacked if you criticize them.”

But others say Bangasser has been out of line and that he’s simply trying to derail the project because of the way it might compete with his own business interests on the Island. Indeed, for the last several days, countless e-mails have been been flying among various Island activists, with charges and counter-charges about whether the county followed the process, what that process is and what agendas are motivating the players in the drama.

“You are afraid to lose your tenants to this K2 project, and you should be,” Emma Amiad, a real estate agent on Vashon, wrote in an angry e-mail response to Bangasser. “I should be more diplomatic, but I’m just so tired of this.”

Bangasser, meanwhile, has taken shots at Melodie Woods, who heads the community council’s land use committee, the panel that has been at the center of the debate.

“Even you — a supporter of the K2 Commons project — have indicated at numerous meetings an inability to determine the K2 status,” he wrote. “Perhaps the new VMICC board can untangle this mess!”

Woods, in an e-mail response, said she is not a K2 supporter and has been transparent in her support of a rezone. Bangasser’s accusations, she added, are “simply an attempt to convince people I’ve not been objective.”

Bangasser is not alone, however, in his concern about how the process unfolded. Some Islanders have also suggested that a rezone requires much more notice, including a hearing before a hearing examiner, a study on the potential impacts and a large white sign with the proposed changes on it posted at the property site. Islander Susan Tobin, for instance, said she wondered why a traffic study wasn’t done to determine the impact that a rezone could have on the Island’s sometimes busy main highway.

But county officials say there are two kinds of rezone available to property owners. One takes an administrative path and goes through the county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES); it requires a large sign at the property and the involvement of a hearing examiner, said Paul Reitenbach, a senior policy analyst with DDES.

The other approach is a legislative rezone overseen by the county council, which is what happened in this instance when the council decided to include K2 in its plan update, Reitenbach said. No large sign is required in the legislative rezone, according to county code, nor is there the involvement of a hearing examiner. Under either scenario, traffic studies or other analyses that measure impact aren’t required, Reitenbach added; that occurs when an actual building or land-use project is proposed.

Ultimately, Constantine recommended approval of the K2 rezone, said Sharon Nelson, a state representative and Island resident who serves as his chief of staff. He did so on her recommendation, she said, because she believed, based on several meetings over the past year, that Islanders supported such a designation.

The issue of a potential rezone came up often last year, when Amiad led an effort to see if a consortium of investors could purchase the building for the community’s use. Ultimately, Amiad walked away from that effort when she couldn’t find any takers; Sontgerath and O’Brien entered the picture late last year.

Nelson said the meetings Amiad held, some of which she attended, suggested to her that Islanders supported a rezone.

“What we heard from the community council was save the building. That is what we are doing. If they had a change in priorities, I didn’t hear it,” she said.

Woods said that in the last couple of weeks, since news of the rezone hit Vashon, she has spent more than 45 hours on the issue, answering phone calls, writing e-mails and reading hundreds of pages of documents. Woods, a television-commercial producer who’s currently working in British Columbia, said in an e-mail to several Islanders Monday that she believes county officials followed the process required of them by county code.

“While the rezone caught a number of people by surprise, it wouldn’t have if we had all been paying more attention,” she wrote.

But Woods, who also didn’t know that the rezone was pending before the county council, said in an interview that the process could have been easier for laypeople to follow.

“It might not have been the easiest process. We might have wished we had more public notice,” she said. “But it looks like the county did what they were required to do.”

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