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Library system doesn’t need a special permit to remain at Ober

The King County Library System will not have to apply for a conditional use permit if it builds a new branch or expands its current one at Ober Park, the county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) has stated.

The county agency had said the library system needed to apply for such a permit, which most developers — public or private — don’t like, as it makes the construction timeline longer and adds a degree of uncertainty to the process, said Steve Bottheim, supervisor of the current planning section in DDES’s Land Use Services Division.

But after Islander Martin Koenig wrote a letter to DDES challenging its decision to require such a permit, Bottheim said, DDES staff reviewed their decision and decided he was right.

“It was just a misreading of the code,” Bottheim said. “The code is a complex body of regulations. People looked at it and had an interpretation that’s not consistent with what we’ve been doing. We took it to our internal regulatory review body, ... and they collectively agreed that the interpretation we made initially was incorrect.”

Koenig, who has played a key role in a citizens’ effort to keep the library within the town core, said he was pleased by DDES’s decision. The agency’s requirement that the library system obtain a conditional use permit to remain at its existing site “didn’t make sense to us,” Koenig said.

The library system is considering a move a mile down the road to a building at K2 Commons, the proposed redevelopment of the former ski manufacturing site. The DDES decision, Koenig said, is additional evidence that remaining at Ober Park is not a high-risk proposition, as library officials have sometimes suggested.

“This is not risky,” Koenig said. “K2 is your risky deal.”

Bill Ptacek, who heads the King County Library System, said it’s possible that the DDES decision will mean the library system’s initial cost estimates for building a new or expanded branch at Ober Park could be lowered.

“I think it does reduce it,” he said of the Ober Park costs.

According to the library system’s initial cost estimates, a new building at Ober Park was the most expensive option, while the costs of an expansion of the existing structure or its move to K2 were nearly equal.

Meanwhile, Ptacek said, he believes the five-member board that oversees the library system could make a decision about the future of the Vashon library branch at its May 26 meeting at the Des Moines library.

“I’m hoping the board has enough information to set some more specific direction,” Ptacek said.

“The board still needs to factor in all the things that they know right now and determine which way we should go with it,” he added.

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