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Judge tosses out Islander’s suit over K2 rezone

A King County Superior Court judge on Friday dismissed Tom Bangasser’s far-reaching suit against the county and several other entities for what the Island businessman called the “back-door” way the county rezoned the mammoth K2 building a year ago.

Speaking from the bench, Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell ruled against Bangasser in four separate motions filed by the businessman’s defendants — King County, K2 Corp., the King County Library System and the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council. Each of the four entities asked the judge to dismiss Bangasser’s claims against it; in each case, the judge agreed, according to Bangasser.

“I don’t have any regrets,” Bangasser said in an interview Sunday night. “Obviously, you go into these things hoping for a grand slam home run.”

He added that he still believes the county failed to let the community know what was going on when it folded the question of K2’s rezone into a huge and complex revision to its comprehensive plan. A legal notice was put in The Beachcomber, he noted, but no mention was made of the K2 rezone.

“The only way you could have followed that is to be clairvoyant,” Bangasser said.

“I still would like to see the pro and con argument about why we’re messing around with the zoning on this Island without a dialogue,” he added. “My position is more of a Thomas Jefferson position — that the people have a right to know.”

But others who attended the hearing said they were encouraged by the judge’s rulings, which put to rest — among other things — the role of the community council. Bangasser had argued that the community council deprived him of his due process, failing — as a government agency — to play its role in the community.

The judge, however, told Bangasser that the community council — like five others in the county’s unincorporated reaches — is not a government agency.

According to Bill Tobin, a lawyer and member of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s executive board who also attended the hearing, the judge said the community council is “a mechanism to facilitate communication between King County and the people in unincorporated areas.”

The question of the community council’s status has come up from time to time on Vashon, Tobin noted. The judge’s ruling affirms what he and others have long said — that the council provides a town hall-style forum to discuss issues but is not a branch of government.

“The court did an excellent job, and the decision was the right one. We’re not a branch of county government. ... I think the judge’s decision today pretty much foreclosed future claims of that nature,” Tobin said.

The issue about the way the K2 building went from being zoned industrial to commercial has been a contentious issue on Vashon for several months, and anger and suspicions about how the rezone came about still linger on the Island.

A new zoning designation was needed, according to K2 and some businessmen interested in purchasing it, because there’s very little industrial base on Vashon anymore. The 180,000-square-foot structure a mile south of town — a cavernous site where K2 once made its famous skis and snowboards — could be sold and redeveloped only with the designation that it could be used commercially, they said.

But some Islanders said such a designation could have the effect of profoundly altering the Vashon town plan, which calls for commercial development only in the town core. Thus, when Islanders discovered the building had been rezoned with little Island input and scant public notice, many were angry.

Both Tobin and Bangasser said records about the rezone that surfaced in the course of Bangasser’s litigation shed some light on the way the process unfolded.

A letter to the county from two members of the community council’s board, for instance, dated May 15, 2008, said the council needed until the end of the year to decide its stance on the proposed rezone. Two months later, however, an internal King County memo stated that the community council endorsed the rezone.

“I’m still not happy with the way King County handled the rezone,” Tobin said.

As for Bangasser, he says his battle against the county is not over.

“I’m going to continue to fight because this is such a fundamental part of democracy,” he said.

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