The King County agency that issues building permits has raised several questions about the scale of Vashon Allied Arts’ proposed performing arts center, suggesting the building may be taller than code allows and the amount of parking VAA has proposed is inadequate.
The Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES), in a letter sent to VAA on May 22, called on the arts organization to revise its plans and reduce the building’s height and to find a way to add 70 spaces to its plan for 100 parking spots. The letter also notes that planners in the county’s historic preservation office have raised concerns about the project.
“It may be that significant site issues will affect your site layout and development, causing a redesign of the Vashon Allied Arts’ project,” according to the letter, signed by Dave Sandstrom, a program manager at DDES.
But Kirk Robinson, VAA’s Seattle-based project manager and a veteran of the permit application process, said the questions raised by DDES are typical of a large project at this stage in the process. He feels confident, he added, that he and the architects will be able to address DDES’s concerns.
“We’re moving through this,” he said. “We’ll take care of all of their questions. This all relates to … technical items under the building permit application process.”
The four-page letter sent to VAA comes in the midst of a public review process. Under the state’s environmental policy law, residents have a period of 21 days to comment on a project undergoing an environmental review. DDES extended the comment period until June 20 — all told, 35 days — because of the difficulty Islanders faced in getting to Renton to review the weighty files.
Already, several have weighed in on the project, a 20,000-square-foot structure proposed for Center — the intersection of Cemetery Road and Vashon Highway. Both Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island) and Councilman Joe McDermott, who represents Vashon on the King County Council, have voiced support for the project. So have several Islanders, including Vashon Park District Commissioner David Hackett, Peter Mantle and the Vashon Island Chorale.
“I like the public nature it brings to Center and feel that it revives a fading corner, offering the possibility of restoring the vitality, particularly the economic and community vitality, it has had in the past,” Nelson wrote in her one-page letter.
Charlie Sundberg, meanwhile, a planner for the county’s historic preservation program, wrote a seven-page letter outlining his concerns about the project, saying he believes the size and scale of the project are too much for the corner, one of the county’s most historically intact intersections.
“In its current form, it would destroy historic buildings, be out of scale with those that remain and overall have a detrimental impact on the historic character of Center,” Sundberg wrote.
Several Islanders have also noted concerns, including former School Board Member Donna Klemka, who wrote an eight-page letter to DDES, artist Saphire Blue, Michael Tracy and John Jex.
DDES officials, meanwhile, say VAA has two months to respond to the issues they raised in the May 22 letter. Of particular note is the height of the building, which DDES says is 45 to 47 feet from finished grade to rooftop — or 10 to 12 feet above what the zoning laws allow for a rural area.
Robinson said DDES is incorrect. The code allows for an additional foot of vertical height for each foot that the building is set back from the property line, and Robinson said the project is set back far enough from the road to give it several additional feet in height.
“We’ve shown them and will show them again that we’re allowed to build to the height that we’ve proposed,” Robinson said.
But James Chan, assistant director of permitting for DDES, said VAA has yet to prove to his department that the project is within the bounds of the zoning laws. “Their setback doesn’t balance with the height of the building,” he said.
Asked if it was unusual for a project to come in out of compliance with zoning laws, Chan said it’s been known to happen. “But considering who they’re using as their architect, they should have known this,” he said.
The building’s designer, LMN Architects in Seattle, is a nationally known firm that has designed several performance centers, including Benaroya Hall in Seattle.
As for parking, DDES said VAA’s plans for 100 parking spots is the minimum number the project requires. Because of the size of the performance center, which includes a 300-seat theater, the project needs to provide 170 parking spots, the DDES letter says.
Robinson said the project’s traffic engineers disagree that 170 spots are needed. On those nights when the theater is at capacity, patrons will park on the street, as they often do now for VAA performances, Robinson said — a parking plan he believes is allowable under county rules.
“That’s our interpretation of the code,” he said. “We’re currently parking people on the street right now.”
But Chan disagreed, saying, “I haven’t seen anyone allowed to use shoulder parking as part of their parking plan.” Rather, he said, he believes VAA will either have to find additional parking “or change the occupancy of their structure.”
Meanwhile, documents VAA submitted to DDES show the organization expects to have far more at-capacity performances than it suggested when it applied for a certificate of water availability from Water District 19 a year ago.
At the time, VAA said it expected 10 sold-out events a year at the new center and a total of 79 events annually. In a traffic analysis submitted by Heffron Transportation, Inc., the organization estimates 26 sold-out events and a total of 121 events a year.
But Jeff Lakin, manager at District 19, said he’s not concerned about the difference in the two numbers. The new building has two water shares, plus a third one for the Blue Heron Arts Center, the existing structure that will remain a part of VAA’s new campus.
“As far as the numbers stand now, they’ve got plenty of water,” Lakin said. “It’s not a concern.”