Sides sound off in North Bend hotel dispute
September 30, 2009
By Michael Rowe
City planners back alternate version
Betty Vaughan rose slowly in Mount Si Senior Center’s crowded common area. Every seat around her was taken for the North Bend Planning Commission’s Sept. 24 public hearing on a zoning code amendment to allow a hotel on a parcel of land south of Interstate 90’s Exit 31.
“I’ve lived in North Bend over 70 years,” Vaughan said. “One night my father asked me to go close the front gate. I forgot to close the gate and look what happened – you all got in.”
People have been coming to North Bend for decades and a new hotel wouldn’t be any different, so let it come, she said.
Public comments were closely divided between supporters and opponents of the proposal, which George Wyrsch submitted. Wyrsch and his wife, Sharon, own the land, which would be affected, and have publicly said they want to build a hotel on the parcel.
Most opponents were from the nearby Forster Woods neighborhood.
The Planning Commission was collecting community input for its recommendation to City Council on whether to approve or deny the proposed change. The commission expects to vote on its recommendation on Oct. 8.
North Bend’s planning staff recommended that the original amendment proposal be denied, but did endorse an alternative version, North Bend head planner Gina Estep said.
The alternative version would require high performance standards for design to mitigate a hotel’s effect on nearby neighborhoods and a city gateway, Estep said in a presentation before the hearing.
A representative for Wyrsch told the commission that the amendment corrected a mistake the city made when it prohibited a hotel on the land in 2006.
“A hotel is no less appropriate on the south side of the freeway” than on the north side, where they are permitted, said Greg Dohrn, a community and economic development consultant for Wyrsch.
However, he disagreed with the alternative version’s performance standards, particularly prohibitions on flat roofs, large windows and other design elements.
Opponents said changing the code would be a mistake, not a correction.
The proposal is really a rezone, said Doug Weinmaster, a Seattle lawyer and North Bend resident.
Allowing the change would be a spot zoning — a rezoning that would favor only one individual — which could be challenged in court, Weinmaster said.
There could be litigation no matter what the city decides to do about the proposal, he said.
The staff’s recommendation to deny the code changes and the alternative performance standards are two separate issues, Forster Woods resident Dan Ahner said.
A hotel on Wyrsch’s property would hurt the rural character of the community, he said.
“Adding a tall building would be a significant detriment to the ambiance of the area,” Ahner said.
Hotel supporters said the city needs a place for visitors to Snoqualmie Valley to stay.
Visitors tell the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce that the Valley’s number one need is quality lodging, said chamber member Fritz Ribary.
“This (proposal) pays attention to those requests from tourists over the years,” he said.
Ribary grew up near the Wyrsch property, and one of the roads it sits on, Ribary Way, is named after his family.
Former chamber president Karen Granger and current chamber president Steve Rackets echoed Ribary’s comments on North Bend’s need for a hotel.
Near the end of the public hearing, Wyrsch addressed the commission.
“My intent is to build a quality product,” he said.
The hotel would not attract criminals — which some opponents have claimed, Wyrsch said.
A market study he commissioned indicates 40 percent of clients would likely be relatives or guests of Valley residents.
A hotel would have less effect in terms of noise and light pollution on nearby residents than would other land uses, Wyrsch said.
Michael Bayless Rowe: (425) 392-6434, ext. 248, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.SnoValleyStar.com.