Just how far will the city of Shoreline go to override the will of its own citizens? In the past year, officials there have tried repeatedly to defy a King County judge's order to prevent a retirement home developer from destroying salmon habitat on Thornton Creek. Neighboring residents have bitterly opposed the residential development, proposed by Aegis Assisted Living of Redmond, and last year one Shoreline couple, Tim and Patty Crawford, won a lawsuit that halted it. But the city keeps looking for ways to give Aegis what it wants.
In May, city staff floated a proposal to remove Thornton Creek from the city's list of environmentally sensitive areas, so neither a judge nor any other meddling outsider could force them to protect it. Now, a recently discovered e-mail indicates that last year a Shoreline City Council member gave his initial approval to an unlawful private meeting between Shoreline officials and Aegis' CEO to help the company get its building permit. Whether the meeting actually took place is unclear, though the Shoreline city attorney says it did not.
In the e-mail, dated July 12, 2001, Shoreline Deputy Mayor Kevin Grossman says he's "open to getting together" with Aegis CEO Dwayne Clarke and suggests that Shoreline Mayor Scott Jepsen and city manager Steve Burkett also be included. Grossman was responding to an inquiry from Economic Development Council of Seattle & King County (EDC) president Art Scheunemann, who had written to say that Clarke, an EDC member, was having "difficulties in resolving some environmental permitting issues." (The Crawfords obtained the e-mail through a public information request.)
Grossman was obviously not impressed by Judge John Erlick's strongly worded ruling in the Crawfords' case, which said that the city had abdicated enforcement of its own environmental codes by allowing Aegis to build in an environmentally sensitive area on Thornton Creek. "I believe the rest of the council is on the same page as I am—that the negotiated agreement with Aegis is a good one and the fact that people unrelated to the project . . . can come in after permits are issued and get a judge to issue a stop work order is a good example of process gone astray," Grossman wrote.
The Crawfords' attorney, Claudia Newman, says that Grossman has an "extreme bias against the Crawfords" and that he, Jepsen, and possibly other Shoreline City Council members should recuse themselves from any future votes on Aegis permits. She says state law prohibits council members from consulting privately with developers on building permits they later vote on.
Aegis has applied for a "special use" permit that would allow its project to proceed on the grounds that the retirement complex's public benefits outweigh environmental or other regulatory considerations. The permit application goes to a public hearing July 31 on its way to a City Council vote. The Crawfords have filed an appeal opposing the permit.
Shoreline City Attorney Ian Sievers says he doesn't believe Grossman is compelled to withdraw from future votes on Aegis permits. State law requires only that Grossman disclose that the e-mail exchange with Scheunemann took place, says Sievers. Sievers says he's certain that he advised Grossman not to meet with Aegis executives, though he doesn't remember how, when, or who initiated the consultation. Grossman did not return a call for comment.
Meanwhile, as if there is any doubt that the dispute over Aegis has spilled over into the personal realm, a Shoreline planning official assigned to the Aegis project showed up in Superior Court Monday to testify against the Crawfords in a separate case: one in which Aegis' general contractor accuses Tim Crawford of trespassing on Aegis' site and attacking him. Crawford disputes that he entered Aegis' property, noting that the contractor's fence was pushed out over the public right of way. The Shoreline official came down to say that as far as the city was concerned, the property was under Aegis' management, but the judge ruled that the testimony wasn't allowable.