National Park

Is the latest setback the end of a long-planned resort near Mount Rainier National Park?



Debbie Cockrell / The News Tribune

A long-proposed resort in a prime location near Mount Rainier National Park has suffered a serious setback that could lead to its demise.

In a May 20 decision, a hearing reviewer granted Pierce County Planning and Public Works’ request to revoke a conditional use permit for the development of the Mount Rainier Resort project at Park Junction.

The developers of the project filed for reconsideration on May 28.

Plans for the project were originally filed in the 1990s. The proposal was subject to a complex conditional use permit which included more than 100 conditions and was continually challenged by opponents.

In his latest ruling, Examiner Stephen Causseaux wrote:

“This applicant has not demonstrated that he has the capacity to complete a massive and complicated resort project in the foreseeable future, if ever. Therefore, revocation of the permit is the appropriate remedy.

“By failing to meet the agreed first milestone, the applicant has essentially revoked his own license.”

This milestone, the creation of trial wetlands, was set for November 30 and was the subject of a separate land use petition filed in November on terms and deadline.

In the developers’ request for reconsideration, lawyer William Lynn wrote in 15 points: “It is not fair or consistent with the evidence to say that the plaintiff is at fault for the current state of the wetland problems. He literally did it all. this could be done without the involvement of other agencies and no subcontractors available due to the pandemic and the heat of the construction market. “

PERMIT REVOKED

Park Junction LLC is looking to develop a more than 400-acre resort area between the Elbe and Ashford that would include a golf course, a conference center, a 270-room hotel, shops and other amenities.

The conditional use permit for the estimated $ 200 million project was first approved in the early 2000s and has been the subject of periodic status reviews in public hearings.

The project’s long period of inactivity has been continually contested by its main opponent, the Tahoma Audubon Society, whose members contend the project will bring sprawling rust, destroying land now populated by elk and other habitat.

Following the third project status hearing in July 2019, with more people testifying against the project than proponents, a Pierce County hearing reviewer ruled that specific milestones must be met to maintain the license for conditional use afloat.

The first required the development of two trial wetlands, with an initial deadline of October 30, 2020, which was extended by the hearing examiner to November 30.

On December 1, a county review of the test wetland sites found they were still under development and led the county to seek revocation of the permit.

In his decision, Causseaux wrote: “This revocation request must be viewed in light not only of the fact that the claimant has not reached the first and simplest milestone, but also in light of the claimant’s progress over the course of over the past 20 years.

“A review of the testimony and documentary evidence on file shows a history of apologies and mismanagement that previously delayed the project. This story continues as the Applicant has now missed the first agreed milestone. , including inadequate supervision and organization, remain. “

The decision was challenged by Park Junction LLC, which represents development partners, including Sylvia Cleaver Shepherd of Portland, Ore., And Rick and Gayle Adams of Elba.

Gayle Adams and his wife, Cora, teamed up in the early 1990s with Shepherd, who brought in Selwyn Bingham, one of his partners at BCB Group, a development company in Portland.

Bingham died in 2013; Cora Adams died in 2018.

REQUEST FOR REVIEW

The partners involved in the project filed a brief after the revocation hearing but before the decision of the hearing commissioner. In it, they described the possibility of revocation as “unjustified and disproportionate”.

“Intentional violations of land use permits occur regularly and have real physical impacts and the county generally does not seek revocation, even in these cases,” wrote their lawyer, Lynn. “The county has not fulfilled its onus here where there has been no breach, no willful violation and no prejudice.”

Later, in a five-page reconsideration request, Lynn said: “There was no evidence that the delay in completing the test wetlands would impact any other aspect of the proposal. In fact, the evidence shows that the plaintiff was continuing to make progress on other milestone requirements until and until the date of the hearing. Wetland mitigation is not required by any code until impacts occur. “

He added: “The only information that is being delayed is the ability to see the performance of the test wetlands during the wettest part of the rainy season. There is no evidence that the delay will have an impact. negative impact on schedule in all other respects. Again, all of this mitigation is completed (even with the delay) long before any actual impacts occur. “

Causseaux in his ruling wrote that the delays had a ripple effect on surrounding businesses and the national park itself.

“The proposed complex affects the business decisions of owners of restaurants, accommodation, gift shops, etc. in the Upper Nisqually area,” he wrote. In addition, the station offered to work with the National Park Service to provide a bus up the mountain and also offered to connect the park headquarters building to its sewer system. This affects the park’s decision to ” improve or repair its septic system on site.

The delays may have had an impact on the Eatonville School District which must decide to close Columbia Crest Elementary due to lack of enrollment or to leave it open in anticipation of the development of the complex. Finally, neighbors have waited for many. years to plan their plots to suit the complex The delays impacted the entire Upper Nisqually area.

Lynn, in the request for reconsideration, replied: “There was no evidence that anyone was awaiting any of these items or that they were embarrassed by the delay. There was no evidence. prejudice that the plaintiff could refute. The comment on The Park Service is particularly troublesome. The Park Service transportation system does not wait for the project, the project waits for the Park Service. The plaintiff would be delighted if the National Park Service s ‘committed its share of the intended use.

Tara Long, media representative for Planning and Public Works, said via email in response to questions: “The Hearing Examiner will decide the next step in the process after considering the reconsideration request.”

Long added, “Based on the Hearing Examiner’s May 20 decision to revoke the conditional use permit, all work on the property is expected to be halted at that time.”