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Variance from Critical Areas Ordiance request of Parks & Rec Dept. re Woodstock Farm, 1200 Chuckanut Drive

Hearing Examiner #: HE-13-PL-012
Planning #:VAR2013-00008 / CAP2013-00009
Incident #:
Filing Date:04/17/2013
City Contact:Steve Sundin
Hearing Date: 05/08/2013
Description: Variance from Critical Areas Ordiance request of Parks & Rec Dept. re Woodstock Farm; 1200 Chuckanut Drive
Decision Date: 05/20/2013
Decision Summary:Approved with conditions.

This matter came before the Bellingham Hearing Examiner for hearing on the 8th day of May 2013 on the application of the City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department for a variance from critical areas regulations to replace a failing on-site septic system at Woodstock Farm, 1200 Chuckanut Drive.
Testimony was received from Steve Sundin, Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department; and Jonathan Schilk, Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department.
In addition to the Bellingham Municipal Code and Comprehensive Plan, the following documents were considered as part of the record: See Exhibit List.

1. The City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department applied for a variance from critical areas regulations to construct a replacement on-site septic system at city-owned property at 1200 Chuckanut Drive, known as Woodstock Farm.
2. The subject property is located on the hillside between Chuckanut Drive and Chuckanut Bay in Area 9 of the South Neighborhood.
3. Woodstock Farm is designated a Special Use Site in the City's Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan. The property contains several buildings constructed in the early 1900s and other features of historic, archaeological and cultural significance.
4. The property consists of approximately 13 acres. 93% of the property is within a geologically hazardous critical area or buffer. A large portion of the area lying outside the critical areas and buffer is occupied by structures or heritage trees of historic significance.
5. The property is located approximately one-half mile from the closest sewer main. Connection of the property to a sewer main would impact other critical areas and is not feasible at this time.
6. The property is currently served by an on-site septic system that has failed. The existing system is irreparable and lacks the capacity required to serve the property for its intended uses.
7. The Applicant proposes to replace the existing system with a tank farm treatment area, outflow forced main pipes, gravity sewer line, septic tank and drain field.
8. None of the proposed facilities would be located within 200 feet of the shoreline.
9. The tank farm and force main to the east would be located within a wetland buffer area but are allowed exemptions as replacements of existing facilities in BMC 16.55.080D.
10. A portion of the new force main leaving the Cow Man's Cottage and a portion of the gravity sewer from the Cook's House to the tank farm are in grassy areas within the buffer of Woodstock Creek and an associated wetland.
11. BMC 16.55.460A8 provides that on-site sewage disposal systems, including drain fields, are prohibited within erosion and landslide hazard areas and related buffers.
12. BMC 16.55.120 provides for variances from critical areas regulations if the criteria specified in that section are satisfied.
13. The Applicant has explored alternatives to the proposal including connection to a city sewer main, portable, composting or vault toilets, repair of the existing system, alternative locations, and no action. None of the alternatives are feasible. They would not result in a code-compliant solution for wastewater treatment and disposal.
14. The proposal minimizes impacts to critical areas. It locates the facilities outside the 200-foot shoreline buffer and within grassy areas that are already disturbed. It avoids removal of significant trees.
15. The property contains a number of site constraints including shallow depth to bedrock which limits the location of the drainfield, areas of unsuitable soil conditions, surface water, ground water seeps, archaeological sites, and steep slopes.
16. The proposal would eliminate an existing cesspool that is a source of pollution to the north of Cow Man's Cottage on the site.
17. A Critical Areas Permit in compliance with BMC Chapter 16.55 is required for the proposal. This permit is reviewed and issued by the Planning and Development Department.
18. A Geologically Hazardous Area Assessment for the proposal was prepared by GeoEngineers, Inc. This assessment concluded that installation of the drainfield as proposed will not have a significant impact on stability of the slope provided the natural vegetation along the slopes not be substantially disturbed. It also concluded that the risk of landslide hazard resulting from installation of the force main is relatively low and can be managed by incorporating good construction practices and stormwater and erosion control. It further concluded that the tanks and other features of the proposed system would be installed in areas with slope inclinations ranging from approximately 40% to 10%, with excavations likely less than seven feet in depth, and minimum cover of two feet for pipes, and that these elements would not result in significant adverse impacts to slope stability provided native soils are used for backfill and erosion hazard recommendations are followed.
19. Due to the site constraints, including the location of critical areas on 93% of the property, the location of historic and archaeological features, and the failure of the existing septic system, there are special conditions peculiar to this property that are not present on other properties in the same district.
20. The special conditions and circumstances necessitating a variance do not result from the actions of the Applicant.
21. Strict application of the requirements of BMC 16.55 would deprive the Applicant of all reasonable economic uses permitted for other properties in the same vicinity and zone. An on-site septic system is necessary to reasonable use of the property. Other properties in the vicinity use on-site septic systems. The proposal provides for the minimum variance needed to provide for reasonable use of the property.
22. Granting the variance will not confer any special privilege denied by BMC 16.55 to other properties under similar circumstances.
23. Granting the variance is consistent with the general purpose and intent of the regulations. It will not have significant adverse impact on the functions and values of the critical areas and it will not be materially detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to the property and improvements in the vicinity.
24. The best available science has been provided in support of the application and utilized in the design and location of the proposal. The proposal minimizes impacts to critical areas and buffers and locates the facilities outside the shoreline buffer.
25. Granting the variance is consistent with the general purpose and intent of the Comprehensive Plan and adopted development regulations. The purpose of the property's designation is to provide a unique recreational opportunity for the public to enjoy the historic and cultural features of the site. Provision of septic facilities is consistent with this purpose. Replacement of the failed septic system in a manner that minimizes impact to critical areas is consistent with development regulations.
1. The proposal satisfies the criteria for a variance from the prohibition of on-site septic systems within a geological hazard area and other restrictions of the critical areas regulations that would restrict location and installation of the facilities as proposed.
2. The variance should be approved for the proposed facilities, subject to the conditions set forth below.
3. Any Finding of Fact that should be denominated a Conclusion of Law shall be deemed to be a Conclusion of Law. Any Conclusion of Law that should be denominated a Finding of Fact shall be deemed to be a Finding of Fact.
A variance is granted from the restrictions of BMC 16.55 to allow the location and installation of an on-site septic system, as proposed, on the property at 1200 Chuckanut Drive, Woodstock Farm, subject to the following conditions:
1. The variance is contingent upon approval of a critical areas permit by the City and conditioned upon compliance with all conditions set forth in a critical areas permit.
2. The proposal shall comply with the recommendations of the Geologically Hazardous Area Assessment and utilize best available science and methods in location and construction of the facilities.
3. The location and installation of the on-site septic system shall be substantially as proposed in the materials submitted in support of the proposal, except as modifications may be required to comply with conditions of the critical areas permit or to satisfy recommendations contained in the Geologically Hazardous Area Assessment prepared for the proposal.
4. The proposal shall comply with all other requirements of the Bellingham Municipal Code, or variances obtained.

ENTERED this 20th day of May 2013.
Bellingham Hearing Examiner
Dawn Sturwold