The city of Ellensburg’s hearing examiner considered land-use decisions on a height variance for a proposed water park and hotel at the south interchange Thursday night, the first meeting of its kind for the city. The city’s building code allows buildings up to 35 feet tall in the zones at the proposed site. Wenatchee land-use attorney Andrew Kottkamp, appointed as hearing examiner by the Ellensburg City Council, heard arguments for and against a height variance that would allow for a planned 77-foot high hotel and indoor water park complex at the interchange.
For zoning code variances, the hearing examiner’s rulings are final, and appealable to the City Council. Kottkamp said he’d have a decision in writing for the council ready in 10 business days.
With a hearing examiner, the burden of proof to show their plans match the letter and spirit of city laws is on the applicants, he said.
Ellensburg attorney Jeff Slowthower — who is representing the applicants, Lakeside Town Center Associates LLC — said much of the thinking behind building five stories comes from the fact the floodplain and critical areas issues limit the amount of space on the lot to build.
As the area develops, as the owners hope it will, he said that will likely be a consistent theme for construction.
He added building up is also more energy efficient, which is encouraged by the city code, and taller water slides mean better water slides.
“If you’re going to take that number of motel rooms and not go that high, you would chew up a lot of real estate in an area where we should be minimizing our footprint,” he said.
For perspective, Slowthower offered buildings at Central Washington University: Barge Hall is about 98 feet tall, the Student Union and Recreation Center about 88 feet, and parts of the science building about 82 feet and 91 feet.
Since Interstate 90 sits on a grade, creating a roughly 40-foot berm along the edge of the property, Slowthower said the building won’t substantially block anyone’s view and will appear shorter from the roadway.
City senior planner Lance Bailey noted in the city staff report that Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue saw no outstanding problems for fire safety posed by the building’s height.
The city’s recently revamped land-use development code shifted many functions for making zoning and development decisions from the city Planning Commission to the hearing examiner, in part to apply more uniform decisions to land-use actions proposed in the city.
The proposal is only a variance on allowed building height. The project would still need a building permit, an OK from the fire marshal and other finished steps to continue.
David Bowen, the economic director with the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce, voiced his and the chamber’s support for the project.
“A world class facility like this will dramatically increase destination tourism here, which has been the major focus of the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce,” he said.
One person, Beverly Heckart, submitted comments in opposition to the proposed variance, and she told Kottkamp she was worried the variance would set a precedent of flouting the city’s building height rules for the rest of the site, should development pick up.
Heckart is a member of the city Planing Commission, but said her comments were her own.
She also said she thought the comparison to buildings at CWU was misleading.
“They’re also in the midst of property that is vast, and that has been designed somewhat like a park,” she said. “These very tall buildings sit within open spaces, that decrease the offensiveness of their height. I don’t think that as time goes on this particular project, or if the phases develop also at heights like this, will exercise the same kind of proportionality.”
Slowthower said any notion of precedent was speculative, considering there is so much more to do on the project and any additional phases haven’t been planned much beyond theory.
He added space issues at Central force the university to build up as well.
Lakeside Town Center owner Gene Martin also has discussed plans for outlet stores at the development. By ANDY MATARRESE staff writer for the Daily Record Original Article