Councilors support changes to appeals process, Simdars Road letter, parks plan

Sequim city staff will move forward drafting an ordinance for the Sequim Municipal Code that will send all quasi-judicial permits and appeals to an appointed hearing examiner.

City councilors directed City Attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross to draft the change in a 6-1 vote on Feb. 14, with William Armacost opposed.

Nelson-Gross said it does not change the existing ordinance yet.

The move comes after councilors asked to discuss hearing examiner options last December.

Deputy mayor Brandon Janisse felt there are multiple projects that would prohibit him from fairly sitting in a quasi-judicial hearing.

Under a new ordinance, a hearing examiner would make final decisions on closed record appeals, subdivisions, binding site plans, special/conditional use, and planned residential developments and major amendments.

The ordinance would revise council’s action from last July, when councilors voted 4-3 to let an interim ordinance expire that sends some appeals to Sequim city councilors.

A majority of councilors then felt they could hire a hearing examiner if needed.

Armacost, the lone councilor remaining on council to vote for the July motion to lapse, favored another option Monday night to send some decisions to the council — including subdivisions, binding site plans, special and conditional use, and planned residential developments.

Councilors approved the interim ordinance during the appeals process for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s medication-assisted treatment clinic. Phil Olbrechts, the city’s then-appointed hearing examiner, said the city’s Municipal Code prevented him from hearing the tribe’s appeal for the city’s State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) decision under the A-2 process, and any decision he made could be overturned in court.

On Monday, councilor Lowell Rathbun said he felt sending all final decisions to a hearing examiner was the cheapest and safest.

“I have no background or ability in legal decisions,” he said. “If I participate in a quasi-judicial proceeding, I worry my entire life savings would be at risk.”

Armacost said they would not be in a position of being held liable, per discussions with the city’s Risk Pool staff, and that Rathbun’s savings would not be at risk.

Mayor Tom Ferrell said he doesn’t think the council would be uninvolved in any process.

“It gives us time to understand where the process would flow,” he said.

City supports Simdars

City Manager Matt Huish got the council’s unanimous approval Monday to sign off on a joint letter with Clallam County and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe encouraging legislators to support the U.S. 101 East Sequim Road Project.

The entities’ specific request included completing the Simdars Road interchange and creating frontage roads from Palo Alto Road and Happy Valley Roads off the highway.

A pre-design study closed on Feb. 10 asking the public its input on multiple design options, including potential roundabouts on the highway at dangerous intersections.

Huish said the roundabouts were not discussed in previous planning. The letter states the entities “are concerned about traffic volume, access to commerce on the Olympic Peninsula, creating secondary access, and the potential impact during peak tourism,” and that it’s “critical that WSDOT properly analyze the impacts traffic circles would have on these items.”

WSDOT planners say the pre-design study with recommended improvements will be completed in May in an effort to pursue and receive funding opportunities for the project.

Local agencies and municipalities estimated that to build the Simdars Road’s on- and off-ramps, construct a frontage road for Palo Alto Road and Happy Valley roads along the highway to the new interchange, and add landscaping to the Sequim entryway would cost about $26 million.

Parks plan OK’d

Councilors unanimously approved the Sequim 2022 Citywide Parks and Open Space Plan on Monday. It’s been in the works since 2021 in an effort to “guide the development and acquisition of parks, open spaces, and recreational amenities, as well as the renovation of existing amenities over the next ten years,” according to staff.

A hearing on park impact fees was postponed to a later date, staff said.

No members of the public commented at the plan’s hearing.

Included in the 144-page document are recommendations for programming, park improvements, maintenance and operational needs and more. Staff previously said having the plan in place helps secure future grants.

Land acquisition talks quiet

After a brief executive session Monday, city councilors unanimously agreed for staff to seek an unspecified property for appraisal for purchase. Nelson-Gross said she couldn’t specify what property they are appraising at this time.

City staff vacancies

The city has two vacancies for department heads including Public Works and Community Development with director Barry Berezowsky continuing in the role before retirement at an undisclosed time, according to Human Resources Director Emily Stednick.

Other key positions open include city clerk, senior accountant, a police officer, and a facilities maintenance technician. Stednick said some of these are planned retirements and some from staff moving on. They continue to recruit through multiple local, state and national sources, she said.

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