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Black Diamond hearings filled with emotions

The first four days of the hearing for The Villages and Lawson Hills master planned developments in Black Diamond were filled with emotion, drama and more than a few plot twists.

The five-member City Council is in the process of considering the approval – with conditions – of permits for the two YarrowBay developments.

The two developments combined could eventually add about 6,000 homes to the community of approximately 4,000 people. The city’s Web site states the population of the city could grow to 20,000 during the next 20 years.

Looking into the face of this kind of change has created a hot-house of tension, at times pitting friends and neighbors against each other.

Mayor Rebecca Olness opened the first day of the hearing June 21. By June 23, three of the five council members had recused themselves, leaving the proceedings without a quorum. The Wednesday meeting ended with tempers flaring and obscenities flying.

The first two members to remove themselves from the hearings were Councilwoman Leih Mulvihill and Kristine Hanson on Tuesday.

Mulvihill left after six members of the audience challenged her on “appearance of fairness” issues.

Hanson left next, her reason being that her property abuts The Villages site.

The most controversial moment of the week came when Councilman Bill Boston recused himself at the opening of the June 23 meeting.

His decision centered on actions taken by the Lake Sawyer Community Club.

During the June 22 hearing, after Mulvihill and Hanson had stepped away from the proceedings, YarrowBay attorney Nancy Rogers of the Seattle firm Cairncross and Hempelmann, raised appearance of fairness challenges directed at councilmen Bill Boston and Craig Goodwin, based on their membership in the community club.

Rogers’ legal argument centered on the club giving $5,000 to Diamond Coalition to appeal the YarrowBay developments. Rogers based her argument on the Save v. Bothel decision handed down by the King County Superior Court and affirmed by the state Supreme Court, which ruled two members of a planning commission had violated the appearance of fairness in a quasi-judical proceeding through their membership in the city’s chamber of commerce. The ruling stated “such membership demonstrates the existence of an interest, which might substantially influence the individual’s judgement.”

Goodwin said he is not an active member of the club and was not aware the group had given $5,000 to appeal the development.

Boston said would remain a part of the proceedings because he could be impartial, but had ended his membership due to the political actions of the club; he said he did not agree with the donation of $5,000.

Boston returned to the hearing June 23 and stated after reading Save v. Bothell and the bylaws of the club he had to recuse himself.

On the recording of the June 23 hearing Boston said the bylaws state the purpose of the club is to “bring together all members in good standing to inform and discuss mutual problems, concerns and interests affecting our community, the lake and our surrounding environment.”

The councilman said, “In here it says nothing about financially supporting a coalition that litigates against a private party or a municipality.”

Boston added, “I feel cheated by the actions of the Lake Sawyer Community Club.... I’ve always thought they were a great organization, but they’ve taken away my ability to serve the interests of all citizens in a fair, dedicated and impartial manner.”

Boston’s statements at the meeting stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy.

Accusations were made to the newspaper that Rogers had made a false statement about how the club spent the $5,000.

Boston said in a phone interview Thursday, “I’ve heard it (the $5,000) was for water studies, but water studies for what?”

Joe May, community club president, said during a phone interview, “The money was to be earmarked for a water quality expert.”

However, Rogers based her legal argument on the minutes from the Feb. 10 Lake Sawyer Community Club’s annual meeting, which are posted on the club’s Web site, http://www.lakesawyer.org/meetings.html that stated:

“A proposal published in the agenda read as follows: ‘A motion to have LSCC donate $5,000 to the Diamond Coalition, a 501(c)3 organization, to be used for the purpose of retaining a land use attorney or other attorney(s) and experts and other resources as necessary to assist in the appeals process of land development issues.’ Sue Sherer made the motion as proposed. The motion was seconded by Susan Ball. Discussion followed. The motion was passed overwhelmingly, with 6 votes against.”

May said by phone Friday, “It was my understanding it was earmarked for a water quality study. But is obvious the minutes say lawyers.”

He said he now understands Rogers’ legal argument was centered on the minutes of the meeting and was not based on a false statement.

May had said Thursday the club members are concerned about the water quality in the lake and what mitigation would be necessary from YarrowBay to maintain the water quality of the lake.

“The people that live on the lake are interested in the quality of the lake,” May said.

Boston said during Wednesday’s meeting he was not recusing himself “because it is a ploy or it is any kind of legal maneuver... I lay the responsibility of my recusal squarely on the back of the Lake Sawyer Community Club officers and board members.”

Boston said Friday, “In my heart of hearts I know I was right.”

Once Boston recused himself the “rule of necessity” was invoked, which by state law allows all members of the City Council to return to the proceedings.

All five returned Thursday and the hearing continued with presentations by the staff and YarrowBay.

The hearing continued Monday and Tuesday. The hearing is scheduled to continue tonight, Wednesday, and July 6, 7 and 8. All sessions will begin at 7 p.m. at Black Diamond Elementary School.

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