Developers update controversial Toll Brothers project

Reviews change trees’ status

Toll Brothers presented its latest design plans for its townhome project on the former Seattle Children’s Home site (901 W. McGraw St.), to the community during the Queen Anne Community Council’s Land Use Review Committee (LURC) meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

The meeting, which about 60 people attended, provided an opportunity for the public to ask Toll Brothers questions. The representatives also explained their thinking behind several recent changes to the plan — mainly concerning tree preservation.

Toll Brothers project manager Bryon Ziegler facilitated most of the meeting.


Tree changes

“The trees are obviously a really big issue and so [that] has appropriately been under increased scrutiny,” Ziegler told the audience. “We had another arborist take a look at the trees.”

The status of a few exceptional trees changed. While Toll Brothers had been relying on the arborist provided by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), the company decided to bring in its own arborist for a second opinion. SDOT also doesn’t have authority over most of the trees in question, according to Ziegler.

“We decided at that time to reanalyze,” Ziegler said. “We hired an urban arborist [team] who has a lot of experience with Seattle. I had them do a peer review. They went and measured every tree. There were not a whole lot of changes, and we always planned on preserving the trees. But some of the interior trees got misidentified.”

For instance, a willow was mistaken for an alder, he reported. Willows have exceptional tree status, and therefore, that tree needed to be saved. They also learned that a cedar tree that was originally deemed exceptional wasn’t actually large enough to qualify as exceptional.

“We originally called all of the off-site trees exceptional, too, but technically, they’re not because they are in the public right-of-way,” Ziegler said. “But we’re still planning on keeping them.”

By the completion of the project, the site will have 40 more trees than it currently has, Ziegler said.

A couple meeting attendees wanted to know why the arborists made conflicting statements about the trees. Near the end of the meeting, another participant offered an answer: The city doesn’t have a rock-solid uniform code for determining plant status, he said; there is a lot of gray, so the fact that arborists are saying different things is not unusual.

According to Ziegler, the SDOT arborist and the contracted arborist both agreed with the new assessments.


Fielding questions

Ziegler read questions that had been previously submitted by the advocacy group Future Queen Anne, along with Toll Brothers’ responses to those questions.

One question asked if the company would preserve trees. Ziegler said it will preserve exceptional trees, in accordance with city policy.

Will Toll Brothers commit to providing more traffic studies, was another question. While the company has produced traffic studies for this development, no more will be done, was the answer.

Will the company commit to providing four-way stops, another question read. “To ask this project to support the city’s redesign of this arterial is a lot bigger than this project,” Ziegler said.

Will there be guest parking, another question read; no, was the response. Each of the 59 units will have one or two parking spaces, and guests would need to find street parking, just like any single-family home would.

A question asked if the company would do anything to accommodate the expanding Coe Elementary School nearby; no, was also the response. That’s the responsibility of the city, not of a housing development, Ziegler said.

Will the company enhance the community by providing bigger sidewalks and other improvements, another question asked. No, was the response; that’s the responsibility of other agencies.

At the meeting, Queen Anne Community Council member Lynn Hubbard asked if West McGraw will stay cobblestoned; it will, Ziegler said.

Participant Roger Downey queried, “Approximately once a year over the last 35 years, West McGraw and Crockett [streets] have been closed by snow. When they are closed — due to steep, worn cobblestone streets — no one can get in or out of this project, as far as I can see. Are you going to do anything about that?”

“There is the bus line right there,” Ziegler said.

Participant Sharon Levine asked technical questions such as how many garage spaces will each unit have, what’s the anticipated length of construction, how will trash and recycling operate and whether there will be roof decks.

Each unit will have one to two garage spaces, the anticipated length of construction is three years or less, trash and recycling will be taken care of by the company and one building will have a roof deck, Ziegler answered.


Responding to the community

The company has been willing to make certain changes due to community concerns, Ziegler said: 66 units were originally going to be built, but it was reduced to 59.

“Communities are vibrant: They change, and as a community, we continually evolve,” he said. “Five years from now, we’re going to be talking about the new project on the block, and the project that was talked about five years ago will be implemented.”

Additionally, “there are other communities that are going through residential change and are becoming more dense,” he said; this includes Wallingford, Capitol Hill and Columbia City.

The plan contains a few new departures from city code that the company has or will request. They include wanting to change the number of feet from the curb, among others.

 “We’ve been working on this project for over two years,” said LURC chair Martin Kaplan, at the beginning of the meeting. “Toll Brothers contacted me and said, ‘We have property, and this is what we’re thinking of doing,’ and we started a dialogue. We learned about the project, invited the developer in and got community input, which would make their development better.”

Another Design Review Board meeting for this project is tentatively scheduled to take place in April.


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