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Uphill battle for proposed slope project
Editor's note: This version corrects comments made by Mitch Adams, project applicant, in paragraphs 9 and 10, to reflect he was speaking about the peer review of his project, not the city.
POULSBO — For residents and businesses of Harbor Lights, life at the condominiums, with that sweeping view of Liberty Bay would have a bit of magic to them:
The occasional eagle swooshing by. Osprey swooping down on their prey. The sing-song of summer activity on the waterfront. Boats lolling on the water. The drama of the winter sky.
But that magic could have too big of a price, plan reviewers say: Harbor Lights is proposed on a slope identified as prone to landslides. And a peer review group of engineers and planners has reported that measures in the proponent’s geotechnical report are insufficient to mitigate that risk.
“Harbor Lights has had both its geotechnical report and its habitat management plan peer reviewed,” said Keri Weaver, an associate planner in the city’s planning department. “Those have been completed. [Peer review] indicated that they did not meet city code requirements.”
The project would alter the slope’s vegetation, and that would violate the Shoreline Management Act and the city’s own shoreline master program, Weaver said. The geotechnical report “was not sufficient for our peer review consultants to determine whether or not the structure would be safe.”
Weaver added, “We’ve provided the applicant with an opportunity to respond to that and to provide more information, and they did not do that, so we consider that those reports and the peer review are complete.”
The city is preparing a SEPA — or state Environmental Policy Act — determination on the project.
Mitch Adams of Harbor Lights Development said a biologist and a consultant are preparing a response to the city, which should be ready to submit “hopefully” in two weeks.
“From our perspective, it’s a bit of a challenge,” Adams said. “We want to stabilize the slope. We propose a new seawall; [peer review said] building a new seawall will be detrimental to the environment. Instead, we have old rotting wood” at the toe of the slope.
He said the peer review proposes leaving “Class C noxious weed” — ivy — claiming it provides shade and is a benefit to the hillside. Adams said ivy eats the roots of trees, jeopardizing the slope the city wants to protect.
“We are meeting resistance we cannot understand,” he said, adding, “A failure of the hillside is not good for anyone.”
Harbor Lights is proposed at 19041 and 19043 Front St., currently the home of Bei Capelli, Olympic Photo Group and Mimi’s Nails. Harbor Lights Development, a partnership of seven investors, bought the properties in 2007 for $1.4 million and in 2008 submitted a proposal.
Harbor Lights would consist of three stories above grade with another level and parking below grade. The project would partly extend down the slope. The Olympic Photo Group/Mimi’s Nails building would be demolished. Adams said he and his partners want the Bei Capelli building, a heritage house, preserved and will donate it to any organization that “may be happy to have a piece of Poulsbo history.”
Adams said the Harbor Lights project would require the removal of soil — soil he said is likely to slide anyway. “The farther down you go, the more stable the slope is,” he said.
He said the height of the seawall at the toe of the slope would be commensurate to the neighboring seawall’s height.
Adams said the Harbor Lights project will stabilize the slope, and will result in more 24/7 residents in the downtown area.
“We want it to be a positive contribution. We still want to see it move forward.”
In the late 1990s, the properties were enmeshed in a legal battle between the then-owner, Tyfilinata Asueaga-Solario, and the city.
In October 1997, the city red-tagged Asueaga-Solario’s Café International and her daughter’s The Pathway bookstore — now home of Olympic Photo Group and Mimi’s Nails — until she took steps to ensure the building was safe from landslide risk. The move was spurred by Asueaga-Solario’s construction of a patio deck over a portion of the slope. Earlier that year, soil had sloughed away from beneath the building.
Asueaga-Solario’s engineers determined the building was not in imminent danger and recommended the red tag be removed. The city’s engineer, citing the uniform building code, and its consultants determined the building was unsafe without structural changes. Ultimately, slope stabilization was done on there and next door, after she moved a house there that was given to her in exchange for moving it off of Martha & Mary’s property. That house is now Bei Capelli.
Few dispute that the bluff on upper Front Street has a history of slope movement. A walk along the boardwalk is like a walk along a century-long timeline of the city’s efforts to shore up the slope: From wood and log to concrete retaining walls. In 2002, a portion of the bluff sloughed off, forcing the city to close part of Café International’s neighbor, the Poulsbohemian Café. A retaining wall was installed at the toe of the slope and the slope replanted.
Modern buildings might use deeply driven steel piles. On Fjord Drive, where a 2010 slide closed one lane of the street for two years, the slope was stabilized using soil nailing, described by a geotechnical contractor’s website as a “ground reinforcement process [using] steel tendons which are drilled and grouted into the soil to create a composite mass similar to a gravity wall. A shotcrete facing is typically applied, though many architectural options such as precast panels or ‘green’ vegetated cells are available for permanent wall facings.”
Another challenge for slope stabilization near shorelines: There can be no net loss of shoreline habitat, specifically vegetation that shades the shoreline. Doing so disrupts habitat for aquatic species.
“The test on what gets built is related to the geotechnical analysis,” Poulsbo Planning Director Barry Berezowski said. “There is no all-out ban on building in [a geologically risky] area, but there is a higher constructability standard. And bear the shoreline, there’s not just the geotechnical hurdle; you also have to get through the habitat hurdle.”