City council warned they may eventually be forced to rule on library appeal

The appeal filed this month over the environmental mitigation document for the Cedar River Library could put the City Council into a difficult position.

Because of that, the Council on Monday was urged by the city attorney to proceed with caution during an update on the permitting process for the library over the Cedar River.

The council may have to make the final ruling on the appeal, filed July 5, further down the road in the process.

City Attorney Larry Warren noted “the rules have become a little strange at this point,” as he opened comments to Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting at Renton City Hall.

The Citizens to Save the Cedar River Library…Again! have taken an issue with the SEPA, or state environmental protection act, environmental review the City of Renton submitted March 1. The state Environmental Review Committee issued “a determination of non-significance-mitigated” for the project.

The citizen’s group does not like the fact that the ruling implies the downtown library has no cultural or historical elements that would require specific mitigation or consideration during construction.

The council could be put in a “quasi-judicial position,” Warren said, after the hearing examiner rules on the appeal later this month.

Warren informed the council that they would be granted that position, only if none of the council members voiced bias during the interim period leading up to the hearing examiner’s decision.

“(You are) asked to politely listen, but not express an opinion,” Warren said. “The question will be if you can be fair listening to the appeal, listening impartially.”

The city attorney also noted that audience comments made during the regular council meeting, would not be a part of the official record for the appeal process. Only comments and information presented during the upcoming public hearing on July 30, will be on the record for consideration.

“Tonight’s just the facts ma’am - your role has not changed,” Warren said. “Don’t say something that shows your mind’s been made up.”

Councilmember Randy Corman asked Warren to clarify what the council would be asked to do if it gets to that point.

Warren stated that the council would be asked to find a substantial error in the law or judgement, concerning the SEPA appeal ruling.

Council member Greg Taylor asked if there is any advice Warren could offer to explain to community members the unusual position council members are in now as council members don’t comment on the library during this interim period.

“My advice to you is not to do so because it disqualifies (you) on the appearance of bias,” Warren said.

He called it one of the council’s “tougher jobs” because it is not a usual part of their role.

“This one is going to be very strange because it’s an issue that’s been in front of the community,” Corman said.

The council members discussed and clarified the ways in which the community members might add their comments to the official record on the proceedings.

Renton City Council will get guidance from week to week on the process and community members can submit their comments for the public hearing through the appellant or the citizen’s group.

The public hearing scheduled for 10 a.m., July 30, in Council Chambers and will include deliberations the appeal and the land use permit.

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