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Hearing Examiner denies library appeal, approves site plan

The city
The city's Hearing Examiner has ruled that the library's mid-span entrance, seen here from the Liberty Park side, is not culturally and historically significant enough to warrant mitigation.
— image credit: Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter

The Cedar River Library may be culturally and historically significant, but  not necessarily the location of the door, according to a decision from the city of Renton's Hearing Examiner that rejected the appeal from the citizens group Save the Cedar River Library…Again!

The most recent site plan was also approved.

"The (State Environmental Policy Act) appellants successfully established that the library overall is a historical and/or cultural resource subject to review and protection under SEPA," wrote Hearing Examiner Phil Olbrechts in his decision. "However, the SEPA appellants did not establish that the proposed relocation of the primary entrance will create a probable significant environmental impact."

Olbrechts also said the arguments for and against significant impacts are "highly compelling and the factors are highly subjective" and since the city's "SEPA responsible official" concluded the relocation does not create significant environmental impacts, "substantial weight" must be given tot he official's decision.

"That weight is determinative in this case," he wrote.

The decision comes after a July 30 public hearing in which the citizens group appealed the city's determination of non-significance on the grounds that it said there was no cultural or historical significance to the building or the location of door.

Presently, the entrance to the library is located mid-span over the river. In the most recent site plan, the entrance is moved to the shore and the library no longer connects directly to the pedestrian bridge, which will remain over the river.

Olbrechts said the door location does not have to be formally designated a cultural resource to qualify, but in the absence of such a designation "there should be some very compelling evidence," such as expert testimony to the matter, but said the appellants never made such a case.

"Instead of providing evidence that the door location is central to the identity of the City or is otherwise culturally or histircally significant, the SEPA appellants largely focused on the fact that many city residents like the location of the door," he wrote.

Olbrechts said that evidence was largely overshadowed by the fact that the new location is "optimal" from the parking lot and more accessible for persons with disabilities.

"The overwater experience is reduced somewhat by the relocation, but that view is easily recaptured by anyone who simply takes a stroll across the bridge or takes in the views from inside the building," he wrote.

"The pedestrian bridge does not appear to be reduced to any meaningful degree and visual access for library patrons is fully maintained through the extensive amount of windows included in the proposal."

Speaking for the the citizens group, David Keyes said they were disappointed in the decision.

"While disappointed with the Hearing Examiner’s ruling, we appreciate Mr. Olbrecht's effort, fairness and patience in the handling of our Appeal," he wrote in an email.

Keyes also thanked the group's supporters for the work they put in.

"We are grateful and proud of the many people who wrote letters, collected petitions, commented on news articles, voted in polls, shared on Facebook, spoke at city council and KCLS meetings or who talked with a neighbor about your love for our beloved library," he wrote, adding "Discussion of each library's proper role within its community has again become a greater part of the public dialog, and our special and unique library regained a larger public awareness regionally."

The group has 14 days to appeal the hearing examiner's decision to the City Council.

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