More than 100 people signed up to share their opinions on the future of the St. Edward Seminary building at a public hearing held Jan. 5 at Bastyr University in Kenmore.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission held a special meeting at the university to hear from the public before they decide whether or not to authorize the state parks director to execute exchange and lease agreements with Daniels Real Estate of Seattle.
The 62-year lease with Daniels includes plans to turn the seminary building into a lodge and conference center. The deal also includes Daniels acquiring 9.77 acres of undeveloped woodland adjacent to St. Edwards State Park and giving it to Washington State Parks in exchange for the lease.
In total, 104 people signed up to speak at the meeting, but Commission Chair Steve Milner suggested that if someone had already made the same point, people give up their time to make the hearing go by more quickly, as they only had the Bastyr University Chapel reserved until 10 p.m.
The meeting began at 5:30 p.m. and ended just before 9:30, with more than 80 people speaking for two minutes each.
Milner emphasized that the commissioners would not be keeping a tally of the number of people in support of or against the lease.
“We’re not counting the yays and nays, we’re evaluating the quality of the comments,” he said.
While the opposition to the lease seemed to be fairly prevalent ahead of the Jan. 5 meeting, roughly 60 percent of those who spoke during the public hearing expressed support for the Daniels lease moving forward.
“The seminary building is as much a part of the state park as nature is,” said St. James Cathedral Pastor Fr. Michael G. Ryan, who attended high school at St. Edward Seminary.
A lot of those in support expressed an eagerness to be able to step inside the seminary building, something some long-time residents have only been able to do a handful of times or not at all.
“I’ve only been in the building five times,” Mike Kelley, who has lived in Kenmore for 53 years, said, adding he currently lives half a mile from the park and is in support of the lease.
Others reveled in the opportunity to be able to have a nice meal or stop in for a cup of coffee at the lodge’s proposed restaurant when they are at the park.
“It’s going to be the cherry on the sundae of this park,” said Kenmore resident Debra Srebnik.
Those in opposition to the lease suggested they go to the park for nature and tranquility, not a restaurant or spa, with one speaker suggesting they could even tear down the seminary building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Open green spaces in Seattle are few and far between,” said Kenmore resident Jeff Rash.
Some were outraged by the concept of a private entity gaining control of the property, while others see the lease as the perfect example of a private-public partnership.
“Nature is the priority, not a commercial enterprise,” Patrick O’Brien of Kenmore said in opposition to the lease.
Even some who spoke in favor of the lease raised concerns about various items, such as traffic, parking and the size of the educational space Daniels would set aside in the building. The lease mentions 1,000 square feet of educational space, and several people who spoke suggested the size should be closer to 5,000 or 7,000 square feet.
“I love historic preservation, and I think this is going to make such a great difference … but I am concerned about the traffic, too,” said Kirkland resident Natalie Danielson.
Throughout the public hearing, the commissioners diligently took notes of what everyone had to say, as did Kevin Daniels, president of Daniels Real Estate.
“It’s extremely impressive to see everyone’s dedication to this park,” Commisioner Douglas Peters said.
In addition to the commissioners, representatives of Daniels Real Estate and those who spoke, several Washington State Parks and Recreation employees, local government officials, including 46th District Rep. Jessyn Farrell, former 46th District Sen. George W. Scott and Kenmore Mayor David Baker, and other interested individuals attended the Jan. 5 meeting. Farrell gave testimony during the hearing, raising concerns about the amount of educational space and parking. She urged the commission to “take the time to get this right.”
A second special commission meeting will be held to take action to authorize the state parks director to execute the exchange and lease agreements with Daniels Real Estate. This meeting was added to ensure commissioners have adequate time to contemplate public comments and information from the environmental review process. The action on the lease was originally scheduled to happen at the Jan. 5 meeting.
The second meeting will take place over a conference call at 9 a.m. Jan. 9 at Washington State Parks headquarters in the Moran Room at 1111 Israel Road SW in Tumwater. Those interested can also listen in on the meeting at Kenmore City Hall. No public testimony will be taken during the meeting.
“We’re in a good position to make a decision Monday,” Commission Secretary Ken Bounds said following the public hearing.
The agenda for the Jan. 5 meeting includes both the exchange agreement and lease agreement with Daniels; it can be found online at parks.state.wa.us/AgendaCenter/Commission-Meetings-1.
Last month, the City of Kenmore also released the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Lodge at St. Edward. The FEIS and more information about the project’s environmental review process can be found on the city’s website at www.kenmorewa.gov/lodgeatsaintedward.