Soccer field dodged review, critics say
Most of the folks whose homes are scattered among the woods on a rural road near North Bend didn't know their neighborhood was about to...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Most of the folks whose homes are scattered among the woods on a rural road near North Bend didn't know their neighborhood was about to change until the earth-moving equipment showed up.
By the time the excavators, bulldozer, truck and compactor finished their work, a pasture had been replaced by a perfectly rectangular soccer field.
Neighbors later learned the 1.6-acre field was just a start, and that the property owners were seeking a permit for a youth soccer camp with a house for the owners, dormitories for 96 campers and counselors, dining lodge, swimming pool, amphitheater and 58 parking spaces.
Now King County's rural ombudsman says the owners, former Seattle University soccer coach Peter Fewing and his wife, Patty, got the field approved by significantly understating how much dirt would be moved.
By saying no more than 490 cubic yards would be dug up or dumped — just below a 500-cubic-yard threshold — the Fewings avoided environmental review. Because that review didn't happen, neighbors of the property on Southeast 150th Street near Interstate 90 weren't told about the project and lost their chance to speak out before work began.
An engineer hired by rural ombudsman David Spohr said at least 3,036 cubic yards of dirt were excavated and 1,088 or more used as fill — six times more than the permit allowed.
Spohr wrote Feb. 13 that the field built in 2004 "served as an improperly approved foundation" to advance the larger camp project.
The county Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES), which issued the permit and was responsible for enforcing it, says it doesn't know if the permit was violated.
The way DDES handled the case is particularly galling to neighbors because of the agency's reputation for standing in the way of rural residents who want permits for much simpler projects, such as enlarging a house or replacing trees with pasture.
"If I had moved that much dirt, they would have my place tied up for 10 years," said Pete Glover, whose young daughters' swing set is about 20 feet from the soccer camp's planned driveway.
Glover, his wife and two other families are suing the county in King County Superior Court to try to overturn the camp permit. They say the county gave special treatment to one of the region's best-known soccer figures and his lawyer, former DDES attorney Bob Johns.
"Absolutely not. We treat everybody with the same degree of review," DDES Deputy Director Joe Miles responded. "There was no preferential treatment given on this case."
"It doesn't pass the straight-face test," said Metropolitan King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, R-Redmond, after a visit to the soccer field.
The Fewings have operated Peter Fewing Soccer Camps at various locations since 1981. Peter Fewing, a former professional player for the Seattle Storm, coached the Seattle University men's soccer team to two national championships before he resigned in 2006.
Since building their own soccer field beside the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, the Fewings have bused campers there from dormitories at nearby Camp Waskowitz, a school environmental-education center. They want to consolidate operations at the field.
The Fewings, who did not return phone calls for this story, hired Johns to help them get approval first for the soccer field, then for the camp.
DDES agreed in 2003 that the zoning code allowed construction of the soccer field, and agreed in 2004 that dormitories and other camp structures could be built, under certain conditions, in rural areas.
The buildings would be clustered at the west end of the property, just across Glover's fence. Glover, who raises beef cattle, hauls hay from Eastern Washington and installs floor coverings, doesn't want a busy overnight camp with only a wood fence for a buffer.
"They're opening the door," he said. "Why not just make it a destination resort? Why not make it a Hilton and go up a few floors?"
Glover said he's already had to chase off young soccer players who threw a ball into his pasture, went after the ball and then wrestled a year-old steer. It was fortunate, he said, that a bull wasn't in the pasture.
In issuing the permit, DDES said the soccer camp "would not be unreasonably incompatible with" or detrimental to the neighborhood, which is zoned for one house on five acres. Neighbors appealed the permit to a hearing examiner, who sided with DDES.
Examiner Peter Donahue said the sports camp, with the addition of a 6-foot fence and shielding of outdoor lights, would be compatible with Glover's farm.
At the request of another neighbor, ombudsman Spohr began investigating the grading permit for the soccer field.
The Fewings' original application for a grading permit said they would move 2,000 cubic yards of dirt. They reduced the amount, attorney Johns said, after DDES staffers told them that would simplify the process and save money. "They did some quick analysis [and said] I think we can do that."
The Fewings later submitted detailed drawings that indicated the lower excavation number was reasonable, said Miles, the DDES deputy director.
When Spohr asked DDES Director Stephanie Warden about the excavation, she responded that soil was moved from one corner of the field to another, but there was no evidence much dirt was carried on or off site — or that the permit was violated.
Spohr, unsatisfied with that answer, hired an engineer who compared topographic maps drawn before and after construction of the field. The engineer estimated that a contractor excavated at least six times as much dirt as allowed by the permit.
DDES has asked the Fewings' engineer to review those calculations.
Attorney Johns called the engineer's report to the ombudsman "highly amusing because he's so far from the reality of what happened." Cutting and filling didn't exceed permit limits, he said.
Johns said the ombudsman "apparently had a predetermined position" because he didn't talk to him, the Fewings or their excavation contractor.
Johns, who represented DDES as a deputy prosecutor from 1976 to 1983, frequently works for permit applicants and is attorney for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.
Johns spoke to the DDES director and another manager about whether zoning would allow the soccer camp, but he said the Fewings didn't receive any special treatment.
"I win some, I lose some," he said. "To suggest I have a cozy relationship with DDES is so laughable it's astounding. That is truly a desperate claim. My clients that I have been unable to get permits for would find that hilarious. It happens fairly often."
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or email@example.com
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