Auto yard debate stretches on

By Brian Kelly

Herald Writer

ARLINGTON — A public hearing on a controversial storage yard for totaled vehicles in south Arlington is expected to wrap up tonight.

The hearing has been stretched over two night meetings already, with the last one ending in an indefinite postponement after members of the Stillaguamish Tribe said the storage yard site was the location of a 19th-century Indian village.

Tonight’s hearing, one of two devoted to the development, will center on a challenge to the city’s environmental review of the project. A hearing on the development permit itself has not been rescheduled.

Don Fitzpatrick Jr. and Airpark Industries have proposed building a 40-acre storage yard for totaled vehicles near 51st Avenue NE, on former farmland south of the airport. Although the development is allowed under the property’s existing industrial zoning, it has angered area residents who claim the storage yard will pollute salmon streams and an aquifer that provides drinking water to Marysville and Arlington residents. The facility would be run by Copart, a national auto recycler that has a good environmental record in Washington state.

Although the proposed project itself has been controversial, the city’s handling of the proposal also has been under intense fire.

Mike Beardsley Sr., who lives south of the Airpark property but outside city limits, is leading the environmental appeal. Last week, he asked the state attorney general to investigate the city’s handling of the proposal. And on Wednesday, he filed a complaint with the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

He said the city has taken the "low road" in dealing with citizens opposed to the project. Arlington has inconvenienced people by rescheduling hearings at the last minute, attempting to have the issue decided by an out-of-town hearing examiner and limiting the number of people who have been notified of the proposal, Beardsley said.

Cliff Strong, planning manager for Arlington, said the public hearings had to be stretched out over time because of the large amount of information presented by city staff and the developer. Plus, time had to be set aside for the public and others to testify.

"You can only get so much stuff done in one night," Strong said.

Complaints about the process aren’t rare for projects mired in controversy, he added. Sometimes the public doesn’t understand that laws and other rules dictate how the process should be conducted. And Strong said he has personally met with Beardsley to talk about the rules and how he can effectively challenge the proposal.

Beardsley, though, said he has no regrets on the criticism he’s leveled at the city. "I don’t feel like I’ve been harsh on them. I feel like I stood up to them."

"Our lives have been on hold for five months now. We have made great personal sacrifices, emotionally, financially, to fight a project we never wanted in the first place, with a city we don’t even belong to," he said.

You can call Herald Writer Brian Kelly at 425-339-3422 or send e-mail to kelly@heraldnet.com.

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