Ride the Ducks

Ride the Ducks Appeal Settlement

On Feb. 18, 2015, the Eastlake Community Council, the Floating Homes Association, and the Log Foundation jointly appealed to the Washington State Shorelines Hearing Board a Jan. 29 decision by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development granting Ride the Ducks a permit for a ramp where its amphibious trucks would enter and leave Lake Union, adjacent to Terry Pettus Park and the houseboats near Fairview Ave. E. at Newton St. Background and links about the Ride the Ducks issue and the appeal are on the “documents for review and public comment” section at http://eastlakeseattle.org.

Both sides filed motions for summary judgment (i.e. action prior to the hearing). On May 19 a Board decision addressed our primary legal argument, that the proposed private boat ramp was not allowed in the Urban Maritime shoreline zone. Unfortunately, the Board deferred to the City’s interpretation and ruled that the proposed boat ramp is a legitimate “recreational” use and is legally allowed. Thus we lost our “one-stop” argument that would have been the best way to overturn the permit.

Our remaining primary argument under the City and state shoreline codes was that the intensity of the Ride the Ducks (18 trips per hour during peak summer months) would unreasonably interfere with existing recreational use of the shoreline including the upland trail as well as use of the water by swimmers, kayakers, paddle boarders, etc. Unfortunately, it was looking like all we could get would have been slightly strengthened conditions which would still have been at the mercy of often dilatory City enforcement.

On the advice of our attorneys, the three appealing organizations reached a settlement in which Ride the Ducks agreed to stronger conditions, with these conditions being directly enforceable by us, without needing to depend on City enforcement. The settlement agreement can be found by clicking here.

Many have asked how they can help at this point. The answer continues to be: help us pay the attorneys who have most effectively represented us against great odds, and who will help us ensure that the City enforces its requirements on Ride the Ducks, and that Ride the Ducks does what is required by their agreement with us. Please donate on-line at http://thelogfoundation.net or make out a check to the Log Foundation, noting the purpose as for “Ducks appeal legal fund” and send c/o Rob Widmeyer, 2017A Fairview Avenue East, Seattle, WA 98102. The donations are NOT tax deductible. Thank you for your support.

The following information was posted on the ECC web site prior to the settlement agreement mentioned above.

ECC, FLOATING HOMES ASSOCIATION, AND THE LOG FOUNDATION APPEAL TO THE STATE SHORELINE HEARINGS BOARD AGAINST THE PROPOSED “RIDE THE DUCKS” FACILITY AT THE CORNER OF FAIRVIEW AND NEWTON – YOUR DONATIONS NEEDED

On Feb. 18, 2015, the Eastlake Community Council, the Floating Homes Association, and the Log Foundation jointly appealed to the Washington State Shorelines Hearing Board a Jan. 29 decision by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development granting Ride the Ducks a permit for a ramp where its amphibious trucks would enter and leave Lake Union, adjacent to Terry Pettus Park and the houseboats near Fairview Ave. E. at Newton St. The appeal document can be seen by clicking here. Further background and history of this issue is provided in two additional sections further below.

In preparation for a June hearing, both sides filed motions for summary judgment (i.e. action prior to the hearing). On May 19 the Hearings Board issued its long anticipated decision addressing our primary legal argument, that the proposed private boat ramp was not allowed in the Urban Maritime shoreline zone. Unfortunately, the Hearings Board deferred to the City’s interpretation and ruled that the proposed boat ramp is a legitimate “recreational” use and is legally allowed. Arguing that the use was illegal was our “one-stop” argument and the best way to overturn the permit. The May 19 ruling is that Ride the Ducks have a legal right to construct their boat ramp on their property and use it for the Ducks. To read the ruling, click here.

Our remaining primary argument under the City and state shoreline codes is that the intensity of the Ride the Ducks (18 trips per hour during peak summer months) would unreasonably interfere with existing recreational use of the shoreline including the upland trail as well as use of the water by swimmers, kayakers, paddle boarders, etc. In addition we will continue to challenge the lack of mitigation for noise and other environmental impacts. Our end goal therefore shifts from trying to stop the use entirely to trying to reduce the intensity of use and impose stricter conditions with reliable enforcement provisions. The hearing is scheduled for June 15-18 in Seattle in the Seattle City Council chambers for the first 1-2 days, and then another room in City Hall or the Municipal Tower. While observers are permitted, this is a formal court process with scheduled witnesses for each party.

Many people have asked how they can help at this point. Please know that the hundreds of letters and e-mails and other efforts over the last few years have made a difference and are now part of the record on which the appeal is based. But at this point, the best way to help is to contribute to cost of the attorneys who have most effectively represented us against great odds. Please donate on-line at http://thelogfoundation.net or make out a check to the Log Foundation, noting the purpose as for “Ducks appeal legal fund” and send c/o Rob Widmeyer, 2017A Fairview Avenue East, Seattle, WA 98102. The donations are NOT tax deductible. Thank you for your support.

WHY RIDE THE DUCKS IS NOT SUITED TO A PROPOSED SITE AT FAIRVIEW AVE E. AND E. NEWTON STREET

A Jan. 29, 2015 decision by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development would grant Ride the Ducks a permit for a ramp near Fairview Ave. E. at Newton St.where its amphibious trucks would enter and leave Lake Union, directly adjacent to Terry Pettus Park and close to many houseboats. In good weather, the Duck amphibious trucks would make at least 180 trips a day, just minutes apart, 10 hours a day. The full City file about the permit, including the DPD decision and the detailed concerns that ECC and hundreds of others had presented to DPD beforehand, is seen at http://web6.seattle.gov/dpd/edms , with the project number 3013612.

In a Feb. 13, 2013 letter to City officials, the Eastlake Community Council observed that “a Ride the Ducks facility for 1949 Fairview Avenue E. is not compatible with Fairview’s character as a shoreline street to be shared by pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicle traffic and parking.” Among the concerns that the ECC letter conveyed to the City:

• Ride the Ducks is an entertainment use not allowed in this industrial zone.
• In direct violation of Seattle Noise Ordinance (SMC 25.08.515), Ride the Ducks’ amplified music and commentary are clearly audible 75 feet from the vehicle.
• Aside from the amplifiers, engine noise from the Ducks would become the predominant background noise for the park and locale.
• The constant presence of the Ducks would produce localized diesel fumes, raising health concerns.
• Duck traffic will be unsafe for Fairview Ave. E where the amphibious trucks would constantly cross pedestrian and bicycle routes such as the Cheshiahud Lake Loop Union Loop.
• Ducks in the water off the immediately adjacent Terry Pettus Park would endanger swimmers, paddle boarders, and kayakers.

The 2013 ECC letter also observes:

Ride the Ducks advertises itself as a “crazy captain with a party on wheels,” and there has been a serious injury accident involving one of the company’s amphibious trucks and a motorcyclist. The peak 75 round trips daily by Duck amphibious trucks pose a serious safety issue for bicyclists and pedestrians who will also be at peak numbers during good weather, as well as for local residential and business vehicles. … For bicycle and pedestrian safety, the Sunnyside Ave. N. public boat launch (on N. Northlake Way), which Ride the Ducks currently uses to access Lake Union, is far superior to the proposed Fairview site. Because the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop follows the Burke-Gilman Trail (which is across Northlake Way from the lake), the Ducks entering and leaving the lake do not cross the bicycle and pedestrian route.

HOW THE CITY FAILED TO HONOR ITS COMMITMENT TO CONDUCT PUBLIC PLANNING FOR THE SITE NOW PROPOSED FOR RIDE THE DUCKS

The Department of Planning and Development’s 2015 approval of the Ride the Ducks application is particularly disappointing in light of its collaboration with the Office of Economic Development a few years earlier in breaking the City’s 1999 promise to engage in a public planning process regarding the future of the site. Recognizing the possibility that NOAA could leave, the Eastlake Neighborhood Plan obtained a formal commitment from the City as follows (p. 20 of the attachment to Res. 29932 adopted by the Mayor and a unanimous City Council in 1999): “Plan for the re-development of NOAA and other major properties along the Fairview shoreline in a way that strengthens Eastlake’s existing industrial maritime uses, recreational users, shoreline habitat and floating home community.” In the referenced attachment to Res. 29932, the Mayor and City Council in 1999 assigned to the City’s Office of Economic Development (OED) the lead for this promised planning process.

But when NOAA made the decision to leave, OED, in concert with DPD, completely abdicated its duty, choosing not to undertake this public planning role that was required of it. A March 23, 2013 article in the Seattle Times reports that internal City documents obtained under the state Public Disclosure Act show that OED and DPD chose to ignore the 1999 City Council resolution requiring a public planning process for the ten-acre NOAA site if NOAA were to leave (as it did in 2011). They not only did not share this decision with the public; they also secretly shared their internal correspondence about this secret decision with Ride the Ducks and its attorneys before the public even knew of that company’s interest in the site. By doing so, these supposedly public agencies ensured that the land purchase was a “done deal” before the community could learn of the new owner or use.

The documents whose disclosure was forced by the Public Records Act show that despite later claims that the promised planning process could not go forward because of a lack of funds, OED and DPD never asked the Mayor or City Council for these supposedly missing resources, at the same time that OED was spending huge amounts of staff time secretly assisting Ride the Ducks. The documents also reveal that the two public agencies wanted to avoid the planning process because they would have had to consider open space and recreational uses and would have had to consider the welfare of the nearby houseboats. To see the documents, along with a chronology and a guide to the names of the participants, click here.

The tragic consequence of these public agencies’ willful flouting of a requirement for planning and public involvement, and their secret favoritism to an influential businessman and law firm, shows glaringly in the Ride the Ducks proposal, which fails to address the welfare of recreational users and of the floating home community–stakeholders that the City legislation required should be required before the City recommended any new use for the site. Had the required planning process occurred, it for example would never have allowed constant truck traffic (whether on land or in the water) so close to recreational users or to floating homes.

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