"Re-Doogals spat rolls on with acrimony, a dismissalA boycott is averted when a commissioner is canned for poor attendance."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:59 PM
"Controversy over the mixed-use project planned for the former Doogals site escalated this week, as two members of the planning commission publicly called for city Planning Director Stephanie Warren's resignation or dismissal.We need a new director. I think that should be part of this whole conversation, said Sean Parker, an architect and planning commission member.Parker and architect Peter Brachvogel announced last Friday that they would boycott commission meetings, to protest Warren's decision to impose new conditions on the Re-Doogals project after the planning commission had given its approval.But the boycott became moot Monday when Brachvogel resigned his seat after being told by Mayor Dwight Sutton that he was being dismissed from the commission for poor attendance. Saying you can't have a boycott of one, Parker also abandoned the idea, saying instead that he would seek to have the whole matter re-heard by the commission.Parker and Brachvogel said last week their actions were aimed at bringing Warren's decision on the Re-Doogal's project into conformity with what the planning commission had recommended.By a 3-1 vote with abstentions from then-chair Evelynn Klinckmann and mayoral candidate Darlene Kordonowy, the commission in June recommended approval of the project, which calls for retail, office space and nine condominium units grouped around a central courtyard with an underground parking garage.As approved by the commission, the project called for a total of 64 parking spots, 52 in the underground garage, two along Ericksen and 10 in lieu spaces - spots the applicants would buy in a to-be-built offsite parking facility.But when Warren approved the project in July, she upped the parking requirements from 64 to 75 spots, and required the additional 11 spaces to be provided on site. The original requirement, she said, was incorrectly based on net leasable square footage, which is total retail and office space actually leased, leaving out common areas like halls, mechanical spaces, and so forth. Warren said the requirement should have been based on gross square footage.Parker and Brachvogel took sharp issue with Warren's change.If she wants to have a discussion with the planning commission about whether parking should be based on gross vs. net footage, let's have it, Parker said. It was brought to the commission one way, and it should have been approved that way.Warren said Tuesday that the staff planner, Bob Katai, had numerous discussions with the applicants about the proper way to calculate parking, and the applicants knew the issue of gross vs. net footage was on the table.Elmquist has said Katai never indicated that the net-footage method would be a problem. The planning staff report submitted to the planning commission references net-footage calculation, with no indication that the issue was unresolved.CannedBefore Brachvogel had a chance to put his boycott into effect, he had resigned from the commission. Mayor Dwight Sutton called Brachvogel Monday afternoon to tell him he was being dismissed, and he told the mayor he would resign.Sutton confirmed the conversation, saying the dismissal was solely because Brachvogel's attendance has been unsatisfactory.The municipal code says a commission seat is vacant and forfeited if a commissioner misses three regular meetings in a three-month period, or misses three or more meetings in a row. Sutton said Brachvogel had failed to satisfy those requirements.Brachvogel admits to missing the meetings, but said he believed the absences were excused, and should not be counted.When I announce at a meeting that I won't attend the next one, and they say 'thanks for letting us know,' or when I call and leave a message, I assume that's a excused, he said. Brachvogel said other commissioners pre-announce absences the same way, and claimed that a double standard was being applied against him.Parker said that in lieu of a boycott, he would make a motion this week that the whole Re-Doogals plan be brought back before the planning commission to give us information that Stephanie had when she made her final decision.Changes?Meanwhile, the applicants say Warren made another last-minute change to the project conditions, deciding the city should be given a five-foot strip of land along Ericksen Avenue that it had previously agreed to buy.Warren conditioned her approval of the project on the applicants' dedicating to the city the five-foot strip of right-of-way to widen Ericksen. That drew a protest from Marco Magnano, one of the property's owners, who believed that Warren intended an uncompensated dedication, which he claimed differed from an earlier staff statement that the city was going to buy the property.Warren said Tuesday that she intended her reference to dedication to be ambiguous, taking no position on whether the transfer of property was to be compensated or free.That discussion is going on with the city attorney's office, and I am not part of it, she said.In a letter to the applicants last week, Warren declined to reconsider her decision on the project. The letter did not address Magnano's statement that the city had changed its position on buying the Ericksen strip.The applicants will appeal, said project manager Bror Elmquist, who says that the relatively small L-shaped property cannot accommodate a larger underground parking garage than the 52-space structure originally planned.Parker and Brachvogel said that belated position changes by the planning department are constant problems.I'm embarrassed every time I do a project, Parker said. I write a letter, get a response, tell the client we're covered, then later I'm told something else.Sutton said this week that he would look into the change in parking requirements on the Re-Doogals project.I don't know what prompted the re-examination of that issue, he said. It's not healthy, and cries out for a review of the process.Like all department heads, the planning director is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council, but can only be removed by the mayor.Asked if he still had confidence in Warren, Sutton said, the overall record documents that she has done an OK job.I do have confidence, he said. This decision alone is not sufficient to disqualify her. "