A judge has ruled in favor of the Magnolia Neighborhood Planning Council in its State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) lawsuit challenging a city proposal to redevelop Magnolia's Fort Lawton Army Reserve -- something that the City Attorney's office isn't happy about, to say the least.
The project, which the city is spearheading as the Army prepares to close the Fort Lawton site, calls for creating a 200-unit mixed-income community that would include 85 units of homeless housing next door to Discovery Park. In their lawsuit, which the judge heard and ruled on Mar. 13, the Magnolians argued the proposal should have triggered an environmental analysis under SEPA.
"The judge decided in favor of MNPC, voided the city's ordinance, which had approved the Fort Lawton housing development plans, and ordered that the city must comply with SEPA," says Magnolia plaintiff Elizabeth Campbell in an email sent out after the ruling. "The judge also ordered that the city must publicly pursue the matter of whether or not the [city's Discovery] park master plan applies to the reuse of the Army Reserve property."
Ruth Bowman, a spokesperson for the City Attorney's office, says Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer not only made an "erroneous" decision, but "mangled" SEPA, which she says exempts work-in-progress concept plans such as Fort Lawton's.
Until the Department of Defense accepts the development proposal, which the city submitted last fall, the Army still owns the property, she says. The Magnolians, she says, have no legal standing to claim that the city has caused them any harm or failed to follow a municipal park plan on federal property that the city doesn't yet own.
The judge has "manufactured city decisions that have not been made and cannot be made until the property is offered up [for sale] by the federal government," Bowman says.
There's little question about the city's next move. "We're pretty sure at the appeal we will prevail," Bowman says, "because [the judge's] rationale is erroneous."