Library debate heats up again as plans emerge

The debate got heated again during discussions on the Cedar River library renovations at an open house meeting Tuesday night.

Audience members interjected and expressed frustration as City of Renton officials tried to explain information collected for the pre-application process for land use and environmental permits for the library over the Cedar River.

Many said they felt slighted by what the city was presenting and questioned whether the public's input was truly being considered.

Chip Vincent and Peter Renner updated the medium-sized crowd in City Council chambers on the latest developments on the downtown Renton library and the Highlands library that's part of the Sunset Boulevard redevelopment project. Vincent is the city's community and economic development director and Renner is the facilities director.

The majority of the meeting was focused on the public's concern for the downtown library over the Cedar River. Frustrations are tied to a conceptual floor plan the city released in which the footprint of the building is smaller and the main entry has been moved close to the current parking lot.

Tensions ran so high that at one point Terry Higashiyama, the city's community services administrator, warned an audience member the meeting would be halted if he continued to be disruptive and belligerent. Higashiyama was speaking to Dan Hemenway.

Hemenway had warned the city representatives their actions would trigger even more people to support what he perceived to be the people's design or concept for the library over the Cedar River.

"That's a meeting that we will show up in force," said Hemenway. "That's when you're going to have a war."

When asked after the meeting for an explanation, Hemenway said he was disappointed to see that the City of Renton, King County Library System and the "major part of the population" where still going in different directions regarding the renovation of the Cedar River library.

He did not see a reason why the building should be reduced by 25 to 30 percent and called the proposal arrogant.

"We don't have the budget to pull that crap; don't do it," Hemenway said. "They are pulling stuff that is not necessary. These are amateurs in suits trying to do stuff that the smart person, those in construction would say, 'No, no no.'"

Audience member David Keyes was critical of the city's presentation so far. He is a member of the Renton Advocacy Coalition, a citizens group that is closely following the city’s library developments.

"(I am) rather frustrated that the three of you and your staff have to take the fall for the City Council," Keyes said addressing Vincent, Renner and Higashiyama. "This is (the downtown library) whether the city has the political will to do this or not."

Keyes also asked Vincent and Renner what steps they have personally taken to ensure the people's wishes are incorporated into the design process. The two city representatives explained the city's approach. Vincent explained that certain urban design standards were being deviated from to be as efficient as possible with respect to a limited budget.

Renner explained the role of the city is to provide the funding in the interlocal agreement and KCLS's role is to facilitate the design and construction. Renner said he was not delegated to tell the city and KCLS how they are doing their jobs.

Not everyone agreed with the tenor of the meeting. At different points a few audience members spoke up, expressing different opinions than the most vocal attendees. One woman addressed Vincent and Renner, saying not all of Renton's residents' feelings should be lumped together with the critical statements of a few upset spokespeople.

"Everyone is allowed their opinion, but not as a spokesperson for everyone in Renton," the woman said.

The meeting included an update on feedback the City of Renton received from the Muckleshoot Tribe in regard to environmental concerns for doing construction over the Cedar River. That feedback was supportive, but a Muckleshoot representative asked the city to consider all the projects in development throughout the city that are involved with the Cedar River and to develop a comprehensive mitigation plan of best practices.

The different schedules and players of each of those projects presents challenges, but Renner said, the city is looking into best practices for mitigation.

There has also been some tension with the library project in the Highlands, said Renner.

The four-party agreement between Colpitts Development, the King County Library System, Renton Housing Authority and the City of Renton has taken some time to come together. Renner calls it a step-by-step process that has been helped recently by a site survey.

The core problems are that the developer wants to move on its schedule and KCLS just wants to get (the project) out of the ground, said Renner.

Colpitts and KCLS each want to move at their own rate, but now that KCLS will do its own structured parking instead of Colpitts, Renner sees more movement with the project. They are still working on redevelopment plans for Sunset Lane to direct traffic.

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