King County’s plans to construct the $210-million Children and Family Justice Center can proceed, after the Seattle Hearing Examiner dismissed an appeal by project opponents on Wednesday, March 1.

The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections approved a master use permit application by the county to construct the detention and justice center in late December, allowing a waiver of certain development standards and imposing additional environmental standards during demolition of the existing facility at 1211 E. Alder St. The SDCI decision found additional mitigation plans by King County were adequate to mitigate hazardous materials removal from the site during demolition and the removal of 131,400 cubic yards of excavation materials.

Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC Seattle) and other community opposition groups filed an appeal to the Hearing Examiner on Jan. 4.

While these groups oppose the new juvenile detention center in favor of restorative justice programs, the appeal did cite technical issues with the project.

Appellants challenged the allowance by SDCI to construct the CFJC building past the maximum 150-foot width in the site’s current low-rise zoning to 275 feet. King County successfully argued to SDCI the need for courts and detention housing to have specific relationships to other functions within the facility, such as social services, recreational areas, staff offices, food service and educational facilities. 

Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner’s March 1 decision states that SDCI’s decision to modify or waive development standards for the CFJC and impose additional environmental conditions on the project are not Type II decisions under land use code, meaning the Hearing Examiner has no jurisdiction to address the appeal.

A #NoNewYouthJail protest was held outside Mayor Ed Murray’s Capitol Hill home prior to the SDCI decision, asking him to block the permits. Murray responded the following day with a statement that his office could not intervene in the department’s technical decision, which is based on land use and environmental issues.

Another #NoNewYouthJail demonstration was held outside the King County Youth Detention Facility on Jan. 11, with Murray’s communications director, Benton Strong, issuing a similar statement regarding the city’s inability to interfere with land-use decisions.

Then the mayor issued a letter to King County Executive Dow Constantine and Superior Court Presiding Judge Laura Inveen on Jan. 30, asking the county to take a “second look” at plans for the justice center.

Constantine told the Capitol Hill Times at the time that the county has made great strides in reducing the number of youth incarcerations at the detention center, and is continuing to explore adding more restorative justice programs in the future.

“We’ve been working on a whole suite of opportunities for quite a while now,” Constantine said. “In fact, it’s been a nonstop effort by the county for several decades. … This year is looking better, as we continue to put in place new strategies — new alternatives — to divert youth who have wandered into trouble.”

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