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The Webfooted Astronomer - January 2000


SAS Files as Interested Party in Sky Beam Appeal

by Laurie Moloney

The SAS board of directors approved the authorization of fees to cover the cost of the SAS filing as an "interested party" in the appeal to the Landmarks Preservation Board. Fees are $100. Hal Green is the attorney who is handling the case pro bono on behalf of the SAS and other interested parties. He is also willing to help us on the general matter of light pollution and in our continued effort to stop or slow down use of the sky beam. (In addition, the SAS board has recently created a task force, headed by Karl Schroeder, to address the issue of light pollution.) Mr. Green and Lew MacFarlane (Al's brother) also filed as interested parties in the appeal. Following is the statement of appeal (edited for brevity) issued to the City of Seattle's Office of the Hearing Examiner:

This letter constitutes our notice of appeal pursuant to SMC 25.05.680 and SMC 25.12.740. A copy of this notice of appeal has been served on the Department of Construction and Land Use, the Landmarks Preservation Board, and the Space Needle Corporation. The statement of my/our appeal is as follows:

1. On or about January 6, 1999, the Landmarks Preservation Board and the Space Needle Corporation agreed to certain controls and incentives regarding the Space Needle.

2. On or about April 19, 1999, the Space Needle was designated a landmark by enactment of Ordinance 119428, which provided in Section 2 as follows:

A. Except as provided in subsection B, below, a Certificate of Approval must be obtained from the Landmarks Preservation Board pursuant to SMC 25.12.670 et seq., ... before the owners may make alterations or significant changes to the exterior of the building, and the site.

B. No Certificate of Approval shall be required, and any changes may be permitted without further review, ... for temporary holiday ornamentation and/or special event display on the exterior of the building, including special lighting and painting, and temporary banners and other features, which cover up or obscure, but do not harm controlled features; ... [and] for adjustment of the color and scope of the exterior lighting on a temporary basis for seasonal and promotional displays ... .

3. On or about November 9, 1999, the Space Needle Corporation (hereafter also referred to as "the applicant") made application to the Landmarks Preservation Board (hereafter "Landmarks Board" or "the Board") for a Certificate of Approval for proposed lighting changes to the Space Needle, which proposed lighting changes included addition of three 7,000 watt xenon spotlights, with an intensity of 795,000,000 candlepower each, for the purpose of producing a "sky beam" atop the Space Needle that would shine hundreds of feet into the night sky with a purported brightness of 85,000,000 candlepower.

4. On or after November 9, 1999, responsible officials of the City of Seattle informed the applicant that approval of the spotlights to be used for the "sky beam" would be required by the Landmarks Board.

5. On or about November 18, 1999, the Space Needle Corporation, through its agent Nelson Electric, Inc., applied to the Department of Construction and Land Use for an "over-the counter" electrical permit for the proposed lighting changes to the Space Needle.

6. On or about November 18, 1999, the Space Needle Corporation, on its own behalf or through an agent on its behalf, applied to the Department of Construction and Land Use for certain mechanical permits related to the proposed lighting changes described in paragraph 2, above.

7. The addition of the three 7,000 watt xenon spotlights constitutes a major action having significant, unmitigated adverse environmental impacts, including but not limited to the following:

a. Wasteful use of energy, and violation of the policy of the City of Seattle to promote energy conservation and the most efficient possible use of energy, as referenced in SMC 25.05.675.

b. Creation of unmitigated glare on an unprecedented basis, and violation of the policy of the City of Seattle to minimize adverse impacts created by light and glare, as referenced in SMC 25.05.675.

c. Adverse impact on recreational activities of thousands of people in the Seattle area, including amateur astronomers and skywatchers.

d. Adverse impact on migratory birds which will be attracted to and disoriented by the intense beam of light.

e. Significant change in the use and appearance of the Space Needle which will adversely affect its historic purpose, architectural character and nature as a familiar symbol and landmark.

8. The City of Seattle, including its departments, the Department of Construction and Land Use and the Department of Neighborhoods (including the Landmarks Board), did not require the applicant to provide an environmental checklist, did not make any threshold determination of significance or non-significance, and did not engage in any environmental review of the proposed action which it knew or should have known was "likely to have significant environmental impacts" and therefore constituted a "major action" pursuant to SMC 25.05.764 requiring environmental review.

9. Because the "sky beam" portion of the proposed lighting changes to the Space Needle is likely to have significant environmental impacts and therefore constitutes a major action, such sky beam cannot be categorically exempt from threshold determination and EIS requirements pursuant to SMC 25.05.800.

10. On or about December 23, 1999, the applicant amended its application to the Landmarks Board to delete reference to the "sky beam" lighting changes for the sole reason that the applicant contended that the "sky beam" lighting constituted "temporary holiday ornamentation" that was exempt from the Certificate of Approval process and from Landmarks Board jurisdiction and control. However, it did not similarly amend its applications for electrical and mechanical permits, and the "sky beam" continues to be part of the applicant's proposed and intended changes to the lighting of the Space Needle. The applicant has already installed the xenon lights and related equipment on the Space Needle and has informed the City of Seattle, including the Landmarks Board, that it intends to operate the sky beam commencing on December 31, 1999.

11. On December 15, 1999, the Landmarks Preservation Board granted preliminary approval for proposed lighting changes to the Space Needle, and on December 20, 1999, it issued a Certificate of Approval (LPB374/99) to the Space Needle Corporation for proposed lighting changes to the Space Needle, with full knowledge that all of the lighting included in the original application, and specifically including the "sky beam" lighting, had been added to the Space Needle and that the applicant intended to activate that lighting on December 31, 1999, January 1, 2000 and January 2, 2000. However, the Landmarks Board failed to take action to approve or deny, or to place conditions upon use of, the installed sky beam lighting, although it unanimously declared the sense of the Landmarks Board that the "sky beam" lighting did not fall within the exception for "temporary holiday ornamentation" contemplated in either the Controls and Incentives Agreement or Ordinance 119428.

12. On or after December 15, 1999, the Department of Construction and Land Use issued permits to the applicant for its proposed lighting changes to the Space Needle, specifically including the addition of the 7,000 watt xenon spotlights to enable the Space Needle Corporation to create and use the "sky beam" commencing December 31, 1999.

13. The grounds for this appeal include all of the reasons set forth above.

14. Appellant is an "interested person" pursuant to both SMC Chapter 25.05 and SMC Chapter 25.12.

15. Appellant reserves the right to amend this appeal to include new facts and/or new grounds for appeal pending receipt of responses to requests for public records and further pending results of investigation and discovery regarding the City of Seattle and the applicant. Dated: December 27, 1999.

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