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City pushes for bills to annex donut hole

Members of the Maple Valley City Council made two trips to Olympia in support of a pair of bills which propose to amend the process for cities to annex property.

If passed and signed into law, the bills would raise the threshold for the amount of land that can be annexed from 100 acres to 175 acres and would remove a stipulation that the property in question must contain residents.

This would allow the city of Maple Valley to begin the annexation process for Summit Place, also known as the donut hole, 156 acres located off Kent-Kangley Road and Southeast 228th Street that is home to a county transportation maintenance facility, nine holes of the Elk Run Golf Course, and undeveloped land. The donut hole is entirely surrounded by the city of Maple Valley. Annexation would shift control of zoning the property from King County, which also owns the property, to the city. The bills would not change ownership.

“As the city you try to do long term planning and planning involves zoning,” said State Sen. Mark Mullet, who represents the the 5th district and is the  primary sponsor of SB 5417. “I think it would be hard for Maple Valley to achieve their long-term goals when there is this big piece of land in the middle of town they don’t have control over. Coming from the city level I sympathize with that.”

Mullet expected the bill to come out of committee this week, after which it go to the floor of the Senate to be voted on.

“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get this passed out of the Senate,” Mullet said.

Representatives from King County and the Tahoma School District also spoke at the committee hearings.

At the Senate Governmental Operations Committee Feb. 12 Kevin Patterson, spokesman for the Tahoma School District, spoke on behalf of the district and submitted a letter by Superintendent Mike Maryanski. The district recently ended negotiations to purchase 35 acres in the donut hole.

“Regardless of whether the school district purchases any of the 156 acres, it is important that the area’s zoning be established in context of the city’s needs and challenges, including the overcrowding issues within the school district,” Maryanski wrote.

Harry Reinert, special projects manager for King County’s department of development and environmental services testified before the committee, expressing the county’s opposition to the bill.

Reinert cited the interlocal agreement that currently exists between the county and the city and the county’s efforts to develop the property in the past.

“We entered into this interlocal agreement and a joint planning agreement with the city of Maple Valley to look at the long term development of the property. At the same time the county and the city were working with a developer with the expectation that that developer would purchase the property and the property would get developed according to the joint plan that had planned for residential, commercial and a number of other uses,” Reinert said. “With the economy taking a turn down in the late 2000s, the developer wasn’t able to carry through on the property so we’re all in a difficult situation right now. King County has a piece of property that it is looking sell and Maple Valley has a piece of property that it would like to see developed, as the Senator said, as part of its long term plan, but right now we don’t have a purchaser that can actually move forward on the property.”

In a letter dated Feb. 17, 2011 Brian Ross, managing partner of YarrowBay, terminated the $51 million purchase agreement between the county and YarrowBay.

“This letter constitutes Buyer’s written notice to Seller under Section 5.1.1 that Buyer: (i) elects to terminate the Agreement and all further rights and obligations of both parties thereunder; and (ii) respectfully requests return of its earnest money promissory note per the terms of the Agreement,” Ross wrote.

Reinert said county staff believe the property doesn’t need to be annexed at this point.

“We think the joint planning process and the interlocal agreement are adequate to deal with the issues of this property,” Reinert said. “King County has been willing to work with the city on any of the issues it has raised in terms of permitting and uses and other sorts of issues that have come up in the process so we don’t really see the need for this legislation.”

Reinert also expressed that the county is concerned about how much it could sell the property for if it is annexed and rezoned by the city as well as the county’s ability to continue operating the sand and gravel pit it has on site.

The interlocal agreement is a source of concern for the city. The current interlocal agreement will expire in February 2014.

“Only two waivers are allowed and this is the second one,” Mayor Bill Allison said in a phone interview Feb. 15. “It (the bill) is not asking for anything new, we’re just trying to increase the threshold. Every legislator that we talked to, when they saw the map with the city limits and the donut hole, they were like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ The sad part is that it has come to this, that we have to go to the state to see this happen.”

City Council members felt that the trips to Olympia were successful in garnering support for the bills.

“I don’t know what it is going to take for the county to be reasonable and to treat us like we are equal citizens of the county,” City Council member Linda Johnson said in a phone interview Feb. 15. “It was very gratifying to go down and see all the support that we have. It’ll be interesting to see what King County does to try to change that momentum. It’ll be interesting to see what happens — I think King County is not comfortable right now.”

The city has worked to have the property annexed since the city incorporated in 1997 according to Deputy Mayor Victoria Laise Jonas.

“This property should have been annexed in when we became a city in ‘97,” Jonas said. “The city fought a hard fight to have this piece of property included but the county wouldn’t have any part of this request and wouldn’t budge…we have tried to work with King County to try to get this piece of property in our city. It’s the right thing to do. The time is now.”

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