Opinion

The Maple Valley and King County battle for the Donut Hole | Ryan Ryals

Ryan Ryals lives in Maple Valley and writes a weekly column about politics and life in the city. - Courtesy photo
Ryan Ryals lives in Maple Valley and writes a weekly column about politics and life in the city.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Years from now, we might remember this week as “The Battle of Donut Hole.” Or not.

It’s hard to predict, since Maple Valley is still in the middle of a tense standoff with King County over the 156-acre Donut Hole property, and it likely won’t be resolved before the ink has dried on this paper. The final showdown of this three-year, three-way chess match could happen this Sunday.

That’s the deadline for YarrowBay (the developer) to pony up the escrow money, as part of a $51 million deal to purchase the Donut Hole property, which is in the middle of the city on Kent-Kangley Road. King County owns the property, and would really love to have that $51 million, which is three times the size of their entire rainy day fund.

But if YarrowBay doesn’t pay, they don’t play, and the property goes away (most likely to a surplus auction). The county probably wouldn’t get as much for the property, since land values are down, and there’s no urgency to develop new houses or commercial properties these days.

The developer is stalling while they watch Maple Valley and King County battle over zoning rules. In the agreement between all three sides, the city gets to decide what the zoning will be before the property is annexed and finally becomes part of Maple Valley. The city recently revealed a new type of zoning that the developer apparently doesn’t like.

It helps to understand this land war by knowing each side’s motivations. King County wants the $51 million. YarrowBay wants the easier development rules of King County and not the new rules that Maple Valley would like to impose. Maple Valley wants to make sure they don’t have a mini-city launched on the property that drains public services and clogs up the roads.

King County tried ignoring the city for a while, but it didn’t work. Developers tried to help with a counter-strike, which would have changed state law to exclude Maple Valley from the impact fees discussion. And they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids (from City Hall).

So what’s the problem? Why can’t all three sides get what they want? Surely some mutual negotiations would solve their disagreements, right?

Probably not. The county doesn’t want to jeopardize the sale by giving in to Maple Valley’s zoning proposals, so, they made a formal objection last week to the zoning plans. Maple Valley’s city manager replied with a rejection letter so masterful that it made me question my own abilities as a writer.

The city doesn’t have any incentive for the property to be developed; they’d probably rather have it stay like it is. Right now, the property only contributes a handful of cars to the roads, but with 1,600 new housing units on it, Kent-Kangley Road would soon get its own traffic report.

The key to this entire conflict has been the developer: YarrowBay. They’ve got the money, but they’re not going to part with it unless they get their way. Hey, that’s business, though. I spent all of last week’s column complaining about red tape and hindering regulations, and that is YarrowBay’s perspective here.

They want to build more densely populated and lower-priced housing, and quite frankly Maple Valley could use some lower-priced houses. Last week, a house went up for sale for $70,000, and it received ten offers within a week. It was tiny (less than 500 square feet), only had one bedroom, and was on a busy road, but it was pretty clean and it sold fast.

If YarrowBay says no way, who else would be willing to pay? There are some other developers who have asked about it and they’d probably be more interested since the price will likely drop. Even YarrowBay could probably bid again and pick it up for $10 million less.

We should know the winner of this battle by Sunday. The city has your King in check. It’s your move, YarrowBay.

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