LETTER: ‘Why hasn’t there been open public disclosure on what is going on in NERA?’
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]
Editor of The B-Town Blog-
I attended the School board meeting on June 26, 2013 and it was the first time I was allowed to view the information on the surplus school land sale to the City of Burien. What I found especially interesting was Rose Clark/Burien council member standing up and telling the School Board that the approval of this sale was time sensitive as the ground had to be broken for this storm water facility by the City of Burien by this fall. I regularly attend and follow Council meetings and have never heard about the land deal, the monies that are available for it and how much Burien citizens will have to contribute to this developing this facility. If this is so urgent of an issue, why hasn’t it been discussed at any recent council meetings? Why hasn’t there been open public disclosure on what is going on in NERA, and who will really be responsible for this storm water facility and the expense to develop it?
Please see the letter attached I submitted to the Highline School District School board at this meeting:
June 26, 2013
To: The Highline School District Board/ Highline Schools
Re: Land sale to the City of Burien/comments for hearing on June 26, 2013
To the Highline School District School Board;
This letter is in response to the land that the City of Burien has offered to buy from the Highline School at the old NAVOS mental health site and which the June 26, 2013 hearing is to address. At this point in time, I am requesting that the school district not sell/transfer this land to the City of Burien. My reasons are discussed below. Also, it is always very difficult to comment at a public hearing on an issue when the information about that issue has still not been presented to the public. I have been to the Highline School District offices two times now (prior to this hearing) and have been unable to secure the most basic information about the land that is for sale-size of the parcel, etc. I was told that I could not have this information until the hearing date-June 26, 2013.
So my comments in this letter are going to be based on the limited amount of information that I do have, some community rumors I have heard, and assumptions I have drawn from that limited information base available to me.
1993-When the City of Burien incorporated, it designed into its Comprehensive Plan some safe guards related to the Port of Seattle and a possible third runway which would destroy the land values in a portion of the city and erode the property tax values and revenues for the city. Those protections stated that the any land the Port of Seattle owned in the third runway affected area (now know As NERA), could only be redeveloped by the Port as park lands or public facilities sites for the citizens of Burien. The intent of this policy was to compensate the citizens of Burien for the land and revenues lost due to the expansion of the Port through a third runway.
1993-2009-This protective land use policy remained in place for the citizens of Burien until 2009. Then in 2009, the Burien City Council allowed a zoning ordinance to pass which allowed the Port of Seattle to use these Port owned lands for other purposes, in violation of its Comprehensive Plan. This zoning change flew covertly under the radar without council members referencing or, being alerted by the city staff, that they should reference the Comprehensive Plan.
2010-The city staff came back to the Burien Planning Commission and the Burien City Council and claimed they had made an error in allowing this zoning change. Rather than repealing the zoning change, they claimed they were now going to correct the Comprehensive Plan. Again this was a violation of the process for how changes are to be made to the Comprehensive Plan according to the Growth Management Act (GMA). The city staff made the argument that because they had already allowed this zoning change to happen, they were now obliged to change the Comprehensive Plan to match the zoning code. Very few citizens and even some council members were not aware what was actually happening in this process. Through this change, the City of Burien gave away the guaranteed use of these park lands and public facilities lands for citizen benefit to the Port of Seattle (17+ acres) in exchange for nothing.
Currently, Burien needs those parks lands for the citizens up in Area X (which was annexed in 2010 to Burien). Area X is short on parkl ands for citizens. Additionally, Burien needs land for a Public Works facility/garage and that land which was returned to the Port of Seattle could have helped develop this public facility site for the city. Burien did and does have a real need for the lands that were returned to the Port for commercial redevelopment.
No portion or percent of these lands that were returned back to the Port of Seattle for possible financial/commercial development were retained for parks, public facilities or storm water facilities for benefit to Burien citizens. No property tax dollars could be collected from the Port to benefit the city, school district, police or fire services. So if the Port redeveloped these lands for commercial benefit or rental fee benefit to the Port, the citizens and service providers in the City of Burien would draw no tax benefit to cover their costs to maintain and protect the Port’s lands and would have to pick up the tab on costs the Port should be paying. This was a very bad deal for Burien citizens and the other service providers in Burien. However it appeared that the one area that the Port would have to pay its fair share on was on storm water facility development. Per the NERA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the largest land holder/redeveloper in the NERA area was to be responsible for the storm water development that was needed to redevelop the area they wished to commercialize. That developer right now appears to be the Port of Seattle.
2013-Now the City of Burien has approached the Highline School District to purchase the parcel of school district land that is being discussed at this hearing. It appears the reason that the City of Burien wants this land is to develop a storm water system at Burien citizen expense to benefit the Port of Seattle. This was not supposed to happen per previous notices, documents and communications with citizens by the City of Burien. The Port of Seattle was to cover the costs of developing this system, if it wished to redevelop this land. I believe it is the largest property holder in the area. Once again the city staff has covertly hidden information from the citizens about what the cost of this purchase will be to the citizens, how much citizens will be paying for the Port to redevelop and profitably use its lands at little to no real cost to the Port and how this whole parcel will actually be used by the City of Burien. The long term cost to the citizens of Burien of building and maintaining this alleged storm water facility for Port benefit was never disclosed in the NERA EIS or any other public documents I have been able to gain access to. As a citizen and taxpayer in the City of Burien, I do not feel that this whole land process by the City of Burien has been transparent and open to citizen public information and citizen input. Basically I, and I suspect numerous other citizens, would feel badly used, if the City used Burien citizen and Burien business taxes to develop the storm water system for the Port of Seattle to use its lands in NERA with no real tax benefit back to Burien citizens, the fire department and police department.
As land ownership currently appears in NERA, the Port of Seattle has more than an ample amount of land to create a storm water facility on to allow the redevelopment of its lands. For that reason, I am requesting that the school district not allow the purchase of this land by the City of Burien or that the district at least delay the decision of this purchase/transfer until more information on the purpose and costs of this purchase are made available to the citizens of Burien, until a new city manager is hired by the city and is available to provide a more detailed briefing to the Council and the public at a public meeting about the costs that will be really incurred to the citizens.
Once this parcel of land is sold/transferred to the City of Burien, it again remains off of the tax rolls and produces no financial benefit to the school district, fire district and citizens of Burien.
Currently, it appears to be a hand washing exercise by the City of Burien to benefit the Port of Seattle at Burien citizen expense. Burien citizens have been financially compromised once by the Port of Seattle with the development of the third runway. They were financially compromised a second time when the city returned all of the lands that were to be used for park land and public facilities to the Port of Seattle with nothing given in exchange for the profitable commercial use of those 17+ acres. I don’t believe that Burien citizens should be financially compromised a third time by compelling them to pay for the this parcel of land and pay for the storm water facility development on this land so that the Port to use its ill gotten lands tax free and at financial gain to the Port.
– C. Edgar
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