LETTER: ‘Questions about NERA but answers have not been as easy to find…’
[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:]
At the last council meeting, Monday December 2, an agenda bill for $750,000 was discussed. This is a purchase offer for a private parcel the city wants to purchase located in NERA and owned by a private citizen. Be concerned; this will cost you more money in taxes and it is coming up for a vote at the next council meeting.
The complete details of the issue were not included in the council packet and handed out during the meeting and the staff was reluctant to have them made part of the public record. The City of Burien just paid $2.3+ million for the old school land in NERA this year. The total indebtedness on the part of the city on the purchases of property in NERA to date is nearing $ 3,600,000.00, enough money to fund several additional police for 10 years or enough money to fund the return to King County Animal Control for 10 years, both of which the city has maintained we cannot afford. The broker on this property is Mr. Dan Matthews of Kidder Matthews and the signer for the city is the development manager Dan Trimble, two people who sit together on the Economic Development Partnership for the City of Burien. Some council members perhaps should be asking whether this arrangement constitutes a conflict of interest or the appearance of transparency in city business? Or whether the role of the city is to be a real estate developer at citizen expense?
The Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA) has been a subject of numerous City of Burien Council conversations for many years, but it seems that the public has very little information about what has been going on behind the scenes. Former city councilmember Gordon Shaw wanted people to know during the candidate debates in 2011 that he had done a lot of work to secure this development area. But for what? It appears and has appeared for years, that here are no throngs of car dealerships or other major businesses that are just dying to relocate to this area. It also appears that the Port of Seattle has no desire to sell its land holdings in this area because it wants to use the area for air cargo business. Currently the Port of Seattle as well as the FAA control under the Third Runway Agreements what major portions of the land can be used for.
The most recent history of this area concerned Lora Lake Apartments on one site, a closed Highline School, Sunny Terrace on another, a large privately owned property which the City of Burien is now planning to buy and other privately owned parcels. The Port of Seattle owns some of the parcels which were bought for noise and safety for the third runway approach zone. Some of the use is therefore restricted because it is controlled by the FAA who was a partner on 80% of the purchase monies. Deals have been made, purchases have been secured, the city of Burien is moving forward, the FAA has relaxed their restrictions and their long-term plans are the same as former councilmember Shaw’s, to move the car dealerships off of 1st Avenue to NERA. Most of the information of what is going on here has been sequestered by city staff.
However, a new off-ramp from the State Route to this area is needed. There is no money for this off-ramp which will cost millions of dollars. The off ramp deal hinges on the state approval of the transportation improvement program which includes this off-ramp. Legislators do not know when it will be passed, they don’t know if it will be allowed since an initiative may require a vote of the people to fund it. Legislators speculate that this may not happen for the next 3-5 years. Meanwhile, do the dealerships want to go? The answer most citizens have heard is no, they don’t. Someone on the city staff believes otherwise? However, the purchase of these new land holdings by the city will cost citizens more in new taxes that they will not get to vote on whether they want to take on.
Not only is the city taking on the responsibility to develop real estate for a scheme which may not pan out for several reasons, private citizens appear to be making money on this venture. There are plans to construct water retention facilities and even take run-off from the Port through this system. This system involves an inter-local agreement between the Port and the City of Burien that runs perpetually to take on a responsibility that should belong only to the Port. And there are additional contaminated sites in the area that have not even been thoroughly investigated to know what the costs or timeline that will be to needed to remediate.
There are many questions about NERA but answers have not been as easy to find as they should be. This is part of the transparency problem that will need to be addressed by the new council, but until then, how deep is the city going to go into debt and obligation on ventures that do not directly benefit citizens who are paying the bills when that money, ours, could have gone for direct benefits for all citizens? Got questions? Call the city/Dan Trimble or your council members for more information on NERA.
– R. DeLorm
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