County's Stealth Attempts To Sell Puget Sound Park May Postpone Official Annexation 3by Ralph Nichols

For the second time in three years, King County is attempting to renege at the 11th hour on a deal with the City of Burien.

The King County Library System reportedly has entered into a preliminary agreement to purchase Puget Sound Park at 1st Ave. S. and SW 126th St. from the county in a deal brokered by through the county executive’s office.

Puget Sound Park is located in the unincorporated area of North Highline that is to be annexed by Burien early next year.

But the stealth attempt to sell the park – initiated and discussed by the county without informing the city of its intent – prompted Burien council members at their meeting on Nov. 23 that they will postpone official annexation of North Highline, which tentatively was set for March 2nd (read our previous coverage here).

Burien officials and North Highline residents now hope that new King County Executive Dow Constantine, who was sworn in Tuesday afternoon (Nov. 24), will intervene to block the sale, thus allowing Puget Sound Park to go to the city as part of annexation.

Constantine represented Burien, North Highline and West Seattle on the King County Council until his election as county executive in November. Because of his swearing in, he was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Burien City Manager Mike Martin informed council members about the pending sale of the park – which he learned about only late last week – at Monday night’s meeting and recommended that they not vote, as scheduled, on an ordinance setting March 2 as the effective date of annexation. They agreed unanimously to postpone action at this time.

“We expect to have that park,” Martin told The B-Town Blog today. “No annexation deal will be done until we get that asset.”

Mayor Joan McGilton sent a letter to Constantine on Nov. 20, requesting his “direct intervention in this matter.” She noted that city attempts to contact county staff had not produced “satisfactory results.”

“I think we can agree that such a delay is not in the best interest of our residents, and comes at significant additional cost to the County’s general fund,” McGilton told Constantine.

Martin said he only learned about the county’s interest in selling Puget Sound Park – initiated when Kurt Triplett was county executive – during a recent conversation on another matter with Fire District 2 officials, who said the property had been offered to them.

After they declined, King County reportedly contacted the King County Library System, which said yes to the offer and subsequently signed a letter of intent.

“We didn’t know what was going on until then,” said Martin. County officials had given the city no indication of their plans, despite the fact the park is in the area to be annexed by Burien.

Staff in the executive’s office under Triplett – who was chief of staff to former county executive Ron Sims until Sims resigned earlier this year to take a position in the administration of President Obama – apparently hope to make about $500,000 on the sale of the park to help plug the $56.4 million shortfall facing King County next year.

Greg Duff, president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, said, “The people of North Highline want their parks. We want our open spaces. For them to do that now is a slap in the face…. The people of North Highline voted for annexation and want King County to stop messing around.”

Shortly after the August election, when residents of the southern part of North Highline approved annexation by Burien, Triplett proposed mothballing King County parks to reduce general fund expenses by $4.6 million.

Constantine quickly responded, opposing Triplett’s plan to cut funding for the parks in unincorporated areas. “Parks are important to the health and quality of life of everyone in the communities,” and closing them would be “short sighted,” he said.

In 2007, Sims pulled out of a deal signed years earlier with Burien and the Port of Seattle for the demolition of the Lora Lake Apartments, which were operated by King County Housing Authority, to pave the way for commercial development in the city’s Northeast Redevelopment Area.

Although the county successfully won control of the apartment complex, it later was demolished anyway because soil contamination made it unsuitable as a residential property.