The Bel-R Greenhouses are located at 12415 5th Place SW in Burien.

by Jack Mayne
Spending money is always of great concern to Burien taxpayers, especially when the city simply does not have a lot of available cash to spend and Burien taxpayers are in no mood to pay more.
This is an attempt to provide more information.
This time we are looking and trying to make sense out of the application for a $1.5 million grant application approved by the Burien City Council at its March 16 meeting (read our previous coverage here). The Council voted to become a partner in seeking a grant to save and develop the Bel-R Greenhouses in northeast Burien into a local commercial food growing operation.
Vigilant readers and others immediately pounced on the story saying that the grant application committed the city to pay a matching amount to the grant – or $1.5 million in city funds.
Actually, as we will see, that potential amount apparently is higher – $160,000 higher.
Another concern is whether the property would come off the Burien tax rolls and, without some changes, the land would become the property of King County.
Off the city tax rolls.
Who pays the matching $$$?
Everybody agrees the city does not have the money without cutting other things out of the budget, a chancy, if not impossible task.
But the Councilmember spearheading the application – Deputy Mayor Nancy Tosta – said no city money was involved.
She is right, for now at least.
City Manager Kamuron Gurol said no money was spent. Money cannot be spent without the City Council officially appropriating it and that has not been done.
But – and this is a big “but” – if the grant is approved, the city or someone else would have to come up with the matching amount or the grant would be withdrawn.

Download a PDF of the grant application here.

The total value of the property is listed as $3 million, with half paid for by the requested grant money and the other half is listed on the application as coming from “matching funds” from a “private investor,” the King County Conservation District (KCD) or, you guessed it, from the City of Burien, where there is activity to find some entrepreneurial entity to pay that tab.
The KCD is a vehicle that collects and distributes funds normally for parks development.
It appears that $1.66 million must be paid to King County Conservation Futures, not $1.5 million, if it approves the grant. That additional amount appears in the application and it seems to be because of various fees and taxes involved in taking over the property.
Burien is assiduously seeking private donors of that amount.
The application itself was not available for members of the Burien City Council to inspect on that Monday night. It was a last minute piece of business that actually violated normal Council procedures, but was pushed by Tosta and others as being a great opportunity to save a unique piece of land from being turned into houses or condominiums.
Matching amount is higher
However, instead of the application showing a matching amount of $1.5 million, the number on the application is $1,660,000. Apparently, that extra $160,000 is for fees and taxes.
So, the City of Burien or some private investor needs to come up with $160,000 more than the $1.5 million as stated before.
Remember, the city has not spent anything yet, and would not until and unless the grant is approved for the $1.5 million requested.
So, who will pay that $1.66 million?
Not the city, says Tosta and the city manager.
It is well known that the city does not have that kind of money available without cutting something else and that is virtually impossible, everyone agrees.
That is why the city and the Conservation District and anyone else Burien can find is scouring the private development and entrepreneurial community.
But is the city on the hook if no “good citizens” appear on the horizon?
No, but it would have to reject the grant and let the greenhouses be purchased probably by a developer who will turn the open space and greenhouses into the 39 home sites the land is zoned for.
There could even be a requested zone change to permit condominiums or apartments, but that would be under the purview of Burien’s Planning Commission and City Council.
‘Once in a lifetime’
Still, this is no park and the agency it is asking a grant from usually makes grants for park development.
The greenhouses are a taxpaying, private enterprise that grows seedlings for sale to retail outlets and others. Making it into a park would mean it would no longer be paying taxes to the city.
The grant application says it is not an application to make the property into a park.
“The sponsors recognize the very unique nature of this project and fully understand it is unlike those historically funded by the Citizens Committee for natural areas, trails and riparian habitat, etc. However, the sponsors strongly believe this once in a lifetime opportunity within the Green River open space system merits creative consideration by the Citizens Committee.
“Started in 1942, the third generation owners, due to age, now wish to retire.
“While not formally landmarked, the nursery has been in operation for 73 years. It is part of the cultural fabric of the City of Burien.”
This land was annexed in 2010 and can accommodate 39 new home sites, the application says.
“A developer has already approached the family seeking a purchase option. Because of their years of dedication to the nursery, the five members of the family want their legacy to continue.”
Part of the potential of the property is that it could be upgraded to a growing center for local food, although now the greenhouses only house seedlings and no full food production is taking place.
Many have questioned the reality of such a plan. First there are indications that at least one educational facility is not interested in such a program to train greenhouse workers, considered by some as a dead end job.
There are the power costs of running greenhouses during the winter. We have heard that the present owners only produce seedlings though the fall, then turn off the power in the greenhouses, a cost that could amount to many thousands of dollars.
Stay tuned, as there will surely be more developments in this story…]]>