By Jack Mayne

The Burien City Council has 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.

After a prolonged discussion, in which the Councilors were told there is no commitment of money or of future involvement, the Council voted 5 to 2 to co-sponsor a $1.5 million grant request with the King County Conservation District. The two negative votes came from Mayor Lucy Krakowiak and Councilmember Bob Edgar.

Several times Deputy Mayor Nancy Tosta and Councilmembers Lauren Berkowitz and Gerald Robison said that to vote against partnering in the grant application would be telling future developers to not bother with Burien if you have a novel or different way of looking at a development.

“If we say no to this, we are telling people to go somewhere else,” said Robison just before the Council voted.

Last minute addition

At the very beginning of the Council meeting Monday night (March 16), Tosta moved to add an item to discuss the future consideration of the Bel-R Greenhouses to the agenda but there was objection from Councilmember Edgar about the immediacy of the change.

“This is a very time-sensitive matter, based on a grant application that is due this week so it has a very high time sensitivity,” Tosta said.

Edgar suggested the issue “wasn’t a timely one driven by the Council,”to which Tosta said it was a “timely issue driven by the community.”

“The property owner interest in timing and the King County Conservation District recognition of a grant opportunity that could put significant funding into the community to help preserve this site … it is being driven by the significant benefits to the community.”

Berkowitz said she could not understand the opposition from Edgar, that it is within the Council rules to add an item to the agenda at the last minute.

“It is asking other people ‘King County Conservation District’ to write a grant that would bring federal money to Burien to do good things for Burien,” adding there is no commitment of Burien tax dollars or that staff time would be used “to bring funding into Burien.”

Tosta said the conservation district has invested some of its money into developing a grant request for the proposed project to save the greenhouse operation.

“People are working very hard on our behalf and are asking if we are interested in helping to support it.”

During public comment, Burien Chiropractor Aaron Collins spoke in favor of the potential greenhouse project.

“I think this could be a really neat thing on a lot of levels,Collins said, adding that the closer food is to “your kitchen and the fresher it is, the better it tastes, the better it is for you.”

But resident Chestine Edgar appeared opposed to both the idea and putting it on the Council agenda at the last minute. She indicated during the public comment period that, “if this removes tax parcels and income to a city thats as poor as this, I really raise the question of it being bought by a government entity and used for non-profit purposes.”

The Council voted 6 to 1 to put the matter on the agenda, with Edgar voting against it.

A City Farm

A Tosta memo presented to the Council said the “Bel-R greenhouses in north Burien (at Fourth Avenue and 124th Street) have been functioning as a ‘farming business since 1947. This is a family owned business (same family for the last 68 years) that primarily now provides wholesale nursery plants to various sellers region wide.

“The family owns 10 contiguous parcels, comprising eight acres, with approximately 3.5 acres of fully functioning commercial greenhouses, three acres of holding/hardening areas, and four older residences and one office on the remaining property.

“They employ 20 people year-round and approximately 40 during their busy season,” Tosta wrote. “The property was annexed to Burien from King County in 2010.”

“The five members of the family are interested in retiring from the business,” and added that other family members are not interesting in taking over the business.

The deputy mayor said experts from the county, the conservation district and commercial growers “have visited the Bel-R site and believe it is unique not only within our city, but within the region, and potentially nationwide.”

So, Tosta wrote, “opportunity exists to use such already functioning infrastructure to grow food, train students, support community health and economic development, and potentially serve as an asset with broad benefits.”

The question is what must be done to take advantage of this opportunity, Tosta said. The decision process is underway with a potential of “some sort of funding” in February of 2016.

During a public comment period, Executive Director Sara Hemphill of the King County Conservation District said her agency has done “almost nothing else the past two weeks but think about and research the Bel-R nursery opportunity.”
She said they had found the facility “so compelling” that she directed staff to work on the matter and her board of directors has provided money to hire a consultant to develop a grant proposal to “secure funding to help keep the property in the business of commercial urban agriculture.”

“At this point in time, it does not require any commitment of funding, of intent, of use, of who would be specific partners,”said Tosta. “It is not a binding contract in any sense, it is something that we think about further over other meeting and we have more insight and more ideas and we decide that, no this wouldn’t work, we simply say we are not going to be party to this.”

She said the application for a grant would have better chance if it were endorsed by the city.

Details about the ownership or the operations of any venture “isn’t clear” now would have to be determined later, Tosta said.

We’re Back

Public comments brought the now usual array – and some of the past objectors – of so-called “trespassing” ordinances 606 and 621 and a couple of people who want the laws to remain on the books.

Objector Will Laudanski said he is a “homeless veteran who served my country honorably,” said he felt the two ordinances were “entirely anti-American, anti-democratic legislation.”

Joshua Ferris of Seattle said the two ordinances are “stripping away due process, you are allowing a police officer to basically become judge, jury,” adding “we have people is Seattle that are living in tent cities that have been banished from Burien – it sounds like medieval.” He said, “We have been told that this has nothing to do with the homeless, but then we look at the e-mails … and there is a direct link between this ordinance and the homeless …”

Ferris said that if the Council does not repeal the ordinances, “we are having a lot of fun and we look forward to getting know you better” by continuing to appear before the Council and lodge complaints.

“We are going to be in this for the long haul.”

Bryce Phillips, who said he had no permanent address, said the city manager – he was told by Mayor Lucy Krakowiak not to specify individuals – “is telling mistruths about what the intentions are behind 621 were.” Phillips said there was court admissible evidence that “606, now 621, is to criminalize the homeless.” Being uncomfortable about someone does not give “you the right to enforce that on other people.” Racism is not allowed and “prejudice against the homeless should not be allowed,” he said.

Outside protestors were wrong

Darla Green, owner of Skinperfect boutique, said she was “here again as a concerned Burien resident and a small business owner” to show “support to our five members of the Burien City Council that voted in favor of Ordinance 621, formerly 606.

Green said she was reminding people that “this is about criminal behavior, not about being homeless.”

“A member of the Burien City Council has done Burien a huge disservice by combining the two issues,” said Green. “I am here to publicly state that what was done at the Council meeting dated Feb. 23 was wrong, if not criminal in and of itself. Bringing in outside protesters to cause a media circus only brought this member (of the Council) the attention that this member is seeking.”
She was interrupted by Mayor Krakowiak who said, “You have to keep comments in general or otherwise I am going to turn the mic off.”

Green continued, “This negatively impacted Burien, and it disrespected the Burien residents and business owners. Ordinance 621 is about protecting our public spaces and giving the police department the leverage enforcing and curbing criminal activities that are out of control.

“While you might think this is about nuisance behavior, the repercussions about allowing this criminal behavior to fester is apparent in our uptick in crime, such as car theft, mail theft, littering, loitering, graffiti, public intoxication and open air drug use that our children are walking through.”

Behave or go

Burien resident Steve Parks, a longtime resident who says he likes Burien and intends to stay here, says he supports the trespass ordinance.

“It’s about behavior,”Parks said. ” If you can’t behave, we learned this in kindergarten, you don’t get to play. The ordinance is not about homelessness … but if you’re not going to behave in public areas that are paid for by the taxpayers and the residents and the business owners, you can’t stay there. You can go somewhere else, but you have to behave. I appreciate the fact that the Council has stepped up and voted this ordinance in.”

Quinton Thompson told the Council he attended a meeting in Burien last week.
“I got really scared and I had to get Councilmember Lucy (Krakowiak) and the Metro Access driver to get one of our homeless people off of the disabled access bus. That was very scary for me,” said Thompson, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair. “I thought I was going to have to call the Burien Police Department, because I wasn’t going to get on that bus with that homeless person on the vehicle. “

Thompson said Metro Access is a service for the elderly and the disabled and the incident was scary and “held up the driver for about 25 minutes.”
Resident Ed Dacy said he is hearing more and more people are having problems walking in Burien, being harassed by people, and “I’m hearing that some women are not feeling comfortable walking at night, now.” We have to do something for the homeless, Dacy said, but not by attracting bad behavior by “a small minority and some of these people … are not homeless.”
Rachel Levine, whose microphone was turned off at the March 2 Council meeting because she spoke longer than the two minutes allowed by Council rules, said he had “no intention to disrespect “either the Council or the time boundaries” put on comments.

“I did not understand that I did not have three minutes,” and then she read a portion of a resolution from the White Center Library Guild that seeks Burien Council support for ensuring any new library built in the area remains a library for its lifetime, even if the area is annexed to the City of Seattle.

No action by Council

Chestine Edgar reminded the Council that a year “and three months ago,” she presented a “list of items to improve the city for the benefit of the citizens …” Her list included a “youth advisory board to report to the Council,” and an activity center which could also serve as a hygiene center “for the disadvantaged.”

She also sought action to retain small businesses which “are continuing to close in the city – the Town Square property is still empty.”

Chestine Edgar’s list included moving the downtown Farmer’s Market from Thursday to Sunday. The market has been on Thursday from May to October for many years.

“Currently the city gives 40 to 50 percent funding to a market that only serves a select few citizens in the community.”

Later, Edgar asked Andrea Reay, Discover Burien executive director about changing the day that the market is held and Reay, who was at the Council to give her annual report, said comments were being collected on meeting days and no change until there is sufficient information.

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.

16 replies on “Burien City Council endorses grant request to save Bel-R Greenhouses”

  1. As s resident in the area of the greenhouses, I love the idea of using it as a food grow. However, I am very apprehensive if something goes south for food grow, I do not want it to be turned into Apartment Houses! We have way to many of those in this area and will not help the overpopulated schools that are already maxed out.

  2. How about the City of Burien uses this unique opportunity to produce, market and profit from it’s own brand of Marjiuana. We could have the brand names “The B-Town Bomb and Burien Bombastic” to bring in massive revenue to the City and become filthy rich. It’s legal, so why not become part of the free market?

  3. Scott, I had to leave the meeting early and really appreciate this full report. Did the council members who voted against the Bell-R greenhouse grant application say why they opposed it? Or did I miss that in the copy?

  4. Having a local food production endeavor in our city could be a real draw. It could be very innovative and forward-thinking, shining positive light on our city. I’m glad the council voted to co-sponsor the grant request with the King County Conservation District; the idea merits exploration and development. Not only “shop local”, but “GROW local!”

    1. I only shop at Safeway, Albertsons, or Fred Meyer. I don’t really care too much about being innovative, forward-thinking or shining a positive light.

  5. Does anyone have any idea how much work a Greenhouse is. You can’t just come in and start growing a garden!!! Just Sayin….

  6. Kudos to Ms. Tosta, Ms. Berkowitz, and Mr. Robison for thinking outside the box. Mayor Krakowiak and Mr. Edgar WTH??? What legacy are you going to leave the city?

    1. Jerry has already said his #1 priority will be to have Burien annex white center. So that legacy is off the table now LOL. I guess we could wake him up during one of those council meetings after he dozes off and ask him what his legacy is now?
      Lauren B has already left her legacy of rudeness, lack of professionalism and bringing a bunch of thugs from special interests groups she belongs to from out of town to disrupt our city council meetings.
      I think Bob and Lucy’s legacy will speak for themselves, unlike Lauren and Jerry they actually take their responsibilities to the cities residents seriously.
      Unlike Jerry and Lauren who are all about the rights of the “special interests” even if they are in opposition to the vast majority of the residents of Burien!

  7. Jack, this meeting was very confused and was like a cross between ” The Music Man”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and The Port telling us the Third Runaway was only going to be used for emergency purposes. There were no copies of the grant to be reviewed by the Council, no one knew how much it would cost to run these greenhouses and no factual information was prepared for the meeting. In signing this grant, which 5 Council members agreed to do, it commits the City of Burien to $1.5 million in matching fund money from the city to match the $1.5 million that the county grant is written for. Currently the city does not have $1.5 million to buy greenhouses and by Feb., 2016 will not have $1.5 million dollars to buy greenhouses.The motion read and voted on said the city manger had the right to work on the grant and commit city money to the grant and sign by March 18, 2015? Buy the way the grant would still have been submitted even if the city didn’t sign it and the city would not be on the hook for $1.5 million dollars.
    What is strange is that the Finance Director was not at the meeting to talk about what it meant for the city to sign a grant that it could not provide the funding for and the new city attorney didn’t weigh in on the fact that there were no facts or a chance for the Council to look at a grant that they were agreeing to sign for that amount of money. It also violated the standing rule of the Council to look at something at least two times before voting to sign it. Council members Berkowitz and Tosta who always insist that decisions must be based on research, facts and correct process were willing to throw their rules to the wind and immediately sign with no information. Hum? These greenhouse are supposed to be owned by a private owner and be for profit according to the King County Conservation District but there were no private buyers who were signing the grant. It appears to be very much a smoke and mirrors operation right now. These greenhouses cost probably about $20,000 per month just in heating to keep them running during the winter. Lots of unanswered question, you think?
    The new attorney appears to be a light weight as latter in the meeting he didn’ even know what the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine was and didn’t even bother to pull it up on his screen or say he would research it. He didn’t know the guidelines on quasi-judicial hearing guidelines either. Hum?

  8. I am all for more local food production and educating our future generations about the satisfaction of growing your own food. I can’t understand any objection to this. It’s been a greenhouse as long as I can remember, keep it growing. The benefits that could be gained for this city are countless.

    1. I doubt if you’ve ever owned a piece of ground in your life. I also doubt if you’re even from Burien.

    2. I like big farms that span hundreds or thousands of acres run by professionals who feed millions of people cheaply and efficiently.

  9. A local food grow would be awesome – I would definitely buy a CSA share, if available. But I’m concerned about contamination of the soil in that area, since it’s so close to the airport. Is it suitable for growing food?

    1. There is that whole arsenic contamination that was spread over large parts of the area by the smelter in Tacoma.

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