Addressed to Woodinville City Council December 6, 2016
I want to share my thoughts and concerns regarding the new roundabout being constructed on NE 171st Street. So many people, including King County staff and many of you, are surprised, if not outraged, by the intrusion into prime farmland on the historically significant Zante farm.
It is very easy to point fingers at others but the responsibility is ours and the impact is now for us to deal with. You are our elected representatives and collectively you have not served the community well, in this matter. I’ve even heard some say it was a “honest” mistake. An honest mistake is a mistake made when one doesn’t know that their action is a mistake. We had the information to know, we had plenty of opportunities to intervene, but we failed to do so.
I recall seeing an early version, perhaps two years ago, showing the three roundabouts planned for NE 171st Street. I was confident that the plan would never go forward because the plan included building roads on designated farmland. I thought I well understood that the farmland was protected by King County code language stating that farmland could not be removed unless equal farmland was acquired within the same Agricultural Production District (APD). Additionally, I was confident that the Growth Management line was adequate protection. Apparently, the city of Woodinville found a way to skirt those rules. Our “proclamation” to protect farmland sounds very hollow.
What is so troubling is that the negotiations with Zante’s for the purchase of the portion of the land needed for the construction was going on at the same time that we all were meeting as part of the Sammamish Valley Wine Area Study. Mayor Talmas and City Manager Brandon Buchanan were at the table or in the room. Many of you attended the same meetings. You as a council drafted a proclamation stating that we would protect farmland as best we can. And yet, you approved the purchase of the land. And you approved paying many times the true value of the land. Why would we pay more for the land than what it is worth? These are not “honest” mistakes.
A key element in the challenge to retain farmland is our understanding that the cost of farmland must remain affordable to the farmer. Your recent purchase of farmland will directly affect future valuation of other nearby farmland. We must acknowledge that we deliberately paid more than market rate, regardless of the reasoning. Future comparable sales analysis could and should reflect that the deal was made, apparently, without an informed purchaser and therefore the price paid per acre does not reflect true market value. Of equal concern is a need to understand who made this decision and how this fiduciary blunder is being addressed. Someone is ultimately responsible. How are we to be confident that future real estate purchases made by the city will be handled professionally?
We can do better than this. Let’s stop pointing fingers and re-group. We can be visionary and provide workable solutions if we commit to do so. We must again gather together and do a better job of communicating. Better communications likely would have averted this challenge.
I encourage you to convene a task force or committee that can build on the work begun with the Wine Area Study. We must continue to bring King County to the table and to find ways to accomplish our mutual goals.
Tom Quigley is a founding member of the Sammamish Valley Alliance, a local non-profit that advocates for local food and local farms. He is the current Master of the Sammamish Valley Grange and is the President and owner of Olympic Nursery, Inc.