The City Council’s discussion about property acquisitions at its meeting last week focused on buying a buffer around Little Bear Creek and on the council’s power to make decisions without the planning commission’s recommendation.
The council held a public hearing, which will be continued at the next meeting on Feb. 11, about adding six possible property acquisitions to the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, which would also amend the comprehensive plan. Adding the properties to the Capital and Public Facilities Element of the comprehensive plan allows the city to use certain sources of money, such as grants and the real estate excise tax, to purchase the properties.
Together, the six projects include about 148 acres at an estimated cost of about $5.2 million, Alexandra Sheeks, assistant to the city manager, said.
The Wood Trails or Phoenix properties on 148th Avenue in West Wellington neighborhood include a total of 50 acres that could be used for future open space or recreation, at an estimated cost of $2 million.
A .25-acre parcel adjacent to Little Bear Creek, at the corner of 134th Avenue NE, could be used for future open space, a stream buffer, recreation and culvert improvements on the road leading to the property. The city has budgeted $110,000 for it.
A 1.3-acre parcel on the southwest corner of NE 171st Street and 140th Avenue NE, for which the city budgeted $225,000, could be used for right-of-way for traffic improvements such as a roundabout.
The Draughn property, at 18155 151st Avenue NE, is a 19.8 acre parcel for future open space and recreational use. It would cost an estimated $833,000.
The city has budgeted $2 million to buy a 150-foot buffer along Little Bear Creek from 134th Avenue NE to NE 195th Street — a total of 75 acres. The property owners already can’t develop the land because of the Shoreline Management Act, Sheeks said, so it would make sense for the city to buy the land and use it for open space and recreation.
A property augmentation in the Wedge neighborhood would let the city buy a 1.5-acre property adjacent to two properties the city already owns, one of which is Woodin Glen Park. The property, which consists of wetlands, would cost an estimated $10,000.
Mike Halsey, a citizen, encouraged the city to purchase the Halsey property, which is adjacent to the Draughn property.
“My dad died last spring, and it was his desire that that land become public,” Halsey said.
Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders asked about adding that property to the list of property acquisitions.
“It’s a safety issue,” she said. “The Halsey property is about 99 percent landslide hazard area. It’s about 25 percent steep slope critical area, about 10 percent wetlands, about 35 percent erosion hazard area.”
If it gets cleared, she believes the neighborhoods above and below it, as well as anything built on it, would be at risk for erosion and stormwater problems. She had suggested naming the Halsey property as a possible property acquisition when the council discussed the issue in December, but the council voted against it 3-4.
City Attorney Greg Rubstello said because that piece of property hadn’t been discussed at the public hearing before the planning commission, the council couldn’t add it now.
“Adding things to an agenda that has already gone out, the public doesn’t know this is going to happen,” Rubstello explained. “If you want to make spot amendments, that sort of is not transparent. The problem with that, it’s not transparent to the public, who either decides to come or not come to a meeting based upon what they know you’re going to be considering or discussing.”
Boundy-Sanders said that interpretation of the rules gives the council “very little decision-making authority” compared to the planning commission.
“If, basically, we can only either say thumbs up or thumbs down to what the planning commission recommends, why are we having a hearing tonight?” Boundy-Sanders wondered.
The council also had questions about the Little Bear Creek buffer, a project recommended by the city staff.
“I just think it’s a large expenditure for something that is already protected,” Councilmember Liz Aspen said.
City Manager Richard Leahy said the city might be able to get grant money for the project.
“When those people do come in to get development permits for their property, I think many of them will be surprised that they can’t use the back 150 feet,” Leahy said. “... From our standpoint, if it is indeed an important public amenity or asset, that we’re telling someone you cannot use, from our standpoint, we said, ‘Well, if it’s that important of an asset, the city should own it.’”