by Jeff Switzer
WOODINVILLE--The City Council will ask voters this fall for just enough money to buy the Sorenson School District site for a Civic Center: $6 million dollars by way of General Obligation (GO) Bonds requiring 60 percent approval in the primary election.
The scope of the project has been preliminarily reduced to the purchase of the surplused school district property.
"The community has voiced concern over rising property taxes, and the lowered bond price is partially a response to that," said Councilmember Marsha Engel. "This began four years ago, before incorporation, and people wanted this location for City Hall. We're buying property; what goes on top of that property remains to be seen. I don't think we can lose buying property in downtown Woodinville, and a purchase of this sort will become more and more impossible as time goes on."
Deputy Mayor Don Brocha said that from a real estate perspective, it has the most important thing: location, location, location.
"As a community, we need to look at it as an investment," Brocha said. "Are the Sorenson complex and the ballfields a good investment to make?"
City Manager Joe Meneghini noted the confusing issues during and after the election.
"We heard several things from the residents following the election, a lot of misperception on the ball fields, which were thought to be owned by King County though are not, or that the school district could continue to operate them as fields, which they will not," said Meneghini. "The real issue is that this will be sold if we don't take the chance to consider this as a community center and civic complex."
Another misconception stemmed from the fact that the school district and the city are both taxing districts, in addition to the fact that residents felt they already paid for the site because they pay taxes to the school district.
State law prohibits one agency from giving assets to another agency, however, and the school district must use its assets for educational purposes. Meneghini reiterated that the school district has determined the site to have no educational value and declared it surplus, meaning the district must now sell it and apply the proceeds to other needs in the district.
The council believes it's obvious the $14.5 million master plan is too much to do at once, and the scaled-back size of the bond is a way to do the essential bare bones part of acquiring the land.
"The city is committed to finding ways to renovate the building and preserving it and the ball fields as an asset in the community," Meneghini said.
Citizen group sees Sorenson as only site for community center
The citizen advisory panel for the issue believes the Sorenson site is the only feasible location for a community center for Woodinville, centrally located in downtown. By not purchasing it, the property will be sold either as commercial or high density housing, they said.
Preliminary consensus of the council was that the bond should be $6 million, though that number may be refined at first reading, and the scope will be better defined.
"There are many things we can do through donation, contributions, and in-kind help to renovate the pool, gym, and landscaping; a lot of ways we can do those types of improvements over time," said Meneghini.
Councilmember Barbara Solberg believes the voters have done a good job of educating themselves and puts her faith there.
"It's the voters who are ultimately making the decision," she said.