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City Council votes to buy three acres south of City Hall

land purchase by Jeff Switzer
WOODINVILLE--Following months of negotiations and under the pressure of a Nov. 15 deadline, the City Council voted 4-2 Monday night to purchase the three acres south of City Hall owned by LeisureCare, Inc. for $1.65 million.
   The decision to buy the land, planned for a 48-stall parking lot, comes after voters rejected two bond issues for the purchase of the Sorenson Complex, the first of which included the three acres in addition to the 10-acre Sorenson site and fields.
   "The seller is reasonably emphatic that this property goes away unless something happens reasonably soon. Reasonably soon was two weeks ago," Jim Granger told the council.
   The agreement, for 3.14 acres, allows the LeisureCare facility to use the area for parking for their Phase II development of their 7-acre site, and stipulates that $50,000 in earnest money be turned over within five days of approval. The city also agrees that 48 stalls are enough to meet both the needs of the future development and the city.
   According to the city manager's report, the price is "a fair market value and is a value supported by the Comprehensive Plan and comparative sales in the area."
   "This property represents a way to better handle the basic needs of the city: the Wilmot Park and other municipal needs over time that we will be facing," said Joe Meneghini. "It's a clear investment in the long-term needs of the community."
   Citing the recent defeat of the bond issue, Councilmembers Art Saulness and Barbara Solberg voted against the measure. Councilmember Marsha Engel was absent.
   "Personally, I'm very much in favor of relocating City Hall to this site, but I can't support the purchase under the present climate in Woodinville," said Saulness. "I think we need to make the hard decision not to spend $1.6 million when we have so many other competing projects."
   Saulness cited the high costs of being a Woodinville resident and related the results of King County's recent open space bond defeat. "Citizens are looking for a higher standard for dealing with public funds. There are a lot of people in town, 48 percent, that I couldn't look straight in the face (if I voted for this)," he said.
   Voting in favor of the purchase were Mayor Bob Miller, Deputy Mayor Don Brocha, and Councilmembers Lucy DeYoung and Scott Hageman.
   "Taking the long-range view and planning is our job," said Deputy Mayor Don Brocha. "We're buying a piece of property with multiple purposes. If we're not going to use it, it's an investment for our citizens. When I see 52 percent, I consider that to be a majority who want it and are willing to pay for it. This is a tool; this may be a future city hall."
   Meneghini cited the need for parking for the future Wilmot Gateway Park, the current use at the ballfields and community events. Saulness asked whether the site was too isolated for a city hall. Meneghini answered that the grid road planned for 133rd Avenue NE would provide good access from both NE 175th Street and the South Bypass.
   "This parcel gives us the flexibility that, as we go forward, we can use for parking, a civic center, or just city hall," said Councilmember DeYoung. "The opportunities in the downtown core are rapidly going away from us in terms of buying property."
   DeYoung said the recent bond failures spoke to the fact that residents did not want to raise their property taxes for the land purchases. "(The voters) wanted us to find alternative ways to do it," she said. "There's been a tremendous amount of public input to this. I think it comes down to how you finance it."
   Solberg, who voted against the purchase, said she wished the public were more involved in the process and said she was concerned that there were so many different plans for one parcel of property.
   DeYoung said the initial use would be for parking, then the city could examine the options for the parcel. "Needs and times change," she said. "It's not a static decision we're (making)."
   Mayor Miller said that while the election failed to have the super majority of 60 percent for approval, for this city it was affirmative, calling the vote a "Woodinville landslide" compared to last year's election, in which two councilmembers were elected by margins of four and six votes.
   "People said they want a community center downtown," he added. "I don't believe the price is going to go down, it's only going to go up. It's a prime piece of property in the downtown core at a fair and reasonable price."
   John Corrado of Windermere served as the agent for LeisureCare, working with Jim Granger, who in turn worked with the City Council in executive session, finalizing the buy-sell agreement throughout the summer.
   Former councilmember Bob Dixon was present during the study session discussion, giving his views on the purchase before the 4-2 vote.
   "If the bond issue had been for these 3.14 acres, that bond issue would have passed," Dixon said. "I could support this purchase if it's bought with the express purpose of building a city hall with two acres of parking--if Brittany Park is not going to be using it."