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Council may surplus First Hill property

The City Council will consider declaring the city-owned vacant lot located on First Hill a surplus for the second time during its next meeting, possibly changing a public input process that it has promised.

The decision to bring the issue forward would save city staff time from devising several details of the different options that have been identified for the .7-acre property, if a majority of the Council supports the sale. The city recently determined that the Council could approve six possible actions for the property at the northeast corner of the intersection of S.E. 32nd Street and 74th Avenue S.E. Since the land was acquired by eminent domain in the 1960s, the city has to pay its water utility if it plans to keep the lot and not use it for its intended purpose. The city’s options include keeping the land as an open space by buying it from the water utility, selling the single parcel or subdividing it into three for private development, or creating an alternative and demonstrative work-force housing development.

According to city manager Rich Conrad, he expects the Council to discuss the surplus property for the next two meetings, giving the public one opportunity to make comments before the Council at the meeting on Monday. During the following meeting on July 7, the Council may make a motion regarding what should be done with the property, he said.

Toward the end of Council’s last meeting, Deputy Mayor El Jahncke said he did not want to see city staff waste their time devising alternatives if the Council does not plan to take a serious look at them all.

“When the outcome is already determined, there is no need to drag it out and do a process,” said El Jahncke during the last Council meeting. “We are going to declare it a surplus, sell it outright and give the money back to the utility fund.”

Money received from selling the property could be used to purchase and construct an emergency well facility planned for Rotary Park.

In December, the Council tabled a motion to surplus the property. Councilmembers said they wanted to hear from the neighborhood and the community at large before they made a decision to surplus the land, sell it or use it as a demonstrative workforce-housing project. In the following months, several neighbors and First Hill residents voiced opposition to an alternative housing development getting built in their neighborhood.

A few Councilmembers were shocked to hear that the tabled motion would be brought up again during the June 16 meeting because it contradicted the Council’s previous promise to gather public input. Councilmember Dan Grausz, who is vacationing in Italy but lives in the First Hill neighborhood, will miss the next meeting. He said he would be back for the July meetings, and he wants some form of public input process to occur if what was previously promised is reneged.

“I think the Council had agreed to go through a process and still needs to go through some sort of process,” Grausz said when contacted by telephone last week. “I don’t want to short circuit the process. We need to come up with a satisfactory alternative.”

Councilmember Mike Cero said he wanted to use this incident to revisit the section of the city’s comprehensive plan that calls for alternative housing developments as property becomes available. Cero said that the city has continually rejected multi-family housing projects near or in single-family neighborhoods or parks.

“The Island has a history that is counter to that paragraph, or section 3.11 of the comprehensive plan. Yet we have another project, this time on First Hill, that folds because of public pressure,” Cero said.

First Hill resident Matt Leibsohn said he expects many from the neighborhood to attend the next couple of meetings and he is satisfied that the demonstrative housing project may not move forward.

“I am trying to get as many neighbors to voice their opinions about this,” Leibsohn said. “I have an appreciation that the Council recognizes that high-density housing on that particular piece of property is not a good thing for the neighborhood, and they are listening to the majority of the neighborhood.”

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