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City to decide fate of First Hill property

The City Council will decide whether or not to sell a city-owned First Hill lot next Monday, and if so, when. The .7-acre vacant lot, which was acquired by the city decades ago as a potential site for storing water, has been the focus of deliberation for two years now.

The city recently received an appraisal for the land — the amount of which remains confidential — and will decide whether or not to sell at its March 16 meeting.

“The Council will determine whether they still want to sell the property,” said City Attorney Katie Knight. “I don’t know if they think this is the market in which to sell. Do they want to wait a year? They may authorize staff to sell at a point of time when property values go up.”

Discussion surrounding the First Hill lot, located on the northeast corner of 74th Avenue S.E. and 32nd Street, picked up in August 2007, when the city Utility Board recommended that the Council declare the property a surplus and sell it. The Council later tabled the issue until the neighborhood could be further consulted about uses for the property, opening it up to public input for six months.

Many First Hill residents urged the Council to find a way to keep the property as open space. Several families use the grassy lot as a park for their children and dogs.

In the spring of 2008, a group of First Hill neighbors organized a stand-in protest against a Council proposal to build multifamily affordable housing on the land. Standing arm to arm across the lot, the residents demonstrated their wish that the park be kept as an open space.

That following June, the City Council ruled out rezoning the property to construct an affordable housing project — one of six options previously discussed. It also concluded that some portion of the lot should be sold to fund the emergency water well at Rotary Park.

Yet building on the land, according to the June 23 meeting, was still an option, as long as certain covenants were maintained. The Council directed city staff to contrive possible restrictions to limit future house sizes or encourage sustainable building practices on the lot. They were also directed to calculate the effect that such restrictions might have on property value.

More information about the First Hill property is available at www.mercergov.org/firsthillproperty.

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