Sequim City Council political shift on growth gets an early hint
November 29, 2007
SEQUIM, WA - Pat Johansen hopes the Sequim City Council can slow down and let the town "take a breath."
In a short, blunt speech during this week's council meeting, Johansen reminded the seven men of what she believes is the message from the Nov. 6 election of four newcomers:
"The voters told you that they were unhappy with the city's direction," she said. "They rejected the cozy good ol' boys' culture."
Johansen, 73, is a supporter of Ken Hays, Laura Dubois, Susan Lorenzen and Erik Erichsen - all elected earlier this month to replace John Beitzel, Ron Farquhar, Don Hall and Bob Anundson.
Some council members have become "friends of developers and real estate interests," Johansen said.
"I wouldn't for a minute attribute malice to anybody," she added in an interview.
Johansen does want the sitting council members to move deliberately as they consider a docket of 10 proposals to rezone dozens of parcels across the city.
If approved, the rezoning would allow commercial, mixed-use or higher-density housing development on some 93 acres.
During Monday's meeting city Planning Director Dennis Lefevre explained each proposal - and several times paused while members of the public, including newly elected council members, stood up to speak for or against them.
"It looks like commercial sprawl," said Hays, an architect who lives near the parcel.
"It doesn't make sense, frankly."
"Thank you for your comments," Mayor Walt Schubert said.
Docket item No. 5 would change a 2.41-acre piece of land behind the Boys & Girls Club on Fir Street into an R-III zone, allowing 15 to 22 housing units per acre.
Developers Ron Robbins and Sean Ryan hope to build a 52-unit apartment complex there.
"We're looking for the highest and best use" of the land, said Realtor Mike McAleer, the agent urging the rezoning.
"It would provide workforce housing" - affordable to working-class people - "within walking distance of jobs."
"Thank you, Mike," Schubert said.
Hays stepped up again to say that an R-III zoning, allowing six to 14 units per acre, would better suit the area.
"If you cram too many units in," he said, "it would not be all that livable."
When the council considered proposal No. 8 to rezone 37 acres around Deytona Street from R-II to R-III - which would allow hundreds more units - Erichsen came forward.
The retired Hanford Nuclear Reservation physicist asked the council about the "legal implications" if the rezoning is approved now - and then the four new council members come in and disapprove of it.
City attorney Craig Ritchie reached for his microphone, but Mayor Walt Schubert and Councilman Paul McHugh spoke before him.
They both asked Ritchie whether they could run through the docket items, or did they have to answer Erichsen's question now?
Ritchie said nothing to stop the run-through. Lefevre finished the docket.
Then Councilman Bob Anundson issued a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace warning, based on his experience with residents' outcry over subdivisions and commercial projects.
He had to approve those developments because they fit zoning requirements, Anundson said.
Once land is zoned for higher density, city officials haven't much choice but to allow it.
These council meetings are where zoning happens, he added. Once a parcel is rezoned, "it's too late."
Rezoning discusion set
They voted unanimously to continue the discussion at their Dec. 10 meeting.
That session, expected to be the last one of the year, will start at 6 p.m. in the Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St.
McHugh and Councilman Bill Huizinga said they have yet to make up their minds on each rezoning proposal.
Both said they need to read and reflect before voting.
Those two, along with Schubert, are the only sitting members who'll remain come January.
Johansen, in her speech before the docket discussion, had asked the outgoing council members to vote carefully.
"We are all of us neighbors and most of us friends," she said.
"Please remember that you have an obligation to listen to the voice of the voters."
Last modified: November 28. 2007 9:00PM
Proposed wildlife refuge park, Discovery Trail link off Sequim's list
November 29, 2007
SEQUIM - The much-anticipated purchase of a 45-acre city park and wildlife refuge has fallen apart, Sequim Public Works Director James Bay told the Sequim City Council this week.
"Due to a number of constraints," including the city's 2008 budget and a new property appraisal, "we're not going to be able to pull this program off," Bay said.
During the public hearing on the city's 2008 budget on Monday night, the council removed the park purchase - as well as a planned Olympic Discovery Trail link along Spruce Street - from next year's list of expenditures.
The council added some spending, however, on park improvements, including allocations for renovating a Carrie Blake Park ball diamond and putting in restrooms, a paved path and new signs for the nearby James Center band shell.
All year, Bay and Planning Director Dennis Lefevre had talked with the Keeler family, led by Joe Keeler and Carol Bolduc, about their land stretching along the south side of U.S. Highway 101 west of the Happy Valley Road turnoff.
The family planned to donate 10 acres and sell the other 35 to Sequim for a wildlife refuge in memory of the late Joseph L. Keeler, Joe and Carol's grandfather.
But then the city had the property appraised. The verdict: It's worth $33,500 per acre, or $1.5 million for the parcel.
That's 33 percent higher, Joe Keeler said, than a nearly two-year-old appraisal the city had used when it began negotiations.
The City Council held an executive session Monday night to discuss whether to raise its offer for the Keeler land.
They decided against that, for now.
"We don't want to cast the Keelers in a bad light. They did all the legwork," Elliott added.
"The dollars just got too high."
Said Mayor Walt Schubert, "It really saddens me that it didn't work out."
Joe Keeler was floored Tuesday morning when he heard that the city had aborted its plans.
He said he's still willing to donate 10 acres - and listen to city officials should they want to make a new offer on the other 35.
"That's up to them," Keeler said.
"It may not be a dead issue, at least from our perspective."
Schubert, when asked Tuesday morning whether the City Council would consider further negotiations, said only that he hopes so.
The trail, designed to eventually run from Port Townsend to the West End, has a scenic stretch through the woods around Johnson Creek and into Carrie Blake Park - and then it disappears in the middle of town.
Bay had applied for a grant to pay for paving a leg of the trail along Spruce Street, from the park to Sequim Avenue.
"We didn't get the grant," Elliott said.
But amid all the sadness, the City Council managed to make the Senior Softball Club - and outgoing Councilman Don Hall - happy.
Added to the 2008 budget is $13,000 to partially pay for overhaul of Carrie Blake Park's western ball diamond - so the 82-member Sequim Senior Softball Club can start hosting tournaments.
"All of us old guys feel you're on the right path," Warren Hunt, a member of the coed club, told the council.
He praised the members for allocating $100,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula's teen programs, and added, "We like to have some fun, too."
The softball club accepts men and women of all levels provided they're age 50 or better.
He's shopping for local companies to provide dirt to replace the gravel that's made the field unplayable, and added, "We're going to use a lot of our own volunteer labor," to revamp the diamond.
Work will start early next year, Hunt said, and the field could be ready by spring.
He's also planning to put Sequim on the national senior softball tournament map - to bring players and spouses to town and generate some motel and sales tax revenue.
In response to Hall's repeated requests, the council members also allocated $30,000 for a handicapped-accessible asphalt path to the band shell just north of Carrie Blake Park, where Sequim has presented outdoor concerts and movies.
Another $10,000 will be spent on signage for the band shell, and $60,000 will go toward restrooms at the adjacent Master Gardeners demonstration garden planned for next year.
Hall, 75, is known for his daily on-foot travels around Sequim.
He'll step down from the City Council after the last meeting of the year on Dec. 10, since Planning Commissioner Susan Lorenzen won his seat in the Nov. 6 election.
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