Council splits on May Creek parcel purchase

September 3, 2008

By Jim Feehan

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The City Council agreed to allow city officials to move forward with negotiations to purchase a tract of land that would serve as the entrance to May Creek Park.By a 4-3 vote at its Aug. 19 meeting, the City Council approved a motion by Councilman Dan Hubbell to put a timetable on the transaction, saying city officials have 45 days to consummate the deal after a new appraisal.

Hubbell and Council members Lisa Jensen, Steve Buri and Carol Simpson voted yes. Council members Ben Varon, Jean Garber and Sonny Putter voted no.

Proponents said the property will serve as the front door to May Creek Park and contains an element of the city’s historic rail trail. Opponents raised concerns about pedestrian safety, said they preferred an alternative site on city land and questioned the 11th-hour push by proponents and the landowner.

The city’s 2008 budget includes $131,000 for the acquisition of the May Creek entrance parcel. In addition, King County Conservations Futures provided a grant last year of $112,000 for acquisition.

On May 20, the council approved a motion to contact King County Conservations Futures to return the grant, saying city officials did not have a willing seller and that they would consider alternatives for an entrance into the park on city-owned property.

That same day, Simpson called the landowner to confirm whether she had been given copies of appraisals, was contacted by representatives of the Trust for Public Lands and Cascade Land Conservancy, and was treated respectfully by those who contacted her about the property.

At the Aug. 19 meeting, Mario Samorano, the brother of the landowner, Teresa Fullenwider, told the council that his sister is willing to sell the property to the city at current market value.

Garry Kampen, president of Newcastle Trails, said the parcel is the front door to May Creek Park and it contains the first part of the city’s historic rail trail. 

After years of work by Newcastle Trails and others, the city has a grant to buy the parcel, and has a willing seller, Kampen said.

“For just one time in 10 years, the stars are aligned,” he said. “We have a falling market, a willing seller, city funds and a grant. It’s unlikely this will happen again.”

Garber said she was concerned about pedestrian safety due to the sharp curves and hilly terrain at the site, adjacent to the water line corridor on Southeast 89th Place.

“It’s certainly not an ideal place to cross,” she said.
Garber asked Maiya Andrews, the city’s public works director, whether she would recommend locating a crosswalk at the site.

“I wouldn’t encourage us to put a full blown crosswalk there,” Andrews replied.
In addition to safety concerns, Garber said purchasing the parcel would not be financially prudent, given Newcastle’s fiscal woes.

Some council members voiced their concern about the process.
“Who is this guy coming to us at 7 p.m.?” Hubbell said regarding Samorano’s appearance at the Aug. 19 meeting.

Simpson said city officials need to do a better job of communicating with the public about municipal projects and that Samorano had every right to be at the council meeting, because his sister’s property was being discussed.

“The parcel serves the best interests of all the people of Newcastle,” Simpson said. “We need to earn the trust of the people.”

In other action from the Aug. 19 meeting, in a unanimous 7-0 decision, the council approved a 6.4 percent pay raise for City Manager John Starbard for 2008. Starbard’s annual salary is $133,000 retroactive to Jan. 1. His compensation also includes a $350 monthly car allowance.

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