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Kent’s sale of city park to home builder upsets neighbors
Kristy Herrick couldn’t help but shake her head as she pointed to a Pine Tree Park sign that read, “Welcome to your city of Kent parks ….”
Herrick considers it an ironic statement because if the park truly belonged to Herrick and her neighbors, they wouldn’t have sold it. Kent city officials sold the 10-acre park in September for $2 million to a developer who plans to build 64 single-family homes.
Parks Director Jeff Watling described the sale as a “difficult decision,” but part of a City Council plan a few years ago to make the city stronger financially.
“In 2012, as part of the city’s effort to address our structural budget issues and become more financially sustainable, the City Council directed staff to evaluate all city-owned properties and identify properties that were candidates to be sold,” Watling said in an email.
The council unanimously approved the sale in September to Oakpointe Communities, a Kirkland-based developer associated with Yarrow Bay. The council discussed the sale in executive session, then came back into open session to vote on the sale. No council members commented about the sale during the open meeting.
“You can tell we’re pissed,” Herrick said as she and other neighbors stood on a park trail last week near 114th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 276th Street.
It bothers the neighbors even more how the city only notified them about the sale by posting a sign two weeks ago at the park. No snail mail. No emails. No phone calls. No community meetings. Just a brief talk during the Sept. 15 vote after an executive session when nobody was in the audience.
“That was news to me,” Council President Bill Boyce said in a phone interview Wednesday when a resident told the council on Tuesday they were never notified about the sale. “For some reason, notice did not go out. We missed it and learned from it. There was nothing secret about it.
“There is no excuse. We just dropped the ball and missed it. It was not anything on purpose. We need to do a better job next time.”
Ric and Kristy Herrick live across the street from the park. They’ve lived there for 35 years. King County voters in the late 1960s approved a Forward Thrust bond measure that purchased land for numerous parks countywide, including Pine Tree Park, to help preserve open space. Kent later annexed the unincorporated area and took control of the park.
“This was just a little park that people were so concerned about 40 years ago with the rapid development of the area and deterioration of the natural state of things that they passed that bond issue and this was part of it,” Kristy Herrick said.
The park features a few paved trails and open space, including numerous large pine trees. Neighbors say deer are spotted in the park.
Traci Dysart, who lives four blocks from the park, said the sale contradicts the city’s 2025 vision posted on its website that includes talk of a Green Kent and to implement a plan targeting greenways to include better use of open space and trees.
“We feel that the city of Kent has violated our trust,” Dysart said. “Since voters approved the preservation of the park, it should remain a park. Selling the park without voter input is unfair, underhanded and against Kent’s own visions.”
Watling said staff identified Pine Tree Park as a piece of city property to sell for several reasons.
“Factors include vehicle-access issues to the site, the park’s reduced service area due to the construction of the South 277th Street transportation corridor, and a number of other development challenges related to this specific site,” he said.
Marketing of the site began in 2014, Watling said. As a condition of sale, all proceeds must be reinvested back into the Kent park system. The city has not yet decided how to spend those funds as the sale is set to close in June.
“Ideally, it’s a reinvestment that’s very close to the (Pine Tree Park) neighborhood impacted,” Watling said.
Herrick doubts how much $2 million can help the city be financially stable.
“They’re only getting $2 million for it,” she said. “That’s not going to go anywhere.”
Kent city officials cut staff and programs for several years but the cutbacks ended with the 2013-14 budget. Concerns about future budget problems, including a lack of funding for park repairs, caused the city to form a Financial Sustainability Task Force last year. The city will eventually lose state money it receives for the Panther Lake annexation. That task force is to provide detailed recommendations this May to the mayor and council about the city’s needs and the community’s priorities as far as what services should be funded and how to pay for them.
As far as Pine Tree Park, developer Oakpointe also bought about 4 acres from the Kent School District, east of the park for the new houses. The district had extra land next to Pine Tree Park Elementary. The school will remain open.
Oakpointe has submitted a preliminary subdivision review application to the city Planning Department. A public meeting for comment about the proposed subdivision is tentatively set for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 2, in the Council Chambers at City Hall.
Oakpointe is the developer building the Bridges subdivision on Auburn’s Lea Hill, not far from Pine Tree Park. Home prices at Bridges range from about $350,000 to $430,000. Oakpointe also has expressed interest in buying the city’s Riverbend Golf Complex par 3 property that the city put up for sale to help pay for improvements at the 18-hole course across the street.
But the meeting on March 2 is about the subdivision, not whether or not the city should have sold the park.
“It’s kind of tucked away,” Herrick said about living next to the park. “I always felt everything else could get divided up but we’d still have the park.”
Or at least a say about what happens to the park.
“They are legally good,” Ric Herrick said about city officials selling the park. “They are ethically and morally bad.”