The city of Kent’s controversial sale of Pine Tree Park to a housing developer isn’t a done deal yet.
City Council President Bill Boyce read a statement at the council meeting Tuesday night that the seven-member board will reassess all options, including possibly not moving forward with the $2 million sale of the 10-acre neighborhood park near South 277th Street and 114th Avenue Southeast.
“We are pausing now so we can reassess all options available to us, which still could include preceding with the park sale as planned or not moving forward with it,” Boyce said.
The council will discuss the sale at a workshop at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15 at City Hall and plans to make a decision that evening about whether to sell the park.
Councilman Jim Berrios said on Tuesday that he now favors keeping the park. He voiced his comments because he said he won’t be able to attend the workshop.
“It is clear to me at this junction that we should do everything we could to save that park,” said Berrios, whose comment received a round of applause from the Save Pine Tree Park group that attended the meeting and has protested the sale since it found out about it in January. “We can’t really sell that park unless we are going to switch it over and buy another park like it and do something with that. On that note, it doesn’t make sense to me at this point.”
The council approved the sale following an executive session to discuss the matter in September. Kirkland-based Oakpointe Communities wants to build 64 homes on the property as well as the 4 acres it bought next door from the Kent School District. The city’s sale isn’t scheduled to close until June.
Council members have come under fire from residents not only for selling the park but because the city didn’t notify anyone about the deal until it posted a sign at the park in January about the proposed housing development.
Furthermore, Kent received the property from King County and residents have raised doubts about the legality of the sale. The county had bought the site through a Forward Thrust measure passed by voters in the late 1960s to create more parks and open space as development spread. The city annexed land in the 1990s that included the park, which the county turned over to the city.
When the city took over the park, part of the agreement with the county included that it could trade the land but it must be for property of equal or greater parks and recreation value or open space value. The council initially believed it could use sale proceeds to help upgrade other city parks.
Residents have hammered the council with public comment at each council meeting the last two months, emails to the council and Kent Reporter letters to the editor asking the board to keep the park.
“The difficult decision to sell the park was part of a larger discussion that began four years ago to make city operations sustainable,” Boyce said about how the council asked city staff for ways to combat a backlog of needed park repairs. “Structural budget problems have put the city in an untenable situation to be able to maintain even our most popular city parks.”
Boyce denied city officials made any kind of secret deal with the developer.
“I want to make clear there is no backdoor deal, and even though this is a very smart council I don’t think we are smart enough to do anything on the conspiracy side,” he said.
Kristy Herrick, who lives across from the park and has spearheaded the drive to save it, presented the council on Tuesday with a letter from Seattle land-use attorney Richard Aramburu that stated the city should withdraw from the sale because of five alleged violations in connection with the sale.
The letter stated the violations include that the sale proceeds cannot be used for budget deficits; the city violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) that requires a city to comply with certain regulations for sales of public property; the city violated its own comprehensive plan by failing to amend the plan with the elimination of the park; failed to follow public hearing and notices laws about selling surplus property; and violated conflict of interest and appearance of fairness doctrines with its agreement to sell the land for $2 million to a developer without public notice and raises doubts about how fair it can be to rule on the subdivision proposal with the large proceeds it will receive.
“In summary, the city’s proposed transfer of dedicated park property to a private developer violates not only the terms of the deed by which the city acquired the property, but also a myriad of statutory, regulatory and common law rules,” Aramburu wrote. “The city should immediately rescind and cancel the PSA (purchase and sale agreement) or any commitment of any kind to sell Pine Tree Park.”
The mayor and council also were sent a letter on Tuesday from King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer (the park is in his district) that raised numerous concerns about violations of the Forward Thrust covenants; uncertainties about finding a park or open space of equal value; and failure to follow SEPA requirements.
“While I am sympathetic to the fiscal constraints that have led the city to seek a buyer for the Pine Tree property, I remain deeply concerned about the process behind the sale of this property,” von Reichbauer said in the letter.