The city of Kent might not build a controversial 16-story water tower at a small West Hill park after all.
The City Council postponed a vote on Tuesday night about whether to transfer the 0.65 acres to the Public Works Department from the Parks Department for construction of a water tower near South 248th Street and Military Road South. Several residents spoke against the proposal during a public hearing about the removal of Kronisch Park.
City Public Works staff says the 165-foot tower, which will store 5.5 million gallons of water, is needed to improve water pressure for firefighting and the water supply for development. Nobody at the meeting disputed the need for the tower, but debated the location.
“We want to give people more time to work through the process,” Council President Bill Boyce said after the meeting. “Public safety is number one, but we also want to make sure we find the right spot to put the water tower. We will have more dialogue, continue to look into it and I think there will be a time when we have to take some action, but right now we are going to hit the pause button for a short while.
“There are a lot of options that we had out there, but none of those worked out. Nobody likes to take away open space, but public safety is critical. We have some work to do and will go back to the drawing board just a little bit and see what our next step is going to be.”
City staff recommended the Kronisch Park site because the 165-foot water tower facility needs to be located at as high an elevation as possible in order to serve the region with a gravity water system, and the site is flat and stable. But the water tank would take up most of the property and all of the trees at the park would be removed.
Residents testified that the undeveloped park gets used by children and families and would certainly be missed. David and Mary Ann Kronisch deeded the property to the city in 1991 to be a small park.
Public Works staff also considered undeveloped property the city owns just two blocks from Kronisch Park. But the Parks Department has long-term plans to develop West Hill Park (now an empty grass field) as a high-quality, multipurpose regional park and siting the water tower facility there would diminish the utility of the park.
National Guard officials turned down city staff about potentially building the water tower at the Kent Armory along Military Road South. Staff also looked at property owned by Federal Way Public Schools, but construction costs would be higher at that site and a tower would block views of Mount Rainier if West Hill Park is developed, said Drew Holcomb, city Public Works design engineer. The city doesn’t have any funds to develop the park at this time.
“If someone could come to us and say, ‘what about this site?’ that we haven’t looked into, we will be open to it,” Boyce said.
Boyce estimated the council might take action on siting the water tower in November.
“But right now we are going to slow our roll a little bit,” he said.
It would cost the city about $12.5 million to build the tower at Kronisch Park, Holcomb said. Money would come from the city water utility fund from ratepayers.
Kristy Herrick, of Kent, who helped save Pine Tree Park after the city sold it in 2016 to a housing developer, returned to the council to testify when she heard about another potential park removal.
“I am totally opposed to taking away our park for a water tower,” Herrick said.
Herrick then read off a list of land the city has sold off to developers, including the large Bridges housing development on the East Hill and the Marquee on Meeker Apartments. The city used to own the Bridges property for a future water reservoir while the apartments are going up on the former Riverbend par 3 golf course.
“It’s not only your moral and ethical responsibility to keep this land as a park, which is what the owners intended,” Herrick said. “But it’s also your legal responsibility as judiciary to maintain this land that you accepted. To me your choice is clear, choose the best place for the water tower, buy the land and don’t give up any parks.”
Herrick also tossed out a potential site for a new tower, on the higher-elevation East Hill rather than the West Hill.
“In California they pipe water all the way across the Sierras to get to Los Angeles,” she said. “Why not just build it on the East Hill. You’ve got a pipeline pumping water up there anyway.”