Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Bellevue delays annexation decision

Water, traffic, pathways top list of P&Z?s concerns

Express Staff Writer

It appears, for now, a recommendation by the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission on whether the city should annex approximately 100 acres in Slaughterhouse Canyon is held up by three primary issues: the availability of water, traffic impacts and pedestrian pathways and connectivity.

Late Monday evening, having been unable to resolve the issues to their liking, commissioners voted to table their discussion of the proposed annexation until a special meeting set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22. In the meantime, engineers working for the city and the annexation applicant will work to come up with a number of answers to address the commissioners' concerns.

Although the P&Z is charged with making a recommendation to the Bellevue City Council on the proposed Slaughterhouse Canyon annexation, it will be the council's job to make a final decision on whether or not to annex the property.

Owned by Ketchum real estate agent and developer Jeff Pfaeffle, the property is one of three separate parcels of land Bellevue is considering for annexation. The property is adjacent to Bellevue's northeastern city limits and is undeveloped.

The official name of the proposed development is Strahorn Canyon Ranch.

As envisioned by Pfaeffle, Strahorn Canyon Ranch would eventually include 150 homes built out over four distinct construction phases.

Regarding water, discussion centered on several separate but inherently related issues.

While Bellevue has good water rights, the city is unable to deliver that water because of inadequate sources and an aging delivery system, City Engineer Steven Yearsley said.

In the case of its water supply, Bellevue is essentially only able to draw a small portion of the water it has the rights to, Yearsley explained. "We cannot get it out of the ground," he said.

Further compounding the issue, Bellevue's aging water system would be unable to handle any additional pressure because so many of its underground pipes are too small for today's needs, Yearsley said.

Also at issue is whether the added demands from residents living in Slaughterhouse Canyon would justify the construction of a new water storage tank at an as-yet-unspecified location. Yearsley is studying this possibility and will likely make a recommendation to the P&Z at its next meeting.

Yearsley said Bellevue's water rights are more than sufficient to cover residents in Slaughterhouse Canyon if the city chooses to annex the property.

Whether the development's expected impacts on traffic and pedestrians could be met by upgrading Cedar and/or Pine streets was also discussed.

While traffic on the two streets is already at higher-than-acceptable levels, the two thoroughfares present the best opportunity for improving Bellevue's residential traffic patterns, said Lori Labrum, a city traffic consultant. Funds from the proposed annexation may provide an opportunity to make such upgrades, Labrum said.

"I think there's some room to work with this development," she said, adding that Bellevue shouldn't consider the development as a single problem-solver for all of its traffic and pedestrian woes.

For his part, Pfaeffle didn't seem swayed by the possibility that Bellevue may require him to help pay for certain infrastructure improvement projects on streets throughout the city.

"I've always assumed that Cedar Street needs some help," he said.

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