Friday, November 17, 2006

Water availability hot topic in Bellevue

Issue could determine fate of 100-acre annexation plan

Express Staff Writer

In the arid West, one commodity has always been valued far above others.

Since America's westward expansion began, the availability of water has usually been the factor determining where communities could be built and where they couldn't.

One only has to go to Bellevue to see the contemporary face of this age-old battle.

At a special meeting of the Bellevue City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 14, local citizens and city officials made clear their concerns about the lack of water on the property owned by Ketchum developer Jeff Pfaeffle.

The official name of Pfaeffle's proposed 100-acre development in Slaughterhouse Canyon northeast of Bellevue is Strahorn Canyon Ranch. As envisioned by Pfaeffle, the development would include 150 homes built out over four distinct construction phases.

Under a plan to annex the property into Bellevue, Pfaeffle would likely utilize the city's existing water supply to meet some or all of the needs of his development.

While Pfaeffle does have surface water rights to the property, they aren't significant or reliable enough to be considered as part of the overall water needs for the proposed development, Bellevue Planning and Zoning Administrator Craig Eckles said. Whether or not the water flows in significant amounts in Slaughterhouse Canyon is heavily weather dependent, he added.

"Mother Nature would determine the validity of those shares from year to year," Eckles said. "The city hasn't calculated those shares in a water budget model for the annexation."

City's typically require applicants to provide certain amenities that benefit the community as a requirement for their approval of annexations. Clearly, the water Pfaeffle brings to the table will not be among those, city officials say.

"I don't think we're placing any value on existing water rights out there," Eckles said.

Still, the lack of water on Pfaeffle's Strahorn Canyon Ranch may not in the end kill his annexation proposal.

Asked for his thoughts on the property's water issues during previous meetings, Bellevue City Engineer Steven Yearsley has told the City Council that the city has more than enough water rights to supply the needs of the proposed development. The city is not using all of its water rights, Yearsley said.

But those assurances haven't convinced everyone.

During Tuesday's meeting, several citizens spoke out forcefully against the annexation.

According to former Bellevue Mayor John Barton, the city should immediately reject Pfaeffle's proposal.

"I can assure you it will harm the city," Barton said. "You can make a motion and send these guys home."

Barton's wife, developer Janet Barton, was just as adamant in her opposition to the proposed annexation.

"We don't want it. We don't need it," she said. "Please say thank you and utter one beautiful word: no."

Former Bellevue City Council member Jon Wilkes, who said he hasn't decided if he is for or against the proposal, was somewhat more measured in his comments on the annexation.

Most importantly, the city needs to assure that it can guarantee access to water for its existing residents before it can move forward on annexing the Slaughterhouse Canyon property, Wilkes said.

In the end, the City Council adjourned for the night without making a decision. The council also discussed the potential traffic impacts of the development.

The council will resume its discussion of the annexation proposal at another special meeting Dec. 12.

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