Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pulled annexation leaves city with mixed emotions

Issues of growth and economics still looming in Bellevue

Express Staff Writer

Tom Blanchard

When developer Harry Rinker pulled the annexation application for his proposed Woodbridge Village project, which would have added approximately 280 acres and 600 homes to Bellevue, he hardly made the city's growth issues any clearer.

Rinker told the city on Monday, Oct. 15, that the cost of the project's infrastructure and annexation fees, estimated at $44.1 million, was too high for him to continue. After over two years of work and a dozen council meetings, this led city officials and staff to varying conclusions and responses.

"I'm disappointed that we didn't get to finish it," Councilman Chris Koch said. "It seems like a lot of time and money wasted without getting to make a choice one way or another."

However, Koch added that he wouldn't be surprised to see the project back in front of the city in the near future, especially since Rinker said he's spent around $700,000 on processing fees so far.

"Rinker is one hell of a smart developer," Koch said. "I can't see him being one to invest all that money and then just saying, 'I'm done with it.'"

Councilwoman Beth Robrahn agreed with Koch, saying she thinks Rinker will continue to pursue the development, but that the city should set some guidelines about what it wants from annexations.

"I would like to see the city to do some more general growth planning—where should it occur and at what density—before looking at another application."

Robrahn, who provided the council's most vocal opposition to Woodbridge Village as proposed, had made repeated recommendations that the development be reduced to half the size, along with an increase in the number of units per acre.

"We aren't planning for enough density and I think we would be doing a disservice to the residents if we approve a subdivision at a density less than the Old Bellevue Townsite," Robrahn said.

Unlike Robrahn and Koch, City Administrator Tom Blanchard said he doubts Rinker will return "any time soon," in part because of the current state of the real estate market.

However, he believes the process yielded a number of benefits.

"Bellevue has never done this level of planning before and has come away with a fistful of tools," Blanchard said in regards to the numerous studies completed during the course of the Rinker process. "So this has not been a wasted or lost effort in that regard."

While Blanchard and Koch said the city had not been counting on revenue from the impact fees it would have collected from Rinker, Blanchard differed from Koch, saying his disappointment was a result of the lost flexibility.

"The opportunity for innovation has been reduced," Blanchard said. "For example, we need a new well and that was a critical piece that would have fallen into place with the annexation."

For Blanchard, though, the chief concern is whether or not the development will take place within the county in accordance with its plan of putting more density around cities to minimize sprawl. If this happens, Blanchard said, Bellevue would still be stuck with the impacts on Main Street.

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see what he comes back with," Koch said.

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