By TOM BLANCHARD
This spring, the Bellevue City Council gave away an opportunity to lower residents’ sewer bills by gifting the developers of the Strahorn subdivision $2.2 million.
This generous gift also means that Bellevue taxpayers will foot the bill for constructing streets and sidewalks adjacent to the Strahorn property. The developers are no longer obligated to improve O’Donnell Park, extend the Toe of the Hill Trail or build the Safe Route to School sidewalk from Eighth Street to Sixth Street. The kids from Strahorn and Sunset Ranch will continue to walk to school in the street.
The score: Developers 2.2 million, Bellevue taxpayers zero.
How did this happen? In 2006 the Strahorn partners first approached the city to annex the 160 acres of property up Slaughterhouse Gulch. After three years of study and negotiation, we settled on $4.2 million as impact fees to build streets, parks, sewer and water improvements that were essential to the success of the development.
When the first cash payment of $500,000 from the Strahorn partners was overdue, the city agreed to renegotiate the impact fees. Perhaps it is worth considering that during the same Great Recession, more than 100 Bellevue homeowners lost their homes through bankruptcy and short and distressed sales with no one to rewrite their indebtedness. The City Council did not forgive their sewer fees.
The council directed Caplan Associates, the same Denver consulting firm used for the original agreement, to recalculate the fees. The financial numbers that the city gave Caplan to use in the revised study grossly understated the impact to the city and overstated the value of the property already contributed by Strahorn.
The City Council totally disregarded the fact that certain costly street improvements were necessary to access the development and protect the safety of Bellevue residents. In addition, the council agreed to drop all requirements to assess the water and sewer impact.
Are we surprised that the new formula favored the developer? What was the City Council thinking? The council gave every advantage to the developer and used housing bubble appraisals for credit on property that had lost 50 percent of its value.
Who was looking out for Bellevue and guarding our assets?
The City Council gave away $1,026,000 of infrastructure that the taxpayers of Bellevue are going have to cough up. The council gave Strahorn 13 percent of our 1880 water rights, the best-tasting water in the state valued at around $500,000. Because $1,300,000 meant for sewer rates reduction went to subsidize the developer, the council gave away any hope that your sewer rate will go down for years.
Is the City Council giving the same instructions to Caplan in his contract to evaluate the Eccles annexation as it used to forgive Strahorn developers all of their outstanding obligations?
You might keep this in mind when voting for the next City Council.
Tom Blanchard lives in Bellevue. He served as the city administrator from 2006 to 2011.