Update: Boundary Review Board votes to recommend approval of Burien annexation
8 PM TOPLINE: The Boundary Review Board has just given its unanimous preliminary approval to Burien’s proposal to annex most of what’s left of unincorporated North Highline. Final approval wouldn’t come till its meeting next month. But that doesn’t make annexation a reality – Burien would still have to decide to take the matter to voters in the proposed annexation area. Below is how the board’s deliberations unfolded tonight, as the third and final session of its consideration of the matter (the previous two involved public testimony – tonight was only for board questions/deliberations and voting). A major supporter of Burien annexation, North Highline Unincorporated Area Council president Barbara Dobkin, is among those who were here, and she is all smiles, telling WCN, “This is great.”
(as-it-happened earlier coverage, leading to the vote:)
7:10 PM: We’re at Cascade Middle School in White Center. The Washington State Boundary Review Board for King County has just begun its third and final session considering Burien’s proposal to annex most of what remains of unincorporated North Highline. No public testimony tonight – just board deliberation.
Executive Secretary Lenora Blauman has just explained that February 16th is when the decision will be finalized; that triggers a 30-day appeal period, during which an appeal can be filed with the Superior Court. Whatever decision they reach tonight will be only preliminary until the rest of the process plays out.
Board member Charles Booth says he considers the presentation at the two previous meetings to have been comprehensive.
Board member Michael Marchand wondered about the finances of the proposal, and how much of a factor they should represent. Nobody else wanted to comment on that. Board chair Mary Lynne Evans brought up the comprehensive plan. “It’s going to be literally impossible to be 100 percent confident in the city’s” (ability to handle it), board member Claudia Hirschey then observed. “I think what’s very dramatic is that Burien is in a better financial position than the county itself,” she noted, particularly when it comes to potentially policing the area – citing testimony from Burien’s police chief that the city would be able to afford more policing of the area than the county. “I think there’s adequate enough information for citizens to vote on regarding annexation to Burien,” she concluded.
Marchand then said he appreciated Burien’s candor regarding the annexation not making sense if the sales-tax credit from the state is not available.
Board member Evangeline Anderson was impressed by testimony from those who were in the first Burien/North Highline annexation.
Marchand noted that the board had been asked to require some conditions but noted that it does not have that power. Board member Sylvia Bushnell followed up by saying she was frustrated that some of the districts did not have relevant agreements in place. Board member Laura Kiselius added some concern on that issue but said she doesn’t feel it needs to be resolved before they make a decision – but wondered about a finding that would ensure the areas not included in the proposal, known as the “sliver by the river” and the Delta Marine area, would still be covered by fire services.
7:22 PM: Board member Paul MacCready asks if it’s possible for them to find out what progress has been made toward agreements. The board’s lawyer, special assistant attorney general Bob Kaufman, says it’s not possible for them to have testimony on that – their decision must be made based on what they already have heard. Marchand says he feels comfortable things will work out on that front.
No one else has any comment to offer – so Hirschey makes a motion directing staff to prepare a resolution in favor of the annexation. “I feel this would complete the area between Burien and the city of Seattle,” she says, adding that she feels Burien annexation would be less disruptive to the unincorporated area’s current library and school service than Seattle annexation would. She adds, “The vast majority of the boundary is a logical service area.”
Evans asks for discussion. MacCready says, to “play devil’s advocate,” since part of White Center is considered to be in Seattle, how does annexing the rest to another city preserve a “natural neighborhood”? He cites testimony that “a third” of WC is believed to be within the Seattle city limits. Hirschey counters that she heard testimony that many in the area are more focused toward Burien. “If we did not annex this area to Burien, some would feel we hadn’t preserved natural neighborhoods.” Anderson then said she only heard one person saying they felt they were part of Seattle – “everybody else said they shopped in Burien, did their entertainment in Burien …”
Marchand jumped in to say it’s not unusual to hear that an annexation area “could go either way” – and “is the glass half full or half empty, is really contingent on how it’s drawn out.” Board member Charles Booth added that he felt he heard there was more affiliation and affinity with Burien than Seattle; Kiselius agreed. “This didn’t just come from individuals within the potential annexation area, but also from individuals within the previously annexed area … and that this annexation would be completing the North Highline community,” resolving “a fragmentation” that some felt occurred when Burien incorporated.
7:36 PM: Board chair Evans goes back to the financial issues, and saying that without the state sales tax credit being guaranteed, “I am worried” (about Burien’s financial stability, potentially post-annexation). Marchand says “the city will ultimately have to find a way” and doubts Burien would be pursuing this if it felt it was potentially ruinous, though he does say the city could have ‘done a better job’ of presenting “how those numbers would pan out,” particularly for questioning citizens.
Anderson says she’s impressed with Burien’s “prudence” in taking on North Highline annexation one bite at a time. She says that helps her have “faith” in its potential; she also remarks on those who said they felt that if the area became part of Seattle, it would seem “swallowed up.”
MacCready asks about the original concept that Seattle would most likely annex this part of North Highline and Burien the part it has since annexed. Blauman clarifies that the entire area was at one point considered a potential annexation area for both – and that led to a process resulting in some agreements and timelines, followed by the developments that led to this, when Seattle said it was OK with Burien pursuing this area too if they wanted to. Anderson recalled testimony from the previous process including people who wanted Burien to annex them at that time too. However, MacCready points out, this proposed annexation area includes more than one community – not just one big area that calls itself North Highline. He wants to make sure it truly qualifies as a “natural neighborhood” as state law spells out.
Kiselius picks up on that, saying that yes, some in the area identify more with the city of Seattle, but more people “who turned out to testify” said they identified with Burien. “No decision will ever make everybody happy.”
7:47 PM: “Ultimately, I’m comfortable with this because it goes to a vote [of the people],” says Hirschey – the board’s decision is not a final verdict on whether the annexation happens or not.
“It’s not uncommon (in annexations) to have factors that basically conflict with each other,” notes Marchand – you’ll have some place where one side of a street is part of city A and the other side is part of city B, “that can happen. … In this case, I do think, based on where Seattle and Burien came to agreement on … it was very compelling, and as board member Hirschey pointed out, it will ultimately go to the people, and for the people to decide, is very important.”
Then they discuss whether to amend the motion or append it, with some recommended conditions. Kiselius proposes “staff be directed to include language in the board’s resolution that the board strongly encourages the city of Burien and the two fire districts and whatever other parties would be appropriate to such an agreement to work very hard to reach an agreement … regarding fire service” for the “sliver by the river” and “Delta Marine” areas. Hirschey accepts the amendment. It’s seconded.
Anderson says she’s worried about writing this in, since “we don’t have any jurisdiction over their making this agreement,” fearing it could lead to some future legal liability. “I like clean motions that don’t leave any stepchildren out in the cold.” Kiselius clarifies she does not intend it to have any legal effect – just “to express a desire that the fire districts work together to resolve this issue.”
Asked for his opinion, Kaufman says the motion “does not give me any heartburn.”
The motion passes to amend the main motion. And it passes unanimously. At 7:58 pm, chair Evans gavels that part of the meeting, and there’s a break before the regular meeting convenes (with business not related to this matter, which now moves on to their February 16th meeting for finalizing).
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