A battle has been brewing for the past week or so over a tiny patch of county-owned park land in unincorporated King County that was supposed to be annexed by the city of Burien in March.
King County wants to sell the 5.5-acre site, called Puget Sound Park, to help it fill an ongoing, multi-million-dollar budget deficit. Burien believes the park should transfer to the city as part of the annexation, and opposes plans to develop a portion of it into a library or fire station.
Ordinarily, selling off parks property usually requires a vote of the entire King County Council. However, because this particular piece of property is owned by the county's general fund (not the parks department), the county executive can sell it without council approval.
Former King County Executives Ron Sims and Kurt Triplett both tried to sell the property, which would have put about $700,000 into the county's budget. That may not sound like much in a county that faced a $70 million budget deficit this year, but it's enough to fund maintenance at the other parks in the county's unincorporated areas for a year—no small thing. However, every prior attempt to sell the land has failed—first, an effort to turn it into low-income housing collapsed under neighborhood opposition, then an attempt to sell it to the local fire district for use as a fire station fell through a couple of weeks ago.
Enter the King County Library System, which expressed an interest in buying the property and building a small library on a small corner of the lot, leaving the rest as a park.
The purported problem this time? The county didn't consult with the city of Burien before moving forward with the sale. When he found out about the pending sale a week ago, Burien city manager Mike Martin was furious, and talked city council members into delaying annexation indefinitely. "No annexation deal will be done until we get that [park]," Martin told the B-Town Blog earlier this week.
However, county officials point out that under either of the last two proposals, the majority of the park would have been preserved, and the city would have gotten a new fire station or library out of the deal.
Both Martin and King County Library System system director Bill Ptacek were out of the office today and unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile, new King County Executive Dow Constantine has agreed not to move forward with the sale until the county and the city of Burien have a chance to sit down and talk. "This is a top priority for Dow’s administration," says Constantine spokesman Frank Abe. "We need to address this first thing next week. ... Right now, Dow’s position is that we’re not going to presume what’s best until he or his staff has a chance to sit down with all the parties and talk." Abe says he expects those conversations to start in the next few days.
Deputy county executive Fred Jarrett says the county doesn't want to be perceived as "arrogant."
"We need to make sure that what people are talking about what's fair, rather than [the county] pushing this onto [the city of Burien]."