Delay in hearing for Buck property

Council cites need for infrastructure studies

It’s adding up to be a very scary Halloween for the San Juan Community Home Trust.

Its plan of building a neighborhood of permanently affordable homes remains in limbo and the group faces the loss of $235,000 in state grant money following last week’s decision by a divided Town Council to hold off on setting a date for a public hearing on the potential annexation of the so-called Buck property.

Instead, the council voted without dissent Aug. 21 to have that hearing six weeks after San Juan County delivers its evaluation of infrastructure needs for the recently-expanded town Urban Growth Area. Town utilities become available for any property targeted in either Phase I or Phase II of the UGA expansion only after they are annexed by the town.

Town Councilwoman Carrie Brooks opposed setting a hearing date, citing a lack of information regarding the ability of town utilities to handle development of the 46-acre Buck property near the former gravel pit.

She was joined by council newcomer Anna Maria de Freitas and Mayor David Jones, who snapped the council’s 2-2 deadlock and cast the deciding vote. (Councilwoman Liz Illg was absent).

Initially, Council members Carrie Lacher and Christopher Wolf argued for setting the hearing date on Oct. 2. Both were confident enough information would be available by that date to answer questions about future infrastructure needs.

Brooks, a long-time affordable housing advocate, was unswayed. She noted that concern is on the rise over what that development could end up costing the town’s existing customers and residents.

“There are a lot of people in this community questioning whether this is going to affect (them),” Brooks said. “My problem is we have no proof in our hands yet that everything is going to be paid for. I want studies that show the rest of Friday Harbor won’t be hurt.”

Michael Mayes, proprietor of Baltic Avenue Properties, LLC, is among those worried about the potential costs to town residents, the lack of information and the annexation process overall. Mayes said he supports the Home Trust in its desire to acquire 15 acres for permanently affordable homes. However, he said, “I just want to be sure that everyone follows the same rules and the townspeople aren’t stuck with a big bill at the end of the day.”

Those yet-to-be completed infrastructure studies, according to town Land Use Administrator Michael Bertrand, will include an evaluation of water, sewer and stormwater services, as well as traffic demands. They are expected at Town Hall sometime in the near future. However, Bertrand said it will take at least six weeks to turn such a large amount of raw data into a detailed staff report which addresses uncertainties surrounding the potential annexation of the three properties targeted in Phase I, a total of 80 acres, and an even larger amount of land — though still in question — slated for Phase II.

Once those studies are in hand, Bertrand noted that town staff will be determining the future infrastructure needs on a scale that’s roughly equal to 25 percent of the town’s current level of service. And, he added, that’s just on the Buck property alone.

“It’s not a little 9- to 10-unit subdivision we’re talking about,” he said.

The Home Trust is in line to receive a donation of 15 acres if the entire Buck property is annexed by the end of the year. On that land, the group proposes building up to 120 permanently affordable homes, 15 of which could be completed by 2010.

The Buck family proposes developing a mix of homes on the remaining acreage.

However, a little less than one-quarter of state housing funds which the group has amassed so far for the project — a $235,000 grant — is slated to expire if the Home Trust does not take ownership by Oct. 31.

Home Trust Director Nancy DeVaux is unsure whether state housing officials would approve postponing the expiration date of that grant a second time. The group received an extension this spring, she noted.

“There is some flexibility,” DeVaux said. “We’re still really trying to make this work, but that is the critical part, that annexation can happen in 2008.”

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