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Friday Harbor: Possible vote on Buck annexation postponed until Dec. 18

The Friday Harbor Town Council last night postponed until Dec. 18 a possible vote on the annexation of the Buck property, about 48 acres east of the town limits and near the former gravel pit.

Islanders packed to standing-room-only the San Juan Island Grange for Thursday’s public hearing.

After listening to four hours of public comment, the council asked town staff and the property’s owner, Vincent Buck, to see if they could resolve issues raised in the proposed development agreement. The agreement before the council last night has the developer paying as much as $7 million in off-site improvements.

Those improvements are supposed to offset the impacts of up to 240 new homes, built over 20 years, on the town’s utilities and existing ratepayers. The San Juan Community Home Trust would build 120 affordable homes on 15.5 acres it would acquire from the Bucks; the Bucks would develop a mixed-use neighborhood on the balance.

Without annexation, the neighborhoods would probably not happen because the land is currently zoned one home per five acres and doesn’t have adequate water nor waterwater service.

Buck said he is willing to pay a “fair” portion of the costs, but that he and the town are “far apart” on their understanding of what is fair.

The proposed development agreement has the Bucks and/or Home Trust paying to finish curb, gutter and sidewalk on the unfinished portion of Grover Street between Sunday Drive and the elementary school, at a cost of about $1.2 million (the Buck property is accessible from Grover Street). Buck said he should pay a fair portion of the cost, but not all, because it’s work the town should have had done anyway.

Buck is willing to pay to replace substandard water mains at a cost of $600,000 and for a turn lane at Argyle Avenue and Grover Street, at a cost of $264,000. But he said requiring him to pay $5.2 million to expand the wastewater treatment plant was unfair and a cost that should be shared.

The big issue is whether the town has enough land within the town limits to satisfy its immediate affordable-housing needs. A town study says yes and, to underscore that, Michael Mayes of Madison Glenn Properties on Nov. 10 announced he was selling three acres on Malcolm Street to Homes for Islanders for development of up to 44 affordable homes. Mayes reduced the sales price from $1.8 million to $1.2 million to claim a $600,000 donation.

And last night, Paul Stokes of Pacific Synergy Group offered to sell to the Home Trust his property, Friday Cove, on University Road. Earlier that day, the Town Council approved the development of 22 residential lots in that neighborhood. Stokes said that’s enough for 44 affordable-housing units under current zoning law. He said he would give the Home Trust the same deal that Mayes gave Homes for Islanders.

Proponents spoke, often passionately, about the affordable housing opportunities that annexation would provide.

Jenny Benedict told of how her good county salary gets eaten up by rent and child support, and that with her work, study and parenting responsibilities, she can’t afford to donate 35 hours a week to build a house through Homes for Islanders’ sweat-equity home ownership program.

Roberta Leed, a resident of San Juan Island since 1989, raised her children on the island and owned her own businesses, the last one Sound Home Loans, but now earns $15 an hour working at Islands Convalescent Center. She said her Glen Oak Lane home goes on the auction block in January and, without an opportunity like that afforded by the Home Trust, she and others in her situation will be forced to leave the island.

Consideration of the annexation was put on the fast track because the Home Trust has indicated in previous meetings that if annexation wasn’t approved by the end of the year, the trust could lose state grants that have been approved for the project.

After the council meeting, Home Trust executive director Nancy DeVaux said there is no year-end deadline for the grants. “They just want to see that it is moving forward,” she said of the state Department of Community Trade and Economic Development.

A detailed story is being developed.

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