Bellevue Mayor Ned Burns broke a tie on Tuesday among his City Council members, voting in favor of an ordinance ratifying an amended Strahorn annexation agreement that has been the subject of heated debate among citizens and council members alike.
The ordinance rectified a clerical error overlooked in 2014 when the agreement was amended and passed by the council but never ratified. Citizens argued during a public hearing on June 10 that this was the council’s opportunity to reconsider the details of the agreement and decide whether it’s a good deal for the city.
The amended agreement, which was passed without a public hearing per city code, relieved the developer of millions of dollars of impact-mitigation obligations after a federal court decision of an annexation agreement in Hailey left Bellevue in fear of exposure to lawsuits.
Residents have argued that relieving the developer of those requirements would leave the cost of impacts to the city to be paid by taxpayers. Some residents also argued that the amounts of money used in a study for a new fee assessment were grossly understated and failed to include all the city’s assets, the value of which affects the amount of the fee. In addition, because the amended agreement was passed without a public hearing, they argued it was illegal.
At the public hearing in June, the council opted to do the first reading of the ordinance and table discussion to another meeting to allow time for members to review details brought up by citizens’ comments. On July 8, the council completed the second reading of the ordinance and continued the third and final reading to the special meeting Tuesday.
Since the beginning, Councilman Greg Cappel has expressed the strongest opposition to ratification, arguing that the community was clearly against this, and that their points should be looked into and additional information on the amended annexation fee analysis needs to be reviewed before the city voted. On Tuesday, Cappel said he again would like to postpone the vote until a presentation by the developer could be made to answer questions from residents and the council. However, the reading and the vote moved forward.
Council members Doug Brown and Tammy Davis voted in favor or the ordinance ratifying the Strahorn amended annexation agreement. Cappel and Kathryn Goldman voted against, leaving the mayor to break the tie vote, as council members Shaun Mahoney and Mike Choat were both absent.
“I spent dozens of hours waking up in the middle of the night thinking about this,” Burns said in an interview Wednesday. “There were so many things that led me to this decision. I’m going with what the responsible and prudent decision is.”
Burns said that in light of everything, he made the decision to vote for the ordinance based on the financial health of the city and to avoid potential litigation from the developer to enforce the annexation agreement.
With the ordinance passed, the development is back on track for the next step, which will be a public hearing for residents to voice their comments on a proposed planned-unit development and a preliminary large-block plat, which delineates how the land would be subdivided. Community Development Director Diane Shay said the public hearing has yet to be scheduled but may occur in September.
A public hearing to take comment on both items was originally scheduled for Jan. 29, but the hearing was canceled after Burns said the large-block plat had not been recorded with the Blaine County Recorder’s Office within the required 12-month timeframe after it was approved by the City Council in 2013, making it “null and void.” That decision was taken to court by developer Strahorn Partners, and ultimately the city agreed to reverse the City Council’s decision and allow the development process to move forward.
The first phase of Strahorn is a proposed development of 47 homesites in Slaughterhouse Canyon, on the northeast side of the city. At full development, the subdivision would have 205 residential lots, with 193 single-family units plus four triplexes.