Enumclaw City Council halts discussion of Thomas Farm land

Agriculture is alive and well on the Enumclaw Plateau according to three citizens who recently took the city’s elected leaders to task for their efforts surrounding one local farm.

The city has spent time and energy looking at options for the Thomas Farm, which stretches between state Route 410 and Battersby Avenue on Enumclaw’s busy east side. Former owners of the property entered into an agreement with King County in which they accepted more than $1 million but agreed the acreage would never be developed.

The land has been passed down a generation and still operates as a farm.

For years, many at Enumclaw City Hall have coveted the land for its commercial potential. Discussions about ways to get around the “development rights” issue have swirled and culminated recently with a City Council workshop on the matter.

Three citizens stepped to the podium during the council’s July 13 session, criticizing city efforts and comments by individual council members.

“What I saw was disturbing,” said Denise Swafford, referring to the council workshop. While noting that she loves Enumclaw and shops locally, she believes she is considered irrelevant because she lives outside the city limits.

Swafford challenged the council to worked cooperatively with the region’s agriculture community and provide a “welcoming environment” for all.

“Dairy farming in Enumclaw and Washington state is alive and well,” said Leeann Krainick, who, along with her husband, farms approximately 1,000 in the Enumclaw area.

According to her calculations, the dairy industry has an economic impact of roughly $18 million annually in the region, she said.

If the city is looking to gain revenue, she concluded, “it’s not turning farmland into industrial property.”

Liz Clark petitioned for the city to join the King County Conservation District and Joan Harris offered to share her vision for agricultural development in the immediate area.

Council members responded with a 6-1 vote to discontinue city efforts surrounding the Thomas Farm and its potential transformation to commercial land.

In other action, the council:

• heard from interim chief Randy Fehr, who provided an update of recent developments within Fire District 28.

“We are getting busier,” Fehr said, noting that the department’s 2014 call volume increased by 13 percent over 2013 levels. If trends continue, he said, the department will respond to more than 2,600 service calls during the current calendar year.

The bulk of the department’s calls are for medical issues, Fehr said, noting that 83 percent of responses are related to the Emergency Medical Services end of the operation. Serving an aging population, Fehr expects medical calls will continue to grow. Presently, 65 percent of medical calls come from citizens 60 or older, he added.

On the firefighting front, the news is not heartening.

“We’re due for a very bad fire season this year,” Fehr said, citing a forecast that predicts dry conditions in late August and September.

The department’s good news centers around the delivery of a new ladder truck. The district had landed a $1 million federal grant and used $650,000 for the new rig. The city was responsible for 5 percent of the cost and Mutual of Enumclaw stepped to the plate, contributing the needed $32,500.

• deferred a staff proposal to seek $250,000 that would help light up two fields at the Boise Creek Sixples. Presently, four fields can host evening games while the other two remain dark.

City staff noted the total cost of the project would be a little more than $500,000. The plan was to seek a state grant that would pay half the cost, with the city picking up the remainder. Several council members balked at the price tag, noting other city priorities in need of funding.

In the end, the council sent the request to its Community Services Committee for further study, with plans to address the issue again during a July 27 council session.

• made an exemption to the city’s “dangerous dog” provisions. The city has long enforced a ban on canines commonly known as pit bulls, emphasizing the desire to keep such dogs away through a council vote earlier this year.

An ordinance passed July 13 now allows the breed at recognized dog shows; also, pit bulls are permitted when used as a service dog.

• passed an emergency resolution, allowing the administration to spend money on a Cole Street building that presents a hazard. On July 6 the roof of the structure at Cole and Stevenson Avenue collapsed, putting the exterior walls in jeopardy. The city quickly fenced off the area and paid a contractor to brace the wall facing busy Cole Street. The city is examining options to recover the money from the building owner.

• authorized $21,000 for the purchase of a motorized cart to be used at the Boise Creek Sixplex. An earlier rig needed engine repairs that were deemed too costly. The Toro model being purchased has a brief and interesting history: a number of carts were purchased and used only for the U.S. Open golf tournament at the Chambers Bay course in University Place. No longer needed, they were considered surplus and put up for sale.

• said a formal goodbye to Bryson Michael, who has served as the city’s media services coordinator.