Garrett Street fix receives opposition

The city of Enumclaw’s desire to improve Garrett Street was met with resistance by those being asked to pick up part of the tab.

The city has started the process that would eventually see the upgrading of Garrett Street, adding curbs and sidewalks and improving drainage.

To fund the Garrett Street undertaking, the city sought grant money through the state’s Transportation Improvement Board, an entity that doles out cash for road projects. The city was successful in its effort, getting $2 million, or roughly 80 percent of the total estimated project cost.

To keep the money, however, the city has to come up with the other 80 percent. To get the cash, the city has proposed formation of a Local Improvement District; under terms of an LID, property owners along the impacted area pay for the development, based on a formula that considers how much of their land fronts the impacted streets.

If property owners representing 60 percent of the impacted area oppose the project, it cannot move forward. If there’s less than 60 percent opposition, members of the City Council decide whether the project becmes reality.

Chris Searcy, head of the city’s Public Works Department, noted that three property owners are already counted as being in support. They signed “no protest” agreements when they previously sought permission to upgrade their property.

During a July 27 presentation before council, Searcy agreed that the timing appears poor, given the state of the economy. He defended the project, though, stating that assessments to property owners would not be sent until early 2011, allowing property owners to plan for the financial hit.

When Searcy finished, seven businessmen who would help pay the bill stepped forward to address the council – and all made it clear they do not want the project.

Brian Gallagher related that a city employee had “tried to coerce” Garrett Street property owners into supporting the idea by telling each a similar story – that their neighbors liked the idea. That was not true, Gallagher said.

He also objected to the fact that a stretch of Battersby Avenue was added to the project. He was not alone in suggesting that Battersby was added simply because it is home to city property, making it easier to get the necessary level of support to move forward.

Lee Pohlman reminded council members that Garrett Street is an industrial area and improving the street would lead to more traffic, factors that do not mesh well.

He reiterated the notion that Garrett Street business owners feel the lines of communication with the city have been poor.

“I really feel like it’s an us-against-them mentality,” he said.

Tom Nilles objected to the process employed by the city, noting that money has been spent on work by consultants before the city determined if local property owners would support the project.

“The city has done a very poor job of selling this program,” he said.

Others complained about the timing of the project, pointing out that annual revenues have fallen for businesses in the area.

Councilman Rich Elfers asked why Battersby Avenue was added to the project, which originally was limited to Garrett Street.

Searcy said he was told by a Transportation Improvement Board representative that the city would have a better chance of receiving funding if the scope of the project was expanded.

Councilman Jim Hogan noted that “it’s possible this is just the wrong project for the wrong part of town.”

Council members agreed to keep the public hearing on the LID project open until their Monday meeting.

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