Council pushes forward with acreage purchase

After almost two years of on and off discussions, Sequim is moving ahead with the purchase of 45 acres of undeveloped land for a passive park, but some city council members have a last-minute case of cold feet.

The property in question is a parcel of former farmland running along Highway 101, just east of Simdars Road. The property is owned by brother and sister Joseph Keeler and Carol Boedlec. According to the purchase agreement, the city would buy 35 acres for $806,600 with the Keeler family donating the remaining 10 acres. The city already has put $175,000 in an escrow account, which will become the Keelers' upon closing.

That is if the closing comes to fruition.

"There are times when you back down when you've made a stupid idea," Councilman Eric Erich- sen said. Erichsen is against purchasing the acreage because he believes it will put the city in dire financial straits. "In my lifetime there have been many things I would've liked to buy, but couldn't afford them. I think it's fiscally irresponsible to spend money we do not have." Councilwoman Susan Lorenzen echoed Erichsen's sentiments, calling the city's budget, "incredibly unhealthy."

The council met the afternoon of May 23 for a special meeting announced the previous day and went into executive session almost immediately to discuss possible litigation regarding the Keeler agreement. According to a memo sent out by city attorney Craig Ritchie, a section of the agreement allows the city a 60-day feasibility period for the council to determine the feasibility of obtaining additional private or public grant funding. The 60 days, according to Ritchie's memo, were up on May 27. The council was asked to vote whether to move forward with the closing or request another 180 days to find grant funding. A third option would be to back out of the agreement completely and not purchase the property.

When they returned from the executive session, some members of the council criticized city staff for the late notification.

"There was never a mention of pursuing grants," Lorenzen said. "This is a whole other topic."

Mayor Laura Dubois agreed that the notification was last minute and Councilman Ken Hays said that he would abstain from voting at all.

"I don't feel like I have all the information here," Hays said.

The motion was made to request the 180-day extension but the council's three long-standing members - Walt Schubert, Paul McHugh and Bill Huizinga - said they would vote the motion down because they wanted to move forward with the closing.

"It's an opportunity that we're not going to see again," Huizinga said.

McHugh said that he found it ironic that Erichsen and Lorenzen should be concerned with fiscal responsibility when they had voted on May 12 to spend close to $160,000 to dispose of former city manager Bill Elliott.

"You didn't have too much concern over that," McHugh said.

The 180-extension was voted down 4-2 with Dubois as the tie-breaking vote.

"This is a very valuable piece of property, but it's also a very expensive piece of property," Dubois said.

Hays, as he stated, abstained from voting.

According to interim manager Robert Spinks, the closing will take place after May 27.
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