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City finalizes purchase of Serenity House property

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by MATTHEW NASH
Sequim Gazette
 
The City of Sequim’s purchase of Serenity House’s property for $1.25 million officially went through on Thursday, Feb. 23.

Since Sept. 12, 2011, the two entities worked on completing the deal for the 22,000 square feet, 10-unit apartment building at 215 N. Sequim Ave. The property is part of a plan for a new city hall and Sequim Police Department at 152 W. Cedar St.

Prior to the purchase, an environmental study revealed asbestos in a decommissioned underground fuel tank, which was expected, city and Serenity House officials said.

City Manager Steve Burkett said the building is from 1912 and they anticipated asbestos.

One concern was for the cost of construction with any asbestos removal, but it should be in line with normal construction costs, Burkett said.

Kathy Wahto, executive director of Serenity House, said the asbestos is of no harm to the people living in the temporary housing.
 
From here

Burkett said the city plans to solicit quotes from architects for a conceptual design of the property based on space and what the city can afford.

“We plan to have a lot of community involvement,” he said.

The city will ask voters on Aug. 7 for a criminal justice sales tax worth one-tenth of 1 percent for the new police station.

Burkett said the tax would fund most of the police building (estimated at $6 million to $9 million in November), with support from a 30-year bond (at 4 percent) of about $5.4 million.

“The key thing is identifying our source of funds of how we’re going to pay it back,” he said.

After the purchase, the city has about $1 million left in its city hall capital project fund. Burkett said if voters approve the tax, then they’ll put together a financing plan to pay for a new city hall.

For the vote, city officials can only provide neutral information on the proposed increase. Burkett anticipates a citizen group forming in cooperation with the criminal justice sales tax.
 
Serenity’s steps
Brando Blore, Serenity House board president, said they definitely plan to keep the program in Sequim even though they don’t have a set location for their store and temporary housing apartments.

“There’s a number of buildings that are empty in and outside of Sequim, like Carlsborg, that could work,” Blore said. “Hopefully next month we’ll have a better idea. The city is anxious in doing something with the property.”

Wahto said they’ve been active with brokers in the community and they’ve done some feasibility studies.
“(The store’s site) is going to be hard to replace because it was so successful.”

Part of the purchasing agreement allows Serenity House up to three years from the sale to lease its current buildings for $1,500 a month. They must give 90 days notice before vacating.

Blore and Wahto said the city was good to work with and showed concern for maintaining services and that housing would be available for low-income people. They confirmed the agency’s No. 1 priority is replacing the store and then finding apartments.

“The success of the store is what enabled us to buy the apartment building,” Wahto said.

Serenity House bought the store in 2000 and has had the apartments since 2005.

Blore said both building a new housing facility and using an existing property are options for temporary housing.

Part of the sale helps Serenity House pay off the property’s mortgage, worth about $400,000.
 
Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.




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