State funding for isthmus not assured

Posted on April 25, 2013

The Olympian – April 25

House budget includes $386,000 for land purchase, but Senate budget has no allotment

The Olympia City Council’s vote to buy private land on the city isthmus for a future park depends on $1 million in state funding. But with time running out on the legislative session Sunday, the funding request must get over a high hurdle – and only the House capital budget has any money for the land at this point.

South Sound lawmakers are not giving up, and the three Democratic lawmakers representing the Olympia area “are working on getting the necessary money into the capital budget,” said Rep. Sam Hunt. He is working with Sen. Karen Fraser and Rep. Chris Reykdal

“It’s $386,000 (in the House plan) and we want to bump it up and get $1 million,” Hunt said.

But the City Council’s vote drew a chuckle – and no pledge of money – from the House capital budget writer Wednesday.

“They voted for that deal assuming they’ll get $1 million from the state,” House Capital Budget chair Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said in the House wings, noting he had read The Olympian news report about the vote. “That was amusing to me.”

The Olympia City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to sign a purchase and sale agreement with Capital Shores Investments for the properties at 505 and 529 Fourth Ave. E., which total 2.3 acres. The proposed price is $3.1 million, plus past and current property taxes, for a full estimated price of $3.3 million.

Olympia is committing $1.7 million, and Thurston County has set aside $600,000 in Conservation Futures funding. But the purchase is contingent on the city receiving $1 million in the next state budget, and the city “receiving favorable results from its environmental assessment of the properties,” according to a city staff report. The agreement gives the city until June 15 to close on the sale.

Dunshee declined to say whether the project can get money once he and his counterpart in the Senate start negotiating details of the capital budget. But while Dunshee’s $3.6 billion spending proposal earmarks $386,000 for the purchase, Republican Sen. Jim Honeyford’s rival $3.6 billion plan does not.

“It will be subject to negotiations with the House once we have the operating budgets decided,” Honeyford said in an email.

There is a big chance Olympia will get more time to work on lawmakers. That is because the Legislature is on track to need a special session – beyond Sunday’s final, 105th day. Negotiators on the operating budget are miles apart.

In the meantime, Hunt said he talked to Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, who has interest in the isthmus project and agreed to talk to Honeyford about it.

But Sheldon is not pushing for financing. “I think the chances are not good, given the climate, and the timing is late. It’s late in the game. It’s not that I am against it,’’ Sheldon said.

The senator also said he met with two representatives of the city on Wednesday, including parks director Linda Oestreich, and also talked to Honeyford. He said he told Honeyford that he thinks the park project has community support, which can be important in getting financing.

At the same time, Sheldon said he and the two other members of the Mason County Commission have written a letter to Honeyford asking that the state not pay for a state parks acquisition on Harstine Island, which is in Mason County. He said the Harstine community is upset about the project and he thinks this is a tough budget time when communities need to consider giving up funding.

Meanwhile, park proponents such as those in the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation and Friends of the Waterfront were hoping to capitalize on the council’s vote to leverage money out of the state. “It’s just a very positive … development and it’s not just Friends of the Waterfront and the isthmus park foundation,” said former Mayor Bob Jacobs. “This has been a community dream for 40 years.”

Members of Friends of the Waterfront and the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation have been advocating for a public park there since 2008.

Park proponents formed after developer Triway Enterprises had applied to the city in November 2007 to raise building height limits on the isthmus to allow structures as high as 90 feet.

The developer needed the new height limit to allow its proposal for Larida Passage, two buildings with 141 condominiums, offices, retail and parking. The City Council approved raising the height limit in 2008, only to have a council with new members overturn the decision in 2010.

Parks proponents also want to acquire and demolish the Capitol Center tower, which is about 120 feet high and sits on property next to the parcel the city wants to buy.

Jerry Reilly, chairman of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, said that the city considers that a second phase.