Lacey land purchase a gamble

January 13th, 2011 by Ken

Lacey City Manager Greg Cuoio is not one to shy away from a tough fight.   He’s  brought the city through many scrapes before and has pulled off some audacious coups.

Grabbing the Public Facility District money for the construction of the Regional Athletic Complex is just one of the more significant chances he’s taken and won.

Now, his latest, not only pits the city against the Department of Ecology and the Squaxin and Nisqually  tribes, but he’s doing it with a large portion of city money.

Lacey has been unable to obtain water rights the city needs to continue to build out as the current zoning allows.

The city has had water right applications pending with the Department of Ecology, some for as long as 20 years.  A dozen or more applications have been turned away or postponed, while the Squaxin tribe says “no way” to any new water rights.

But Cuoio has a plan.

He has suggested purchasing 540 acres of property to the north of Lacey.  None of it is in the city limits and some of it is even outside the city’s growth management boundaries.

By doing so, the Lacey City manager hopes he can do mitigation, for water rights.  His preliminary contacts with DOE and the Squaxin and Nisqually tribes has been positive.

The land under question, is located on Woodland Creek.  Portions of it were zoned for a 314 unit housing development, which has since gone into receivership.  “That kind of zoning should never have been allowed in the first place,” Cuoio says.

A 68-acre section will become a city park.  While the rest of the land, currently zoned for single-family development, will become open space.

The housing development was owned by Sterling Savings.  Cuoio had been negotiating with the bank for six months.  The bank was reluctant to sell the housing development property alone, but offered Cuoio an option to buy all 540 acres of land at an agreed upon price of $4.2 million.

While an appraisal is currently being done, Cuoio says the price is far below its value.

But, here’s the catch.

Some $2.2 million will come from city utility tax money sat aside for land purchase.  Another $1 million will come from a wildlife grant.  But another $2 million will come from the city’s stormwater and water reserve fund.  That’s money rate payers currently pay the city for water and sewer service.

In the last five years, sewer rates in Lacey have gone up 22 percent while water rates have increased 28 percent.

Cuoio said he couldn’t rule out additional rate increases in the future, but said the land purchase wouldn’t have anything to do with them anyway.

But, the gamble is using more than $4 million of city water and sewer revenue, with the hope that such a land purchase will give the city additional water rights.

Cuoio couldn’t promise that such an expenditure would result in new water rights for the city.   But, he said, it was a good deal for city residents.

“We get a 68-acre park, we help cleanup Henderson Inlet and Woodland Creek and we keep a large portion of land from being developed and retained in its natural state,” Cuoio said.

It’s a gamble he’s willing to take.   The Lacey City Council will have to approve any such purchase.  The rate payers have no say.

Posted in Government, Informational, Local Politics, The Real News

(comments are closed).