Auburn authorizes annexation of Bridges neighborhood

Kent annexed the Bridges neighborhood of Lea Hill in 1987, making it a part of Kent that was not contiguous to its city boundaries. Auburn’s 2008 annexation of Lea Hill made the neighborhood an island of Kent surrounded on all sides by Auburn.

On Sept. 18, the Auburn City Council unanimously authorized city staff to file a notice of intent with the Boundary Review Board for King County to annex into Auburn the Bridges neighborhood of Lea Hill and its 386 homes.

That resolution, “an initiating action,” sets a complex process into motion, requiring not only annexation of the Bridges neighborhood, but its simultaneous de-annexation from Kent, an action that has the approval of both cities and the communities involved.

Seeing to it that all of the gears mesh on the annexation has been the goal in recent years, and the subject of numerous discussions between the cities, as Jeff Tate, Auburn’s director of community development told the council at its work session Sept. 11.

“A lot of people have done a lot of work … [over] a lot of years to get to this night,” Tate said, adding “there are a lot of moving parts.”

The City of Kent annexed the Bridges neighborhood of Lea Hill in 1987, making it a part of Kent that was not contiguous to its city boundaries. Auburn’s 2008 annexation of Lea Hill made the neighborhood an island of Kent surrounded on all sides by Auburn, a problematic situation.

In August 2022, Kent and Auburn staff attended the Bridges National Night Out event to answer questions and to encourage residents to take part in a survey tooled to help both cities understand how residents of the community felt about annexation. With 144 individual surveys completed, the results indicated that about 70% of the residents either supported the annexation into Auburn or were indifferent. In November 2022, the Bridges Homeowners Association voted unanimously in favor of the annexation.

The application also gives agencies a chance to participate and/or voice concern over annexations. For example, this particular annexation will result in a taxing district and service shift from the Puget Sound Fire Authority to the Valley Regional Fire Authority. Both fire agencies have expressed support related to the annexation.

The process ensures that the King County Assessor is aware of the change and can adjust tax rates in the affected area. Likewise, it ensures that King County Elections is equipped to modify voting districts to reflect the change. For example, in 2024, residents of the Bridges should be voting for City of Auburn officials and initiatives instead of City of Kent officials and initiatives.

City of Auburn staff have worked on the development of comprehensive plan and zoning amendments in preparation for annexation so that there are land use controls in place should annexation occur.

An interlocal agreement between the two cities comes before the Auburn City Council on Oct. 2, spelling out some of the mechanics of the change, including the transferring of official records.

In other action:

The City Council authorized Mayor Nancy Backus to execute an agreement with King County for a $100,000 grant to support the preliminary design for the replacement of the Auburn Avenue Theater.

The resolution takes effect upon passage and signature. The grant does not require a match from the city.

At the center of the story is the shuttered Auburn Avenue Theater at 1 Auburn Avenue. Built in 1926, the building was originally used as a bus depot and then a movie theater and then a dinner theater.

The city of Auburn entered into a lease in 2007 with the former owners, the Douglas family, which had operated the dinner theater. Once in charge, the city the city ran its Bravo! Performing Arts season from the theater.

In 2016, the city bought the theater outright.

On July 24, 2021, fire destroyed the adjacent Max House Apartment building and associated businesses. The city abated the resulting smoke and water damage to the theater and reopened it in September 2021.

Demolition of the Max House wreckage in December 2021, however, so damaged the theater that the city condemned and red-taped it in Jan. 2022. Months afterward, the city bought a portion of the old Max House property up to the corner with East Main.

Among the many questions still to answer, however, are how the city would pay for a project estimated to cost between $8.5 million and $10 million.

Here are some of the preliminary cost estimates:

Direct building costs: $8 million to $8.5 million. Total cost with arts and entertainment feeds, furnishings and equipment, contingency, taxes, factored at 30% of direct costs is $10.5 million to $11 million.

Funding options: Downtown Infrastructure Funds at $1,100,000 for a new traffic signal at East Main and Auburn Avenue; $2,881,866 for utility and roadway/plaza improvements.

Theater demo and schematic design: $228,200 insurance claim reimbursement, a $100,000 King County grant for theater detailed design and construction, a $1,498,650 Washington State Grant.

Additional funding options and opportunities: Park impact fees, ARPA funding reallocation, real estate excise tax, naming rights, inside debt, and cell tower lease revenues.