Auburn gets a step closer to annexing Bridges neighborhood

Land cannot be developed, but a new owner must maintain the property

The Kent City Council approved the surplus of about 60 acres of wetlands owned by the city in another step to get the city of Auburn to annex the Bridges neighborhood.

Kent is expected to eventually transfer ownership of the wetlands to Bellevue-based developer Oakpointe Communities to maintain the four tracts. Oakpointe built the 379-home Bridges neighborhood and plans to build about 150 townhomes on undeveloped property near the neighborhood once Kent and Auburn figure out which city will oversee the land.

Kent hopes the surplus step will help facilitate potential de-annexation of the Bridges neighborhood by the city of Kent to the city of Auburn. While annexations typically transfer ownership of publicly owned tracts to the receiving city, Auburn does not wish to take ownership of these tracts, said Matt Gilbert, Kent’s deputy director of Economic & Community Development.

“The property is not developable,” Gilbert said about the wetlands at a Jan. 17 Kent City Council meeting. “It’s a maintenance requirement. There’s no potential to develop.”

The council had a public hearing Jan. 17 on the wetlands surplus, but nobody showed up to comment. The council received one email from a resident concerned about any development on the wetlands.

The Bridges is 155 acres in the Lea Hill area of Auburn/Kent and is generally bound to the east by 124th Avenue SE, on the west by 118th Avenue SE, on the north by SE 288th Street and on the south by SE 304th Street.

Kent and Auburn city councils and staff are considering whether the neighborhood, in the city of Kent limits, should be de-annexed by Kent and annexed by Auburn. The properties that surround Bridges are in the city of Auburn. It makes more sense, according to the cities and residents of the neighborhood, that the Bridges should be part of Auburn rather than Kent.

The 155 acres is part of a “municipal island” in Kent with about 1,000 residents. It includes a 13-acre lot that allows for commercial, retail and residential use under Kent zoning. Oakpointe plans to develop the 13 acres.

Kent had the property prior to the housing development with plans to build a water reservoir, but later added a pipeline to get Green River water from Tacoma Water and no longer needed a reservoir. City leaders then sold the property to Oakpointe to build homes. When Auburn annexed the Lea Hill area in 2008, the property began to be surrounded by Auburn.

“This is one more step in the very long process from conversation begun five years ago or so between residents of Bridges and the city of Auburn and city of Kent,” Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said.

A few residents have voiced concerns about someone building on the wetlands if the city gives up the property.

“No one can build on this land,” Kent City Councilmember Zandria Michaud said. “The only thing changing is who will maintain it.”

Oakpointe plans to take that on once the city transfers the wetlands.

“An owner’s obligation to maintain wetland areas has both a passive and active aspect,” Gilbert said in an earlier interview. “In the passive sense, use of the property is perpetually restricted so that it retains the ecological and aesthetic functions and values of a natural wetland area. These restrictions apply, regardless of who owns it, and permits cannot be issued to develop the property.

“The active element of wetland maintenance involves protecting the area from degradation, which most commonly means monitoring for and cleaning up after illegal dumping. If this, or anything else that degraded the wetland occurs, the property owner will be responsible for curing the deficiency. If they fail to do so, it could become a code enforcement matter.”