According to the City of North Bend, in 2020, property owners in the western portion of the City, Meadowbrook, where sewer is currently unavailable, petitioned the city to create a Utility Local Improvement District to extend sewer to this area.
A Utility Local Improvement District (ULID) is a process used to extend utility services to a group of properties whereby all property owners share in the cost. This process is a formal State defined procedure covered under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 36.94.230)
Property owners in the benefit area may pay the assessments in a single lump sum or pay in installments over a period not exceeding 20 years at an interest rate set by the governing body of the public entity empowered by law to form the assessment.
To form a ULID under the petition method, meaning initiated by property owners, state law requires the petitions to be signed by the majority of property owners by land area.
As of November 9, 2021, of the non-City-owned properties, there was a slight majority of nearly 53% of property owners by area petitioning in favor of the ULID.
At the November 16th North Bend city council meeting, the council was to vote on whether the city would join the ULID and move the process forward to a later vote on its formation. The city’s decision could make or break the ULID’s formation. A yes vote would increase the majority to nearly 73%. A no vote would decrease the signed petitions to less than 36% making it impossible for the ULID’s formation to move forward.
Public Works Director Mark Rigos stated that joining the ULID is consistent with the city’s mission statement to build infrastructure, allow commercial zoning in the area to be met, and address public health concerns regarding aging septic systems.
North Bend city staff recommended the council authorize the mayor to sign the petition based in part on a Preliminary Feasibility Study and Special Benefits Analysis study done in March 2021. The study showed the cost of bringing sewer to the area was offset by the benefit in increased property values and commercial uses.
Mayor McFarland explained that the current vote was only a consideration of whether the city would join the ULID, and a later vote would determine whether or not the ULID would be formed.
After a brief period of questions from the council for Rigos and other city staff, the public was invited to comment on the ULID. Megan Lin of Perkins Coie law firm spoke for Nintendo opposing the inclusion of two of their parcels. Lin stated Nintendo never intends to develop those properties but would be asked to shoulder 1/3 of the cost of the proposed ULID.
Joel Molander from Puget Western, a Meadowbrook property owner, then spoke in favor of the ULID, citing several reasons the council should vote to move the process forward. Molander said (the ULID formation) is “Imperative for Meadowbrook landowners and the city’s economic vitality and tax revenue sustainability.”
Molander also noted that the properties affected by the ULID are “zoned within the city for development and require basic utility infrastructure. Period.” He ended by stating there is a loud minority opposing this project, and the city should weight their input accordingly by comparison to the benefits of a ULID.
Private citizen Mark Joselyn, who will take over Chris Garcia’s city council seat next month, favored the ULID. Property owner Cam McNaught spoke briefly with concerns about his 8 acres and the associated costs.
The last to comment was Wende Miller of Bendigo Properties LLC, the developer building the Snoqualmie Valley Athletic Center. Miller, the original petition initiator, reported this latest petition is the third submitted to the city. She expressed frustration in the process, saying former Mayor Hearing promised 17 years ago that sewer was coming to that portion of the city and her property, but there is still no sewer.
Miller then stated she felt like they again had the momentum to bring sewer to the area with the petition but now believes the city council is moving the goalposts based on a small minority of property owners who do not want development or pay their fair share.
Councilmember Loudenback then read the motion to approve the mayor signing the petition to join the Meadowbrook ULID. Loudenback encouraged a pass stating the city had been working on bringing sewer to the area for years and is part of its comprehensive plan. Councilmember Garcia seconded the motion, saying there will still be opportunities to get questions answered.
At this point, Councilmembers Rosen and Elwood expressed concern over how many of the residential property owners had not responded to the petition. The pair went door to door the weekend before the council meeting, saying not a single residential property was in favor of the ULID and that every person they spoke to was unaware of how big this project was and how soon. Rosen noted that moving forward, the city needs to “find a better way of talking to residents.”
When asked about the statement that no property owner favored the ULID, Miller called the statement stunning and false and noted that 4 of the petitioners represented 5 of the residential parcels out of 23 total.
It is to be noted that the city mailed all the property owners in question two notices, all were invited to a town hall July 27th 2021 to explain the process, were called and emailed numerous times by Miller who also went door to door in several areas of Meadowbrook. The city of North Bend is not the petitioner, so the staff was not supposed to be out there “banging on doors,” according to Mayor McFarland.
In the end, the city council voted 5-2 (excluding Loudenback and Koellen) to take the proposal to a work-study in January to answer questions raised regarding lessening the financial impact on the city’s residential property owners.