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Committee proposes new township in unincorporated King County
The unincorporated area of King County sandwiched between Federal Way and Auburn is involved in an effort to become Peasley Canyon Township.
On July 11, the Committee for Peasley Canyon Township filed with the King County Council for a spot on the November ballot, asking residents to vote on forming a self-governing township.
Apparently, the county does not have the power to create a township because the Legislature repealed all township statutes in 1997. If the Peasley Canyon committee challenges the issue in court, a judge would ultimately decide the fate of the township ballot measure, according to an attorney for the county council.
About 21,000 people live in the area generally bordered by Interstate 5 and Federal Way to the west, Milton and Pierce County to the south, Auburn to the east and Kent to the north. Peasley Canyon connects the areas of Lake Dolloff, Star Lake, Lake Geneva, Five Mile Lake and West Hill. Military Road is a primary arterial route.
The area’s ZIP code is 98001, and residents claim either Federal Way or Auburn for their mailing address. Thomas Jefferson High School and other Federal Way district schools serve the area.
Committee member Jerry Galland said one reason for forming Peasley Canyon Township is to prevent Federal Way from annexing the land. Galland cites legal language for forced annexation in Senate Bill 5808, and said the next time Federal Way attempts to annex the area, residents will not get to vote on it.
Another goal of annexation is to maintain the current way of living — namely being free from Federal Way city codes and regulations related to horses, backyard businesses, signage and roofing, Galland said.
“Once a township is formed, you’re in a position where you cannot be forcibly annexed,” said Galland, who is also a candidate for South King Fire and Rescue commissioner.
Residents of the 4,400-acre area (about 6.8 square miles) overwhelmingly voted down a 2007 proposal for annexation into Federal Way. At the time, the state and county offered financial incentives to cities for annexation. Federal Way’s most recent annexations occurred in 2005 with the addition of North Lake, Parkway and Redondo East, according to city planning manager Isaac Conlen. The areas included a combined 2,120 residents and 634 total acres.
Representation: Who are they going to call?
According to King County, an estimated 285,000 residents live in unincorporated communities outside the boundaries of 39 cities in nearly 1,734 square miles of territory.
Six patches of unincorporated land are represented by Unincorporated Area Councils, also known as UACs.
These councils represent nearly 103,000 people combined and serve as a liaison to the county. The county subsidizes and helps with the creation of these councils, then lets residents take it from there.
Unincorporated areas in and around Vashon Island, Woodinville, Maple Valley, West Hill, Renton and North Highline have UACs.
South King County lacks an Unincorporated Area Council or any similar type of representative group. This is another reason to form Peasley Canyon Township, Galland said.
“If the city of Federal Way wants to come over and make a presentation or ask a particular council or group, who are they going to call?” he said.
King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer represents the unincorporated area in South King County as part of his council district. His office neither supports or opposes the township idea, he said, but has been researching the issue.
State law does not allow the King County Council to place a township measure on the ballot. As of press time, the council clerk was directing a letter to the township committee’s attorney. Galland said the committee will likely file a complaint in the courts.
Despite the legal challenges, von Reichbauer praised the effort for engaging local residents.
“Anything that brings neighbors together is good,” he said, suggesting the formation of a UAC for the area. “I like the nature of communities coming together on issues that are important to them and taking it to the next level.”
Galland is leading the effort alongside co-organizers Dr. Jonathan Wright and Charles Brezina. A news release from the committee refers to the three men as the township’s founders and includes a statement from attorney Jeff E. Jared of Kirkland: “Townships are authorized in Washington’s Constitution of 1889, in Artcle XI, Section 4. A Township is a subdivision of a County. It differs from a City which is a subdivision of the State.”
A state law under Title 45, which addressed the formation of townships, was repealed by the Legislature in 1997. However, according to the committee’s attorney: “We’re organizing Peasley Canyon Township as authorized by Article XI, Section 4 of the Washington Constitution, which, by the way, has never been repealed.”
The committee claims to have drafted a 35-page charter for voter approval. According to a committee news release:
“The benefits of a township — as opposed to regular city annexation — are a lower budget and thus, lower taxes, plus tax monies stay locally (whereas now populated areas like ours subsidize rural parts of the county). And basics like fire, schools, water, sewer, garbage and animal control don’t change. Other basics remain similar to what we have now like police and roads. What will be different is more privacy and property rights for residents and businesses.”
Despite having roughly 21,000 residents, the proposed township has few businesses to provide sales tax revenue. The county reports that in 2007, all areas of unincorporated King County combined for 5,563 business units and 49,742 total jobs. In comparison, fully incorporated Federal Way serves almost 90,000 residents on a strained budget of about $40 million that covers roads, police, parks and more. Federal Way itself has about 32,000 total jobs in the city, including nearly 160 full-time law enforcement employees. The city generates tax revenue from hotels, restaurants and retail outlets.
To learn more about the Committee for Peasley Canyon Township, visit peasleycanyontownship.org.