City conducts annexation study

Federal Way city officials aren’t particularly interested in incorporating a potential annexation area into the city — at least not now.

But they are conducting a study to see how much infrastructure is needed to bring the area up to city code, just in case.

The city spent $200,000 and King County another $40,000 to study the area which spans about 5,000 acres east of Interstate 5, from South 272nd Street almost to the Pierce County line, and with an eastern border along 51st Avenue South, Peasley Canyon Road and West Valley Highway.

City and county officials met with the area’s residents at an open house Feb. 28 to explain why the city is conducting the study, which at this point is a process of inventorying available infrastructure and services. Also discussed was whether residents could expect to become Federal Way inhabitants any time soon.

Many of the residents who gathered at Lake Dolloff Elementary School for the open house wondered how it would benefit them to belong to Federal Way, though city officials maintained there are no immediate intentions to annex the area.

In fact, the city began studying the area in 2000 after several residents asked when they could become part of Federal Way.

If annexation proponents — who must live in the potential annexation area — decide to actively pursue annexation, they must get at least 60 percent of their neighbors to sign a petition.

“The choice for people in a potential annexation area is whether to annex or not,” Mayor Jeanne Burbidge said. “Nothing compels you to annex.”

All city officials are doing now, Burbidge said, is determining whether Federal Way could provide services if residents asked to annex.

The potential annexation area was tapped by the county for Federal Way’s urban growth years ago as part of the state Growth Management Act.

Counties across the state were required to identify urban growth areas as part of the act, which passed in 1990, to confine growth to nearby urban areas and preserve the rural quality of areas farther away from cities.

For its part, King County identified a line dividing rural areas from what would become urban areas.

Gregg Dohrn, director of Northwest planning services for Seattle-based consulting firm Bucher Willis Ratliff Corp., said most of the areas on the urban side of the line have become cities. Those that haven’t remain potential annexation areas — with the expectation that one day, they, too, will become part of a city.

Some residents at the open house said they are discouraged with the level of services they are getting compared with the amount they pay each year in taxes.

Dohrn said the reason for that, ironically, s annexation.

As other county areas have incorporated into cities under the Growth Management Act, the county’s tax base has continued to shrink. The county is in the position of consistently having to cut service because annexation is cutting revenue.

Some questions posed by residents to city officials simply were unanswerable, such as what levels of service citizens could expect out of an annexation or how their taxes might change — which is why the city is conducting the inventory.

“We’ll be better able to answer questions as the study proceeds,” Burbidge said.

According to the inventory, the annexation area has about 150 miles of roadway, about 20 miles of which are arterials. But most are rural and connectivity in the area is bad, which makes for slower fire and police response times in an emergency, officials said. School buses take longer to get kids to school, too, because they have to drive around rather than through neighborhoods that lack through streets.

Traffic accidents also are a problem, which might be associated with sporadic street lighting, rural roads and an increasing number of drivers, officials said.

Of the 20 miles of arterial roadway, 11 miles exceed the average rate of accidents compared to similar roads elsewhere in King County.

If the city were to annex the area, it would have to deal with surface water run-off. There are a few critical areas in the annexation area and some environmentally sensitive areas the city would have to account for in providing stormwater run-off management.

The inventory revealed five county parks comprising 109 acres in the potential annexation area, along with a number of schools.

One of the parks, Camelot, won’t open this year because of county budget cuts. If the city annexed the area, park maintenance would become part of the city’s responsibility.

Having a larger population base would make the city eligible for certain programs and providing a different outsider perspective.

Still, bringing the area up to code would come at a substantial cost to the city.

“There are no formal discussions by the (City Council) of annexation,” Burbidge said. “The tax revenues do not cover the costs so far to provide the level of service.”

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