City council members in North Bend were set to greenlight a proposal this week that would eventually deliver a sewer system to the city’s Meadowbrook neighborhood, but another postponement has halted the project until August.
Deliberations on forming the Meadowbrook Utility Local Improvement District (ULID), a prerequisite for sewer construction to start, began back in November 2021. At times, that process has crawled forward over the last eight months as councilmembers have been cautious about the long term-ramifications.
Although businesses in the area are supportive of a new sewer system, which would finally allow them to build on their properties and make the area economically viable, many residential homeowners are concerned the project’s price could force them out of their homes.
Councilmembers planned to vote on the final ULID proposal Tuesday, July 19, which would have formed the utility district and allowed the installation process to begin. Instead, the council voted 4-3 to delay the project an additional two weeks.
Mayor Pro Tem Jonathan Rosen, who voted in favor of the delay, said that time is intended to allow homeowners in the neighborhood opposed to the project to review the proposal, ask clarifying questions and potentially seek legal counsel.
“The request here is to give citizens time to do their due diligence,” he said.
Rosen said he is in favor of the project, calling it a “fair proposal,” but shared that he and fellow Councilmember Brenden Elwood spoke to a group of residents who requested additional time for review.
“It’s important to hear what they have to say,” Elwood said. “It’s critical we allow them to understand the answers to clarifying questions.”
Councilmembers Alan Gothelf and Mary Miller joined Elwood and Rosen in favor of a delay, with Miller calling it the biggest decision the city has made in many years.
North Bend Mayor Rob McFarland and Councilmember Mark Joselyn were opposed to the delay. They both questioned how postponing the project for two additional weeks would impact the council’s final decision. Joselyn was joined by Councilmembers Heather Koellen and Ross Loudenback in voting against the delay.
“I oppose postponement here for multiple reasons, but one is I fail to understand how postponement impacts the ultimate vote,” McFarland said. “Mr. Rosen, you have already said you support it and intend to vote for it.”
In an interview, McFarland said that with each week that goes by the total cost of sewer installation is expected to increase due to rising costs for construction materials, gas and labor. He also said increasing federal interest rates on bonds are also likely to drive up the cost.
McFarland said he disagreed with the notion that the project was rushed, noting the council has been discussing a sewer introduction in the Meadowbrook neighborhood for at least the last four years when the Sirius Sports Complex was under consideration. While acknowledging residents’ concerns are valid, McFarland said, his decisions are guided by what is best for North Bend.
“My duty is to do my best for the city at large,” he said. “That guides my decision. [After that] then we do the best we can for individuals who do not immediately receive the benefit.”
Approval of the ULID is critical for paying off debts the city incurred building its $35 million wastewater treatment plant, Joselyn said. The plant is currently under construction and expected to deliver sewer capacity to the city for the next two decades.
“Absent this ULID, folks, we’re kind of toast,” he said. “I don’t know the cost of waiting two weeks, but it’s not zero-sum.”
Two public hearings held on the ULID over the last two months drew considerable crowds, many of which were residential homeowners who expressed concerns about the project’s 20-year repayment price.
“North Bend has changed a lot in the last 20 years, and many of those changes have not benefited families like mine, who’ve been here for generations,” one resident told the council during a May public hearing. “We’re looking at a sizable cost I’d have to come up with.”
The ULID project is expected to cost just below $7.5 million, according to an appraisal by a private firm last year, but that cost is expected to have risen, McFarland said. This plan would require property owners to pay back their share of the cost over a 20-year period at a 2% to 2.5% interest rate starting around 2025.
Attempting to address residents’ concerns, Puget Western Inc. and Peak View LLC, two businesses in the neighborhood, have worked alongside the city and homeowners to set up a reimbursement agreement where they will pay residential owners a share of the ULID repayment.
Puget Western is looking to build a large Puget Sound Energy training facility in North Bend, but under its development agreement, cannot proceed unless it has sewer or introduces a large, costly septic tank, McFarland said.
Under their offer, payments on the ULID would not be required from homeowners during the 20-year span unless they sell their property or apply for build permits to make renovations. If a home is sold within that 20 years, the buyer — not the seller — would be responsible for paying any remaining ULID costs.
A long process
Voting for postponement Tuesday follows what has been a long process, followed by decades of waiting for some businesses, as the city council has attempted to balance delivering a sewer system to the neighborhood while also considering impacts to homeowners.
Work on the ULID began last fall when Wende Miller, owner of Bendigo Properties LLC, began circulating a petition of property owners. Miller previously told the city council that she has been trying to develop her property for the last 17 years, but has been restricted by a lack of sewer.
Bendigo Properties LLC owns the Sirius Sports Complex in the Meadowbrook neighborhood. Construction on the complex was allowed to proceed ahead of sewer availability in 2020 with a large septic tank, but a sewer connection is needed for the project to be fully built-out under its development agreement.
Miller’s ULID petition that came to the council in November 2021 had the support of 53% of property owners by land area. Those numbers, however, did not include city own properties, which comprise a significant portion of property within the ULID boundary. That gave the city council de facto authority over the success of the petition.
Council members hesitated for months to include their properties in the proposal. They briefly considered a redraw of the ULID boundary to exclude residential owners, which would have delayed the project by at least six additional months.
The hesitation was prompted by councilmembers Elwood and Rosen who said they heard from many homeowners who thought the cost would be unaffordable. They also said most homeowners were not in favor of the ULID.
It was not until February of this year, council members agreed to include their properties, which gave the ULID the greenlight to move forward.
The council is expected to vote on the ULID again at its next meeting. If the proposal is approved, it is expected to be built over the next several years and will mark the first time any part of North Bend west of the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River has a sewer system.