New Burien Council majority signals change in annexation, Lake Burien policies

By Eric Mathison

Elections do make a difference.

With four new lawmakers, Burien City Council members took April 7 a significant step toward eliminating any renewed attempt by Burien to annex White Center and North Highline.

The previous council majority had beaten back attempts to withdraw Burien’s Potential Annexation Area (PAA) designation for the unincorporated area even after North Highline voters soundly rejected annexation.

Also lawmakers voted to consider pleas from Lake Burien residents to designate their neighborhood as low density residential. Previous council majorities had rejected repeated requests.

Neither policy reversal is a done deal. Council members only voted to place the items on this year’s Comprehensive Plan Amendments docket.

The items will be studied by city staff, debated by the citizens’ advisory Planning Commission as well as lawmakers and commented on by the public at council meetings and hearings.

A final decision is not expected until December.

Council members also appointed four new planning commissioners, who will serve four-year terms. They are Curtis Olsen, Amy Rosenfield, Douglas T. Weber and Butch Henderson.

The move against another annexation attempt came when council members voted to consider removing references to White Center and North Highline as a Potential Annexation Area.

Newly elected Councilmember Debi Wagner said her opposition to annexation was a major issue in her election race. While campaigning, Wagner said she found the majority of Burien and White Center residents did not want annexation.

Wagner said Burien staff did a poor job of analyzing the issue before it was placed on the ballot.

Wagner said King County has ignored maintenance of White Center’s infrastructure, making the taking over of the unincorporated area “completely unaffordable.”

Burien has issues of its own,” Wagner added.

Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz, who was also newly elected in November, countered that voter turnout for the annexation election was low with only one demographic group participating.

Berkowitz said the annexation opponents used “misinformation, which is the same as lies.”

Councilmember Gerald Robison said if Burien withdraws the annexation references in its comp. plan it would not have a voice in the future direction of neighboring North Highline.

“We are not debating annexation,” Robison declared. “It’s really about keeping our options open, keeping our hand in the discussion and having a seat at the table.”

Robison said the city of Seattle could annex White Center through an interlocal agreement without a vote by North Highline residents.

On the other controversial issue, several residents requested changing the comprehensive plan map to designate the Lake Burien neighborhood as low density residential instead of medium density. They said that would bring the comp. plan map in compliance with the land use map that lists Lake Burien as a critical area.

The downzone would change the minimum lot size requirement from 7,200 square feet to 12,000 square feet.

The residents complained of storm water drainage issues that cause flooding during heavy rain periods and pollution from clogged storm water outfalls. For 10 months in 2010-2011, the lake contained a toxic algae bloom, according to the residents.

Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar said the issue is not about dividing up lots. He said it is about protecting designated critical areas such as Lake Burien. Under the state Growth Management Act, the comp. plan map must match with the land use map, Edgar argued.

Berkowitz said there are less restrictive ways to deal with the environmental issues such as regulating fertilizer use. She said current residents are contributing to the pollution.

Councilmember Steve Armstrong replied that pollution is also running into the lake from areas outside the neighborhood.

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