Backers claim support for Battle Ground annex

Neighbors of golf course say process has ignored their opposition

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Applicants behind a controversial annexation proposal involving a Brush Prairie golf course have notified the Clark County Assessor’s Office in writing they believe they have the necessary support to become part of Battle Ground, City Manager John Williams said.

Gordy Jolma, owner of The Cedars on Salmon Creek, and the Saunders family, who own land near the course, have filed paperwork containing what they believe are signatures from people who own 60 percent of the value within the proposed annexation area in Brush Prairie. Residents of N.E. 149th Avenue in Brush Prairie, which is also part of the proposal, said they believed the applicants were short of the necessary 60 percent.

The Clark County Assessor’s Office must certify the applicants’ claim before the matter can be discussed at a special Aug. 15 council meeting in Battle Ground. The Battle Ground City Council could vote on the annexation after the meeting’s public comment portion ends, officials said.

Regardless of what happens over the next month, the area within the proposed annex will one day be a part of Battle Ground, Mayor Mike Ciraulo said. The reason, he explained, was that Clark County Commissioners made the Cedars neighborhood part of Battle Ground’s urban growth boundary years ago.

“It will become Battle Ground sooner or later,” Ciraulo said. “The question is: ‘Is it now, or is it later?’”

Residents of the Cedars neighborhood have opposed Jolma and the Saunders’ plans to annex land near their homes, stating they don’t see how such a move benefits them and don’t know the applicants’ intentions. The same residents have also criticized Battle Ground city officials for not allowing them to speak June 6 during a meeting where council members narrowly supported the applicants’ push to move forward with the annexation process.

Battle Ground officials, including Williams and Ciraulo, are adamant that the city followed state law in keeping people whose homes are not within the annexation area from speaking during the so-called 10 percent meeting. By contrast, anyone can speak during the Aug. 15 meeting on the proposed annexation, officials said.

Cedars residents allege Jolma altered the annexation map before the meeting to pave the way for the applicants to receive the necessary support. The new map greatly reduced the number of homes within the proposal.

“One has to ask, ‘Why not annex the whole thing instead of creating islands?’” said Eldon Dehaan, a resident of Northeast 149th Avenue. “The answer is, they would have never got the votes.”

Jolma has previously said the map’s changes reflected a desire to accommodate residents who opposed the annex. However, the five households on Northeast 149th Avenue also oppose the annex.

In a previous interview, Jolma said he viewed annexation as good for his business and good for the city of Battle Ground.

Jolma has said that giving his business a Battle Ground address would make it more attractive to golfers; it now has a Brush Prairie address. It also opens the possibility of building on some of his open land.

The city, meanwhile, adds a taxpaying business to its rolls.

Jolma did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

Neighbors concerned

Cedars residents inside the proposed annex are not the only ones miffed with Battle Ground and the golf course’s owner. So are Cedars residents not facing annexation next month.

“We would like to vote for or against the annexation,” said Stan Smith, president of the Cedars East Homeowners Association. “Their gerrymandering went around the property of residents except Jolma and Saunders.”

The so-called 60 percent hearing was scheduled for Monday, but delayed until Aug. 15.

Some Cedars residents suspected it might have been delayed because the County Commissioners planned to intervene. This is not the case, according to Battle Ground officials.

The county owns two pieces of land totaling around 81 acres within the proposed annex. But the law does not require the County Commissioners to take a side on the annexation. Even if they do, that will not weigh on the Battle Ground City Council’s decision about annexing the property.

“To my knowledge, the board is discussing it,” said Marlia Jenkins, program development director with Clark County. “They’ve made no decision whether to respond to the citizens’ request.”

Some Brush Prairie residents have accused Battle Ground’s city government of not granting them a public hearing to discuss the latest annexation proposal because it covets a golf course. These same residents said the council’s alleged blockade of their comments violates state statutes. Battle Ground officials staunchly denied this.

It remains unclear whether the county commissioners will ask the county attorney to write a formal letter addressing such concerns, Jenkins said.

Jolma and Saunders are seeking to have their property annexed so they can build more housing per acre on their land, Smith alleged. This possibility of increased density concerns residents because it raises questions about whether their dead-end development will soon have to deal with changes in traffic flow.

“(W)e’ve been eliminated” from the discussion, Smith said, “and that’s what’s making residents upset with not only the golf course owners but the city of Battle Ground.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.