Brush Prairie annexation fight influences bill

Benton proposal would require property owners to vote on joining a city

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Did you know?

• Annexations dropped statewide in 2012.

• Last year, cities throughout Washington annexed 77 parcels into their boundaries, down from 111 in 2011, according to figures from the Office of Financial Management.

• Most of those parcels were 5 acres or less.

photoRay Steiger, treasurer of the Greater Brush Prairie Neighborhood Association and an opponent of being annexed into the city limits of Battle Ground, poses for a portrait where Brush Prairie meets the Battle Ground city limits near the fifth tee of Cedars On Salmon Creek golf course on Tuesday Feb. 19, 2013.

(/The Columbian)

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A Brush Prairie group is applauding a state Senate bill that would require cities to seek a vote of property owners before annexing land into their boundaries.

Sponsored by Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, Senate Bill 5013 would revamp how cities expand into unincorporated areas.

The bill was sparked by a long-simmering conflict between residents of Brush Prairie and officials with the city of Battle Ground, who have butted heads in recent years over the annexation of land near a handful of unincorporated neighborhoods.

Mark Gawecki, the secretary of the Greater Brush Prairie Neighborhood Association, lauded the bill for giving property owners more say in an often-complicated process.

"I think we should have a say in whether we're part of the city or not," Gawecki said. His group worked closely with Benton to draft the bill.

Cities have a number of options when they want to annex unincorporated land. These options include creating interlocal agreements or having residents petition a city directly.

Benton's bill would require a vote among affected property owners before an annexation is final. The bill has the backing of the Freedom Foundation, an organization that lobbies for free enterprise.

Benton called the bill a necessary step in creating fairness in a process that can greatly affect property owners.

"When they bought their property, it was a certain way," he said at a public hearing in January. "Now, forces outside their control are changing that, and I don't think that's fair in a representative democracy."

The Association of Washington Cities opposes the bill, saying there are sufficient provisions in place to protect property owners from unwanted annexation.

In Brush Prairie, the issue of annexation reached a high point in 2011 when Battle Ground annexed Cedars on Salmon Creek, an 18-hole golf course in the neighborhood, at the request of the golf course's owner and other petitioners. Many neighbors bristled at the annexation, believing it was part of a larger plan to spur development.

The city's annexation of the golf course created three unincorporated neighborhoods that are entirely bordered by the city.

Members of Brush Prairie's anti-annexation group worry that the annexation of the golf course was the first step in bringing more land into Battle Ground's city limits. They say bringing their neighborhoods into Battle Ground could reduce their property values and turn an area zoned for parks and recreation into a residential one.

Battle Ground officials have repeatedly said they have no interest in annexing more Brush Prairie properties, if residents are against the plans. But recent conversations with the city have provided no assurances that the city won't try to annex more parcels in the future, Gawecki said.

Because Clark County made the area part of Battle Ground's urban growth boundary decades ago, it's only a matter of time until the discussion of annexation is renewed, Battle Ground Mayor Lisa Walters said.

Still, she said the city is only interested in annexing properties whose owners want to be part of the city.

"If they don't want to be in the city, then we don't want to have them," Walters said.

Annexation would mean residents would be served by Battle Ground police and go to the city for building permits.


Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.