The city of Kent’s decision to sell a public park to a developer without telling the public turned out to be a pricey one.
Excluding the public from a decision to sell a public park turned out to be a pricey mistake.
It is costing the city of Kent three-quarters of a million dollars to unwind an unpublicized sale of a 10-acre park to a developer.
On Tuesday night, the Kent City Council voted 5-2 to overturn the 2015 sale of Pine Tree Park. But in backing out of a purchase-and-sale contract with developer Oakpointe Communities, Kent agreed to pay $760,000 worth of expenses that the developer has racked up on the project to date.
The council had voted to sell the park for $2 million last September, after a closed executive session and no public input or discussion. Residents only learned a park had been sold off four months later when a land-use sign went up heralding a 64-home subdivision.
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It turned out the underlying deed for the park dictated it had to be kept as a park “in perpetuity,” and could only be swapped for additional open space. The council had sold it to use the money for maintenance on other parks — and apparently had not read the deed or understood its meaning until after The Seattle Times published the deed in January.
Once it became known it would be illegal to use the money from the park sale on maintenance, a majority of the council agreed Tuesday to cancel the deal.
Several council members blamed King County for advising them they could sell the park outright, rather than trade it for more open space as the deed states. One council member said they were “misled” by the county.
But emails released after a Seattle Times request Wednesday show King County correctly advised Kent as far back as 2013.
In one email, a King County attorney, fielding a request from Kent about selling the park, wrote clearly that the park could only be traded for replacement parkland.
After that, a county real-estate manager reported that he had spoken by phone with an assistant attorney for Kent “regarding the process for appraising the subject (Pine Tree Park) and then finding and proposing a replacement of at least equal value and functionality.”
The email indicates Kent had wanted to “get the county to remove the deed covenants restricting use of the property so that it may be sold for unrestricted highest and best use.” But after being told that couldn’t happen, the Kent attorney “indicated that he understood our process and would proceed accordingly,” according to the email.
Kent city officials insisted they only fell down on the job by not informing the public.
“There was nothing illegal or unethical about the sale of Pine Tree Park,” council President Bill Boyce said. “Our only error was not doing a better job engaging with the park’s neighbors before making the tough decision to sell.”
It means taxpayers effectively have now bought this park twice — first in the 1970s under the Forward Thrust bond program, and again Tuesday night.