On Wednesday afternoon, March 29, 2017, some 60+ residents in Chelan’s Bear Mountain Water District (BMWD) met to address the Water District Board over concerns of a proposed Utility Local Improvement District (ULID) that will assess each parcel for water improvements. The meeting was held at Tsillan Cellars and was standing room only.
The BMWD Board, currently consisting of Jim Batdorf, Chris Snapp and Paul Warner, was in attendance along with the BMWD Attorney Mark Peterson to provide an overview of the proposed LID and hear feedback and questions from residents.
A ULID refers to an area that will be assessed for improvements, and three ULID’s are being proposed by the BMWD Board. One of those ULID’s is for the Hawks Ridge/Hawks Meadow area, a second is for parcels situated around the Bear Mountain Golf Course, and the third is called the Frontage area, which includes parcels along the south shore of Lake Chelan, and upland in the district.
With the initial hearing scheduled back on March 15, 2017, many residents had voiced concern over not receiving adequate notice or not receiving notice at all, as those notices were sent via mail per state statue. Peterson said he took many vehement calls and emails from concerned residents regarding the notice, and the Board decided to hold another meeting on March 29 to allow more residents to attend and weigh-in on the project.
Peterson began the meeting by explaining the water district’s purpose, how it was formed and the process of forming the ULIDs. “The Hawks Meadow/Hawks Ridge piece deals mostly with fire suppression. That’s really quite new after the 2015 fires,” Peterson said. These parcels are proposed to be assessed $27,000 per parcel to obtain more fire suppression.
“The Bear Mountain Golf Course parcels already have fire suppression, but their main advantage is getting softer water through their system,” continue Peterson. Their ULID assessment is proposed to be $2,100 per parcel.
Regarding the Frontage ULID area along south shore and upland areas, Peterson explained that rather than have a hodge-podge of water systems, the district thought there would be a need to extend a line along the waterfront. Peterson explained that having this new water line would provide fire suppression and availability for resident to hook-up to the water system. Their assessment is proposed to be $16,500 per parcel.
“Each one (ULID) pays for the benefit that they are participating in and only for the projects that benefit those parcels,” Peterson said. “It does not escape anybody’s notice that there are some very large agricultural parcels on the south side of the highway (97A) toward the east side of the Frontage parcels, that could be said to benefit substantially more from the improvement, and that maybe per parcel is not equitable.”
“We knew that if these larger lots subdivided, then the district would get another bite of the apple and would have connection charges, line extension fees, and some capital requirements in terms of storage capacity, water rights and a few other things that we could ask from them at that time,” Peterson said.
Attorney Chuck Zimmerman from Ogden Murphy Wallace Law Firm in Wenatchee, who represents several residents in the Frontage area opposed to the ULID, addressed the Board next. His main arguments centered around faults of the process via state statues including failure to record the hearing for purposes of having transcripts of the meeting, failure to provide proper notice of the hearing, and failure to have a written Comprehensive Plan and the description of that plan adopted by the Board.
“They want to use your money that is supposed to be used to finance the project to develop the plan that’s supposed to be in place before they ask you to contribute to a local improvement district,” Zimmerman stated.
In regards to notice given for the hearing, Zimmerman claimed the notice was defective. He read from the statute, “The notice must state the hours and the location, within the district, where the names of the property owners within the proposed improvement district are kept available for public perusal.”
Zimmerman said that a matrix should show what each parcel within the ULID will be assessed and what the special benefit analysis is for each parcel. He pointed out that the notice each resident received said, “The names of the property owners within the proposed ULID are kept available for public perusal at the offices of Peterson and Marquis, 1227 First St, Wenatchee, WA 98801, during the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
“The last I checked, Wenatchee is not within the district,” Zimmerman said. He pointed out that one of his clients is an elderly woman, and that she finds it difficult to get to Wenatchee to look at the roster of what people are being charged.
Zimmerman pointed out that there was only one ULID resolution of $4.5 million that was passed, but that it incorporated all three ULIDs. He stated that each ULID should have its own resolution, three ULIDs should have three resolutions. Zimmerman requested by email the Special Benefit Analysis from the Board, which is a report that is supposed to show what the increased value of each property would be with the improvements.
Peterson’s email response to Zimmerman stated, “We do not have the analysis that you seek in written form.”
“Procedurally, this process should start over again,” Zimmerman said.
In pointing out the Board’s proposal to charge each existing parcel the same amount in the Frontage LID area, Zimmerman said, “Here we have 130 homes being charged $16,500, which is a $2.1 million+ revenue source for this district in order to benefit THIS property right here (indicating the Tsillan Cellars property), that doesn’t have enough water rights, that doesn’t have enough fire flow or pressure, and that can’t get developed without having you help finance it.” Tsillan Cellars Owner Bob Jankelson was out of the country and was not available for comment.
“The zoning allows, in most cases, up to six residential units per acre on some of these undeveloped properties,” Zimmerman said. “Why shouldn’t they, they who have a 40-acre parcel, pay exactly $16,500 like many of my clients that have 0.15 acres and can’t develop it any further? That’s fair. Not.”
“Proportionality is a huge issue,” Zimmerman said. He pointed out that the parcels of his clients (he represents 33 parcels) range from 2.33 acres to 0.05 acres and range in assessed value from $60,000 to $2.4 million. By contrast, Zimmerman claimed that the winners in the process are the large parcels which range from 5 acres up to 76.64 acres, with each parcel equally paying $16,500.
In conclusion, Zimmerman urged the BMWD Board, “End this now, make a motion, second it and vote to stop the LID process.”
Several residents prepared statements and spoke about their disapproval of the process, the short and insufficient notice given for hearings, claimed disproportionate assessments, questions regarding the motives of the Board with clear winners and losers in the process, and claimed failures of the Board to prove in writing that their property would benefit from improvements.
Lakefront residents Jeff and Heidi Soehren, who were at the meeting, claimed to have sufficient water rights and said they do not need to hook into a water system. For that reason, they argued that they do not benefit from the improvement and therefore should not be assessed.
“We just want people to be aware of what is happening at Bear Mountain Water District, and don’t want others to experience this,” Heidi Soehren said.
Residents within the proposed ULID areas have 10 days after the meeting to file written objections to the BMWD. Residents need a 40 percent objection to stop the process in each ULID area, according to the Board. When asked about this 40 percent by a meeting participant, it was clarified by BMWD Attorney Mark Peterson that the 40 percent didn’t apply to the number of parcels, but it referred to “40 percent of the area” of each proposed ULID.
This clarification by Peterson drew murmurs from those in attendance, since this means that a few very large acreage parcel owners hold more area in total than the majority of parcel owners that are against the ULID.
“What they did is they actually went out there and they aggregated a bunch of property so they could maintain 60 percent control over 40 percent of the payers. And so they mathematically rigged this, so you would have to pay no matter what,” resident Jeff Soehren stated. “Nineteen property owners own 60 percent of the property.”
A member of the Hawks Meadow/Hawks Ridge community stated, “I’ve got 36 notices of objection from Hawks Meadow/Hawks Ridge, which is well over 40 percent.”
Attorney Chuck Zimmerman had pointed out earlier in the meeting that several petitions for parcels to be annexed to the district did not seem to have a date on them. It was not clear when these parcels were annexed to the district. Late in the meeting, Zimmerman asked for confirmation by Peterson, that those petitions for parcels to be annexed to the district occurred as recently as February 15, 2017. Peterson confirmed it.
The meeting ended with heated comments from residents about lack of transparency and other residents shouting out their intent to take the Board to court.
If there is less than a 40 percent objection, the Board can vote to move forward with the ULID project. The next public board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 1 p.m. at Tsillan Cellars Tasting Room.
(By Christine Eagar)