Proposed district tax has Issaquah neighbors worried about losing their homes
By CELESTE GRACEY
Issaquah Reporter Staff Writer
September 24, 2012 · Updated 1:19 PM
Adrift in a sea of office buildings and box stores, Susan Cameron’s 1920s farmhouse has become an island of sorts in the Issaquah valley.
She was raised in the home as the last direct descendent of the Bush family – which settled in Issaquah during the Civil War – and it’s her hope to someday die there.
However, a proposed tax has her and husband, George, fearing the worst, that they’ll lose their home to taxes.
Many of their eight neighbors, who are mostly in their 70s and 80s, feel much the same way, George said. “We’re all sitting on pins and cushions, waiting for the axe to fall.”
The city is planning a Local Improvement District, which would relieve traffic by building a major arterial from East Lake Sammamish Parkway to the Costco headquarters.
Warehouse shoppers could also take the road to bypass the overburdened Northwest Sammamish Road.
The multi-million dollar project would benefit local businesses, which is why the city is asking them to pay for it, but the Cameron’s neighborhood is stuck in the middle. State law forbids the city from cutting donut-hole exemptions in the district.
When George first approached Issaquah City Council, many of the members didn’t even realize there was a neighborhood there, he said dismayed. “What do you mean? We live in the middle of it.”
Although the city has been planning the LID for a couple years, they still haven’t had an appraiser determine how the tax would affect landowners.
LIDs are unusual. The city doesn’t charge owners based on land value but on their estimated benefit. Once the city decides exactly what it wants to build, an appraiser assesses each property for how much it’s expected to profit.
George insists he won’t benefit at all. If anything, it will hurt the quiet street. However an appraiser might disagree, because his home is the only one in the neighborhood also zoned for business
“I could not imagine a city forcing someone out of their home,” said Sheldon Lynne, Public Works Engineering director.
Assuming the appraiser comes back with an added benefit that’s too high for the homeowners, there are a few solutions available to the city.
The first would be to allow unpaid taxes to be charged as a lean against the home. When a home sells, it will need to be paid off like a mortgage, but no one would be kicked from their home.
The city could also offer to pay the neighborhood’s portion of taxes, he said.
The council has shown to be compassionate in these situations, said Councilmember Fred Butler, pointing to the decision to eliminate permit fees for non-profits and affordable housing projects. “The purpose of this is not to create hardship.”
There is a chance too that the Cameron neighborhood, the only one off 221st Place Southeast, might be saved by its worst downfall.
Since the Bush family settled the surrounding 160 acres through the Homestead Act, new development upstream has caused the Issaquah Creek to flood the area. The city managed to acquire homes west of the creek through a wetland mitigation deal, but the Cameron neighborhood still floods.
As a result, the city doesn’t often issue building permits. George doubts whether he’d even be able to get one to replace a broken septic system.
Although the flood area makes developing the properties impossible and selling them almost equally as difficult, it also means it has no potential for growth, a key factor in the added benefit assessment.
For a couple that diligently saves each month to make sure it can pay off its property taxes each year, being left alone is their greatest hope, George said. “We’ve got nothing to give.”
Contact Issaquah Reporter Staff Writer Celeste Gracey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-391-0363.