"Merry Christmas, Sunnyside," City Councilman Bruce Ricks exclaimed joyfully last night after the announcement that the Monson family had agreed to sell its 150-acre feedlot to the city.
Following a 25-minute specially called executive session Wednesday evening, city officials reconvened into open session and released details on the impending $2.5 million purchase of the cattle feedlot owned by the Monson's. The purchase of the land, located west of Sunnyside between Outlook Road and Yakima Valley Highway, is being viewed by many as not only a quality of life improvement for local citizens, but as a way to boost economic development in Sunnyside.
"A city can grow by default or by design, and this is by design," Ricks said.
The $2.5 million will be paid to the Monson family in three installments, all tied to the phased closure of the cattle operation and the clean-up of the feedlot. Under the terms of the agreement, the Monson's will not have any more cattle delivered to the feedlot after February of next year. The agreement also stipulates that all cattle will be removed from the feedlot no later than Aug. 31 of next year, and that the clean-up of the site by the feedlot owners will be completed by July 31, 2006. The clean-up is to include the removal of corrals, outbuildings, manure and "black soil." The Monson's have also agreed to not operate a feedlot within a 20-mile radius of Sunnyside.
Unlike past proposals in recent years to purchase the feedlot, where local citizens would have had to vote in a bond issue to fund the buyout of the property, Sunnyside residents aren't being asked to dig into their pockets this time. The city is financing the $2.5 million purchase by making an internal loan to itself, from invested reserves that are yielding low returns.
"We're utilizing our existing cash reserves," City Manager Bob Stockwell said last night, hastening to point out that raising taxes or implementing fees isn't required to complete the deal.
"It's a real win-win situation," Stockwell added.
He said the city intends on recouping the money it spends on the purchase of the feedlot by reselling the land to developers. As of right now, he said, the intention is not for the city to hold on to any of the property. Stockwell detailed that the 150 acres will be available for development as soon as the clean-up is complete and municipal services are extended to the property.
Stockwell said the agreement with the Monson family comes after several months of serious discussions.
The 15 or so people who attended last night's meeting gave the city council and city staff several rounds of exuberant applause as the council signed the resolution that makes the purchase official. One of those in attendance, Ed Werkhoven, took the opportunity to praise those involved with the deal.
"I congratulate everyone for their persistence on this," Werkhoven said. "You found a way for all of us to win."
The vote to approve the purchase agreement was unanimous by the city council-a rare occurrence considering the volatility and make-up of the group when dealing with major issues in the past. But, there was no conflict last night. All seven of the council members were in whole-hearted accord on the matter.
The praise for the deal that was brokered ranged from Councilman Don Vlieger describing last night's actions as "...a big day for all of us," to Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer singling out Stockwell as having putting forth a tremendous effort to come to an agreement with the Monson family. Newly appointed Councilman Paul Garcia added his acclaim, citing the efforts of City Attorney Mark Kunkler, as well as Stockwell. Garcia also praised the sellers.
"I thank the Monson's for coming to the table (on this agreement)," Garcia said.
Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar exclaimed she was excited to be a part of this agreement with the Monson family, calling it "...a great value for the citizens of Sunnyside."
Agreeing with her was Councilman Jim Restucci, who said it's a wonderful opportunity for the city. "This is the kind of economic development we need to see," he said.
Mayor Ed Prilucik might have summed it up best, when he said, "It's truly an investment for the community of Sunnyside."
The feedlot in question has been blamed by many over the years as chiefly responsible for the air quality issues local residents complain of on an almost daily basis. The odor and dust problems are expected to dissipate with the removal of the approximate 2,500-head cattle operation. Some in the community speculate property values, especially those homes on Sunnyside's neighboring Harrison Hill, will increase once the westside corridor into Sunnyside has been transformed into a business or industrial district.
Local realtor Hank Timmermans, though, isn't so sure local residents will see the value of their homes increase.
"I don't foresee any large increases in property values," Timmermans hesitantly answered when contacted this morning, adding that he was caught off-guard by the inquiry. Timmermans did explain that the Lower Yakima Valley area is comprised chiefly of moderate to low income families, and he doesn't believe there will ever be a large market for higher priced homes. He said if property values were to rise too much, most people living in the area would be unable to afford the purchase of higher priced homes.
Kenny Nelson of DK Bain Real Estate Inc. agreed with Timmermans that residential property values probably won't rise in Sunnyside as a result of the elimination of the dust and odor problems.
"But the quality of life will definitely be a major improvement," Nelson said emphatically. "Maybe people will start looking at moving to Sunnyside instead of looking to move into Grandview or Zillah."