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Planning commissioners want answers before approving school property annexation

The Sunnyside School District will have to wait another three weeks before it learns the fate of its annexation request, a request that would bring nearly 62 acres of property located off of Washout Road into the city limits. The site being requested for annexation is set to be the location of a new middle school.

Wednesday night, members of the Sunnyside Planning Commission held a special meeting to discuss the annexation request and take public comment on the proposed annexation. The property being discussed includes nearly 62 acres, which is owned by the Sunnyside School District and Corey and Ann Berg. The property is located approximately 1,600 feet north of the intersection of North 16th Street and Sheller Road.

In the end, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to table the annexation request until its May 11 meeting in hopes that a representative from the school district would be present to answer questions. There was no one from the school district in attendance at last night's special meeting.

"Why isn't there anyone from the school district here?," asked Rolando Alvarez, as members of the public asked questions about the school project that is set to be located on the property being annexed.

Those in attendance wanted to know the answer to questions such as how much of the open ditch that runs along the property being proposed for annexation would be covered, what improvements are planned for the streets surrounding the property to be annexed and how the utilities for the proposed annexation would be brought from their current locations out to the property.

During the staff report, City Planner Jamey Ayling explained that the Planning Commission was looking solely at the annexation of the property. He explained since the property is currently still located in the county, the school district had opted to push forward with the construction of the new school, going through the process with the county. He noted that the school district had already submitted its State Environmental Policy Act checklist to the county.

"We're not here to deal with traffic or what the building will look like," Ayling said.

He added that the annexation would be beneficial to the city, noting that it will bring city utilities into the area.

North 16th Street resident Paul Dillard asked the Planning Commission if the school district wasn't "putting the cart before the horse" when it comes to the proposed annexation. He said one of his concerns was that the school district looked like it had already started construction at the site.

"Why start the project until we decide it its going to be annexed?" Dillard asked.

Commissioner Barry Weaver noted that the school district can start construction at the site because it owns the property, noting that it has gone through the county to get the permits necessary to start work.

Dillard said he also wanted to know that with the school district owning so much property in the area off of Washout Road, if it was really only one school they were planning on building at the site.

"All we're discussing here is the annex," Commissioner Jim Warren reminded Dillard.

Dillard responded by telling Warren and the rest of the commissioners that despite only being there to discuss the annexation, it's important for the city to get the whole picture when it comes to the property in question. He added that he feels the commission and the community are being asked to make a decision without knowing what is happening to the property being requested for annexation.

"I can understand his frustration," said Carol Stone, motioning toward Dillard.

She noted that she does not support the annexation. Stone said when the school district first came to voters asking them to pass the bond and levy that they didn't tell anyone they were planning on building a school that far out of the city limits. Stone said if the school district would have been up front with their plans at that time, the community could have told them that they needed to look for a different location for their new building.

Stone said when the school district bought the property off of Washout Road they knew that it was outside of the city limits and a long way from public utilities.

"I'm not for this, but I feel like...it's probably a done deal," Stone said.

Commissioner Brent Cleghorn said he also has a little bit of a problem with the school going out to pass a bond issue and not telling voters what they were going to do once it passed.

"I would like to know who is going to pay to get water and sewer out there," Cleghorn said.

City Attorney Mark Kunkler explained that bringing water and sewer to the property will come at the expense of the school district.

Cleghorn added that when trying to make a decision as to whether or not to annex the property, he would like to know more about what is planned for the site.

Commissioner Ken Bierlink noted that he thought it would behoove the city to try to find out what route the school district was planning on taking when it comes to extending water and sewer to the site.

"We're in discussion with the school district on these issues," Kunkler said.

Kunkler added that these are also issues that will be further discussed as the school construction project gets further along.

Commissioner Theresa Hancock took a second to remind the Planning Commission that it is not its job to look at the project itself, instead they should be focusing on the annexation of the property in question.

Commissioner DeAnn Hockhalter responded by saying that it's important for the Planning Commission to look at the big picture when they are trying to decide whether or not to move forward with the annexation of the 62 acres off of Washout Road.

Weaver said one of the questions he has about the project is whether or not it will ultimately include the construction of more than one school building at the site.

"It makes a different," Weaver said. He explained that the number of schools to be located on the property could make a difference when it comes to the need for city services such as police, fire and other emergency personnel.

In the end, the Planning Commission voted to table their decision on the annexation. Another public hearing will be held on the subject during its May 11 meeting. During that meeting the Planning Commission will also be taking another look at the city's proposed sign ordinance.

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