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Commissioners approve annexation of Sunnyside school property

After much discussion, the Sunnyside Planning Commission voted Wednesday night to approve the annexation of more than 61 acres of property north of town. The property, which is set to be zoned public facility, will be used for the construction of a new middle school by the Sunnyside School District.

Although the annexation was ultimately approved, with only Commissioner Brent Cleghorn voting against the proposal, it was not an open and shut case. Instead, commissioners listened as school district representatives Supt. Dr. Rick Cole and Director of Facilities Braven Bendzak talked about their plans for the property, and to citizens as they voiced their concerns about the project.

But first, City of Sunnyside Planner Jamey Ayling talked to the commissioners about what they were deciding on that night in relation to the annexation. He explained that the commission was looking solely at whether or not the 61 acres should be annexed into the city and if a public facilities zone was appropriate for the property. He noted the commission was not there to make any decisions on the project that is proposed for the property.

Ayling explained that since the property is currently located in Yakima County, the school district is in the process of having the middle school project approved by the county. He noted that the district just recently submitted their SEPA review to the county.

"We're only concerned with the annexation in a public facilities zone," Planning Commission Chairman Jim Warren stressed. "The only thing this board is discussing is the annexation of this property as a public facilities zone."

Warren added that although the Planning Commission wasn't currently looking at things like traffic concerns, utilities and how water and sewer will be piped to the property didn't mean those issues will not be addressed. He noted that those things will be addressed later as the project moves forward.

Cole explained that the district is currently working to develop the southern most 20 acres of the property being proposed for annexation. He said the property will be used to construct Sierra Vista Middle School, an 85,000 square foot facility.

Cole then addressed concerns that were brought up during the last planning commission meeting, including that many people thought the school district had passed its bond to construct the new school without telling people where it would be built.

He noted that the property where the school is being constructed was purchased with the idea that a new middle school and perhaps a new elementary school would be built on the property.

"We presented that before the bond was voted on," Cole said. "We indicated our intention was to build a school on this property."

Cole said the new school is needed because the district continues to grow.

Cole then addressed the issue of piping the drainage ditch that runs along Washout Road on the school district property. He noted that pipe is being put down now to make it a covered ditch. He explained that the district is currently only piping the ditch in front of the area where the new school will be constructed, adding that the ditch will be piped further as the district develops the rest of its property.

Charlie Hernandez, who has property that borders the school district's property, said that he opposed the annexation.

"I moved out to that property to live out in the country, not to have a school next to me," Hernandez said.

Paul Dillard, who lives on North 16th Street, told planning commission members that he is also against the annexation. He said his concern is that the school being built there will end up costing the citizens of Sunnyside more money.

"Do you think money grows on trees?," Dillard asked.

Cole explained that even with the passage of the bond that is helping pay for the construction of the new school, the Sunnyside School District still has one of the lowest tax rates in the Valley. He added that if the property is annexed into the city, the city will receive another $50,000 in property taxes, money that if it isn't annexed will go to the county.

Cleghorn said he wasn't happy with the idea that the Planning Commission, of which is a member, wasn't allowed to learn more about what was planned for the property being annexed. He said he would like to be able to discuss how traffic issues will be addressed, how water and sewer will be brought to the property and what kind of improvements will have to be made to the utility system in the area to support a new school being placed on the property.

"We are not a planning commission," Cleghorn said. "We are a shot-in-the-dark commission."

He asked Warren how the Planning Commission is supposed to make a decision to annex a piece of property without knowing all of the facts as to how the annexation will affect the community.

"I have a hard time voting an annexation in when we don't know what is planned," Cleghorn said. "Planning is supposed to happen before the fact, not after the fact."

Cleghorn added that he wants the new school built, but that he can't support an annexation when he doesn't know what the whole project looks like.

"I'm for the school, but I'm also for planning before and not planning behind," Cleghorn said.

Commissioner Theresa Hancock explained that what the Planning Commission was voting on was whether or not to approve the annexation and zoning.

"I think we're way better off having the school in the city where we do have some say in the permitting," Hancock said.

Ayling explained that city staff wouldn't have recommended the Planning Commission approve the annexation and zoning if there weren't the utilities and other services necessary to serve the property.

Now that the annexation and zoning has been approved by the Planning Commission, it will be sent on to the Boundary Review Board, where it will be looked at further before a recommendation is made to the Sunnyside City Council.

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