Question of library’s location to come before Island voters

Islanders can let King County officials know if they want the Vashon Library to remain at Ober Park or move to the K2 site when they cast ballots in the Vashon Maury Island Community Council (VMICC) election this fall.

As a result of an emergency motion passed at the last VMICC meeting, the community council’s ballot, which will be sent to every home on the Island next month, will include a question about the location of the library, giving all who cast votes a chance to weigh in on the controversial issue.

The decision to add the question to the ballot occurred at the VMICC meeting last Monday, by way of a motion made by Tom Bangasser, an Island resident and businessman. After Bangasser made the motion, the VMICC executive board agreed, six to one, to move it to the membership for a vote. Islanders in attendance (any Island resident 18 or older can vote at a VMICC meeting) then passed the resolution, 28 to six.

Bangasser, in an interview after the meeting, said he spearheaded the motion because he questions whether moving the Island to the K2 site is in the community’s best interest.

“So far, the reasons I’ve heard for moving it out of town haven’t been very well thoughtout,” he said.

VMICC executive members who supported the motion added that they did so because the issue warrants wider community involvement.

“I think what this will do is end the debate, and then we can have a clear picture of what everyone wants,” said Hilary Emmer, a member of the council’s executive board.

The King County Library System (KCLS) announced plans earlier this month to move the library to the proposed K2 Commons, should the ambitious redevelopment plan come to fruition. Dick Sontgerath and Truman O’Brien, who are working to find investors to help them buy the multimillion-dollar building, are slated to close on the deal by Dec. 15.

KCLS, considered key to making the transaction pencil out, would purchase a free-standing, 10,000-square-foot structure from Sontgerath, O’Brien and the other investors after they purchase the site.

From the get-go, Bangasser has been a critic of the K2 redevelopment plan, which he says would move important functions out of town and should be run by a non-profit entity not a for-profit one.

Early on, after K2 Corp. announced plans to sell the 160,000-square-foot structure and its 18-acre campus, Bangasser expressed interest in the building, approaching the real estate agent who’s marketing the project to see if Vashon College could purchase the site; the price he suggested, according to the agent, Art Wahl, was far below K2’s asking price.

Bangasser, however, said the emergency motion that places the library question on the ballot has nothing to do with his early-on interest in the building and added that his dispute with Sontgerath over K2 Commons “has been blown way out of proportion.”

“I’m not trying to kill a real estate deal,” he said. “That’s not what this is about. It’s about what the community wants.”

Sontgerath declined to comment on Bangasser’s role in the motion or the debate over the library’s location, noting simply, “I understand it’s a two-sided issue.”

But some observers suggest that Islanders — even if they vote overwhelmingly to keep the library at Ober Park — may not ultimately have much say in the matter.

The library system is its own governmental entity, and King County of-ficials hold only a little sway over it.

Unlike the Seattle Public Library, which is a department within city government and the head of which is chosen by the mayor, the head of the King County Library System is chosen by its board, and those board members, in turn, don’t stand for election.

Rather, they are nominated by King County Executive Ron Sims and approved by the county council — giving the county some leverage but not a lot.

“The elected officials can certainly weigh in with the library system, but they’re an autonomous group,” said Sharon Nelson, a state representative who also works as chief of staff for County Councilman Dow Constantine.

What’s more, she noted, there’s a more fundamental issue that Islanders need to weigh in on — and that’s whether they want a larger library at all. If they do, Islanders have to consider whether they’re willing to move it, she said, since the library system and the Vashon Park District, which owns the current library site, can’t find a way for the library to expand if it remains at Ober Park.

“It’s a more complicated question,” she said.

Bill Ptacek, the head of the King County Library System, meanwhile, said the issue is moot since — from the library system’s perspective — the only way to build a bigger library is to leave the park.

The promise of a larger Vashon library was made when county residents agreed to a bond issue a few years ago.

“The board felt that we had a commitment to a larger library and felt this is the way we could accommodate that,” he said of the move to K2 Commons.

“We don’t usually take a vote in a community about where a library should go,” he added.

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