Islanders to be polled about library location

The Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, with help from County Councilman Dow Constantine’s office, plans to survey Vashon’s registered voters to determine if Islanders would like the library to remain at Ober Park or move to the proposed K2 Commons.

The survey, three to four questions about the preferred site, is expected to provide input to the King County Library System board of directors, which has told county library officials to explore the potential of both sites simultaneously.

Jessica Bonebright, who chairs the library system’s board, said she’s glad the community council decided to undertake a survey of the entire Island. The outpouring of opposition to the branch’s proposed move to the K2 site has made an impression, she said, but it’s impossible for the board to know if those who have spoken out in recent weeks are simply a vocal minority or represent a shared and widespread Island sentiment.

“I think personally I would find it very interesting,” she said of the survey. “The results would be something I’d consider.”

Truman O’Brien, one of the K2 developers, questioned the point of the survey, however, noting that Islanders already registered their feelings about a new library when they overwhelmingly endorsed the library system’s $172 million bond measure in 2004 — a measure that included funding for a new and larger Vashon branch.

“I support the community council. And if they think this is important, I support them in doing this,” he said. “But personally, I think the Island has already spoken.”

The issue of whether the branch library should leave Ober Park and relocate a mile down the road at the proposed K2 development has captured considerable attention in the last couple of months.

Though the K2 developers have said from the get-go they’d like to see the library at their ambitious sprawling complex, the possibility of such a move suddenly became more real when the K2 property was quietly rezoned from an industrial to a commercial site and when The Beachcomber reported that the county library system was poised to sign a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy a freestanding structure at the K2 site.

Since then, several Islanders have come together to try to get the library system to reconsider the proposed move.

They’ve crafted a petition opposing the branch’s relocation to the K2 site and have garnered more than 1,000 signatures, they report. They’ve also attended a couple of meetings of the library system’s board, where several Islanders have spoken passionately in opposition to the move.

“Nobody ever thought the library would be moved outside of the town core,” said Martin Koenig, who’s playing a lead in the citizens’ group. “That was the thing that was a shocker.”

The survey, he predicted, could play a pivotal role in the debate, forcing the library system’s board of directors to take heed of the public sentiment.

“I think it’s very difficult for them to ignore expressions of this sort, especially when it’s a councilmember’s survey,” Koenig added. “They’ve got to care if the community says ‘no.’”

The idea of a survey surfaced a month ago, when several key players in the library debate gathered in Constantine’s Seattle office to discuss the issue.

Jean Bosch, president of the community council and one of the Islanders who attended the meeting, said she was troubled when Bill Ptacek, the library system’s top administrator, told the group there was no point in factoring public sentiment into the siting decision because communities are usually evenly divided on such issues and no clear preference would emerge.

“I said, ‘I think the community council would be willing to spend some money to test that hypothesis,’” Bosch recalled.

Bosch, Koenig and several other Islanders then began to meet to discuss how such a survey could be conducted, where the funds would come from, how to make it as unbiased as possible and how to get such a survey to as many Islanders as possible. At the community council’s request, Islander Tim Morrision has chaired the newly created library survey task force.

Bosch, in an effort to secure the funds to make a mailing possible, approached Constantine to see if his office could pay for it.

The county councilmember, whose district includes Vashon, decided to make the survey part of his regular outreach to the Island. Constantine will issue what his aide James Bush called “a special Vashon-only newsletter, with the survey as a key element in it.”

Like other county officials, Constantine has heard from constituents who are unhappy about the proposed move but he doesn’t know how widely shared that opposition is, Bush said.

“Any time you hold a public meeting, you get 50 or 100 people, but there are some 10,000 people who will be affected by this decision, and we want to give them a chance to weigh in on it,” said Bush.

O’Brien and Richard Sontgerath, the K2 site’s lead developers, attended a recent meeting of the library survey task force and have played a role in shaping the survey’s questions.

But O’Brien said the developers are no longer wedded to the library’s move to K2. At Constantine’s office last month, O’Brien said the library’s purchase of the freestanding building was essential to making the project pencil out. That’s no longer the case, he said.

“At that time, we thought our deal was contingent on the library, but it’s no longer,” he said.

The developers, though, will continue to advocate for the library’s move to the K2 site, where a 10,000-square-foot former machine shop sits empty.

“If they want it there, it’s a perfect fit,” O’Brien said.

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