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Pending sale of Vashon Village adds fuel to library debate

Don Asher and Gib Dammann, a design consultant working on the project, discuss plans for Vashon Village. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
Don Asher and Gib Dammann, a design consultant working on the project, discuss plans for Vashon Village.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

Vashon Village owner Dan McClary, who waged a contentious, three-year battle to secure water for his long-desired inn, is now poised to sell the 4.5-acre commercial park to two businessmen.

And in a twist that could intensify the already lively debate over the location of the Vashon library, the business partners — one an Islander, the other from California — have put forward an offer they hope the community will embrace: They want to see the library built there.

Don Asher and Bob Kendrick, business partners who are currently working on a biodiesel project called Sirona Fuels, contend the Vashon Village site could offer the perfect compromise to what has become a contentious situation — whether the library should stay in Ober Park, where the costs for a remodel are apparently high, or move a mile south of town to the K2 site, where a remodel might cost less but would take the library out of the town core.

“The potential to have the new library on the highway on the northern entry to the town and right across from Ober Park offers tremendous opportunity for creating a more dynamic town core,” Asher said.

The site was quickly embraced by some of the Islanders who have been heavily involved in discussions over the library’s location.

“I think it could be perfect,” said Jean Bosch, president of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council and a Vashon real estate agent. “It keeps the library in the town core and within wonderful proximity to Ober Park. I think it could be a marvelous compromise.”

But Bill Ptacek, who heads the King County Library System, said he’s not ready to consider other sites for the Island’s promised new branch. Currently, the library system is having its consultants study the costs and feasibility of two sites with the potential for three scenarios: a remodel of the existing library at Ober Park; a new structure on the gravel parking lot next to Ober Park; and a remodel of the freestanding former machine shop at the K2 property.

“We’ve been totally focused on these two sites,” Ptacek said, referring to Ober Park and K2. “At this point in time, to introduce other sites just doesn’t make sense. We could be chasing sites until the cows come home.”

Asher, told of Ptacek’s comments, said it’s unfortunate the head of the library system is not open to the Vashon Village site.

“I don’t think we’ll have any problem utilizing that space effectively,” Asher said. “But the highest and best use for it is the library.”

Asher and Kendrick, with the help of their real estate agent Dick Bianchi, said they’ve been trying to get their idea before the library system for weeks. Bianchi, co-owner of the Windermere office on Vashon, sent Ptacek an e-mail a month ago to let him know an alternative site was emerging. When Ptacek wrote back saying there were only two sites on the table, Bianchi said, he wrote to him again.

“I said, ‘I think this is worthy of your consideration,’” Bianchi said. “I’ve not heard a word since.”

Asher and Kendrick, however, said they haven’t given up — in part, because they think their plan could work well for the community.

Their preliminary plans for the site include a library on the highway side of the property, a plaza or common area behind the library and a small retail/residential development on the west end of the property. Because the county library system wants to own its branch and not lease it, Asher and Kendrick say they’d be willing to subdivide the site and sell the front portion to the library system, letting the public agency develop the library itself.

The business partners, who say they’ve engaged in a number of what they call environmentally sensitive development projects over the years, have signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with McClary for the property. No closing date was listed in the contract, Asher said.

Asher lives on Vashon; his wife Birgitta is also part of the project, he said. Kendrick and his wife Darci, also part of the effort, live in San Francisco; they have a small farm on Vashon, Kendrick said.

“We’ve been very focused on high-density, town center development,” Kendrick said. “It’s a passion for us — making sure you retool the current infrastructure of a town rather than encourage sprawl.”

County library system officials, meanwhile, say their preliminary analyses based in part on a meeting with county development officials have given them some initial cost estimates for the three options under consideration. According to Kay Johnson, director of facility development, the K2 project would cost $6.56 million; an expansion of the current library at Ober Park would cost $7.25 million; and building a new structure at Ober Park would come in at $7.68 million.

The budget for a new branch is $6.2 million.

“I call them ‘guesstimates’ at this point,” Johnson said, but added that she believes the projects will likely pencil out close to these initial estimates.

“We just have too much experience with these public projects to know that these numbers are not atypical, that they’re close to what it will cost,” she said.

Islander Martin Koenig, however, who attended a library planning meeting in Burien where Johnson discussed these numbers, questioned their validity.

“Those are soft numbers,” he said. “It’s totally speculative.”

The library system seems determined to move the Vashon branch out of town, he added, a move that would hurt Vashon.

“It makes no sense what they’re doing,” Koenig said. “It shows a great deal of insensitivity to a small, unincorporated area in the county.”

As for McClary, he said he hadn’t thought of razing the small buildings that adorn Vashon Village and putting the library there, though he said he believes the branch should remain in town. He decided to sell, he said, in large part because of his health, which began to decline during the protracted lawsuit.

“It just really took a toll on me,” he said of the litigation.

From his perspective, he got “everything I wanted” as a result of the suit — most notably, a reconfiguration of his water shares so that he could build a small inn on the back portion of his property.

“If I had more health than I’ve got right now, I’d certainly consider hanging onto it and getting started on some work,” he said. “But there’s not too much I can do anymore. Just too many aches and pains.”

McClary said he’s happy to be selling the property to Asher and Kendrick.

“They made me an offer. It sounded good to me. Maybe I’ll retire to somewhere where it’s hot and dry,” he said.

Another site

Vashon Village is not the only site Islanders are trying to get the King County Library System’s board to consider.

Mike Kimmel, owner of Kimm-

co on the southern edge of town, said he, too, has urged library officials to take a closer look at his parcel.

For $1.2 million, he said, he will tear down the current structure, clear the lot and turn the property over to the library system. All the infrastructure — sewer and water, for instance — would still be in place, he said.

Library officials have not taken a close look at his site, however.

“They did drive by,” Kimmel said. “They didn’t stop. They didn’t look.”

Kimmel says he and his son-in-law plan to attend the March 31 library board meeting to discuss the parcel. But he’s not optimistic that his property, which has housed his construction company for years, will get much attention.

“They’re not even budging,” he said.

King County Library System board meeting

The library system’s board is expected to discuss the Vashon Library location at its next meeting, at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, at its Issaquah office. For directions, visit www.kcls.org/servicecenter/directions.cfm.

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