Editorial: It’s time to put the K2 rezone issue to rest

Over the last several months, in all the brouhaha over the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, one issue keeps cropping up: How it is that the King County Council two years ago quietly rezoned the K2 building, changing its status from industrial to commercial.

Repeatedly, a few Islanders — VMICC board member Tom Bangasser, in particular — say that it was the way that rezone unfolded that suggested the community council had a transparency problem, dictating the need for greater accountability and calling into play the Public Records Act.

But what really happened two years ago? 

First, contrary to what some Islanders say, Vashon residents and the community council both got official notice of the rezone. According to a news story The Beachcomber published in 2008, Bangasser, as the owner on record of two buildings neighboring K2, received two copies of the lengthy notice spelling out all the changes to the county’s comprehensive plan — including a section deep in the document on Vashon, where the K2 rezone was noted.

The VMICC board, then helmed by Jim English, also received a copy, according to the county’s mailing list. Neither the two mailed to Bangasser nor the one sent to the VMICC were returned to the county as undeliverable. Another 45 Islanders — all of whom own property within 500 feet of the proposed rezone — received notice.

It may be this was inadequate notice. And it may be that when Sharon Nelson, then an aide to Dow Constantine, a county councilmember, told him that Islanders supported the rezone, she made a mistake. But it is not true that the Island didn’t have notice. We did. We just weren’t paying attention.

The second question is the ongoing impact of this designation by the county. It was highly germane two years ago, because a rezone to commercial enabled King County Library Services to contemplate a move to what was then called the K2 Commons.

But thanks to some remarkable community organizing by Islanders deeply opposed to the move, Vashon put on an impressive show of resistance. And the library system ultimately changed its mind.

So where are we now? We’ve got an enormous building — zoned as attractively as its corporate owners could have hoped — sitting empty. What’s more, we’ve got a profoundly different economic landscape. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that an industrial user for that site stepped forward. Would he or she be thwarted by its commercial zoning status? Not very likely, at least if it were an industrial undertaking Vashon supported.

Indeed, according to Paul Reitenbach, a senior policy analyst at the county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services, a building that goes from an industrial to commercial designation can just as easily go the other way, especially if there were community support.

The K2 rezone was not a perfect process. But its impact on the Island is now completely insignificant. The building sits empty, not because of political shenanigans or its zoning designation but because our economy tanked. To suggest otherwise is to attempt to rewrite history.


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