Darrell Holmquist owns about 2 acres of land in Bonney Lake’s Eastown area. He once planned to move his landscape materials business there, but the property still lies empty.
It’s not a unique story in Eastown, a largely undeveloped area annexed by the city in 2001.
Bonney Lake’s sewer system doesn’t reach all the way into Eastown, yet property owners including Holmquist aren’t allowed under city code to build new commercial businesses on their land until they can hook up.
Last month, it looked like the infrastructure could finally be on its way. The City Council considered an agreement that would finance construction.
However, there wasn’t enough council support and the sewer pact failed in a split vote.
Holmquist said he’s disappointed. Others with property in Eastown feel the same way.
“When I went to the (council) meeting, I was optimistic. We went through an awful lot of effort – the city went through an awful lot of effort – to get where we were at,” said Roger Watt, who owns land in Eastown and acts as an unofficial spokesman for property owners. “As of right now, there is nobody who can tell you when we will get sewer.”
Eastown lies on the eastern edge of Bonney Lake, extending roughly from 214th Avenue East to 234th Avenue East. It contains a relatively small number of homes and businesses, most of which use septic systems.
It’s bisected by state Route 410 and has long been considered a prime spot for commercial growth.
The trouble is, extending sewer into the area is estimated to cost $4 million – a hefty price tag for landowners to cover up front.
City officials and property owners worked out what’s known as a utility latecomer agreement to foot the bill. A group of nearly 20 landowners formed the Eastown Sewer Development Association and collected more than $201,000.
The idea was for the city to obtain a revenue bond to cover the rest, with the city and association paid back over time as Eastown develops.
But the City Council, which has two new members this year, rejected the pact in a 4-3 vote.
Councilman Mark Hamilton, who voted no, said he was concerned the debt service could eventually push the city’s sewer rates – which recently were increased – even higher.
“If they show me they can do it without a rate increase, I’m supportive,” Hamilton said.
Councilman James Rackley, who favored the agreement, said he didn’t see that as an issue. Commercial development would benefit all of Bonney Lake through sales tax revenue, he said.
City officials say the matter isn’t dead. The agreement could be altered or other steps taken, such as temporarily allowing new businesses to use septic.
Eastown landowners say they hope something happens soon.
Mary Miller ran a nursery on her 2 acres in Eastown a few blocks away for more than 20 years. She and her husband saw the land as their retirement plan.
But now, “the only way I can use my property is if I go back into the nursery business,” she said. “I’m 71. I can’t do that, and my husband has passed away.”
Holmquist said the only thing he can do with his property is pay taxes on it. He reached a deal to sell a few years ago, but it fell through because of the sewer situation, he said.
The saga has been unfolding for years. Some landowners say they were led to believe sewers would be coming upon annexation. But there’s been a change in city leadership since, and nothing was put in writing, current officials said.
At one point, the developer of a planned retail project said it would design and help pay for sewer. That, too, fell through.
City staff and landowners have been working on the latecomer agreement for three years.
Mayor Neil Johnson said he’s not sure what will happen now, but he’s hopeful a “game plan” for Eastown will be in place by year’s end.
“We’ll keep working on it,” he said. “We’ll find a solution.”firstname.lastname@example.org 253-552-7058 blog.thenewstribune.com/street