Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Whitman commissioners reaffirm desire to work with mall developer

I attended yesterday's Whitman County Commissioners meeting in Colfax. Here is David Johnson's take on the meeting. My comments are in red. Hopefully, I don't screw this up. I'm no Tom Forbes, that's for sure.

From today's Lewiston Morning Tribune:

Whitman commissioners reaffirm desire to work with mall developer
Some testifying at hearing don't believe it's a good idea

By David Johnson
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
COLFAX - While fielding words of caution from a number of taxpayers, the Whitman County commissioners Tuesday reaffirmed their intentions to work with a shopping center developer on an infrastructure proposal and encourage further development in the Moscow-Pullman corridor.
"It's not a done deal. We're not married to it. We're not married to the Hawkins group," said Commissioner Greg Partch. "I think we are married to growth in the corridor."

Hawkins Companies of Boise wants to build a 700,000-square-foot shopping center on the eastern edge of the eight-mile corridor adjacent to the Moscow city limits. Obtaining water for the development has been a stumbling block.
Moscow refused to provide sewer and water services. And when Hawkins secured water rights to develop its own wells, Mayor Nancy Chaney appealed.
Chaney said Tuesday night the city and Hawkins will next week enter into mediation over her appeal of the water rights transfer. [KQQQ was reporting this morning that the arbitration meeting between Moscow and Hawkins is non-binding.]

In the meantime, after being stymied for two years and not knowing the ultimate outcome of the appeals, Jeff De Voe, a spokesman for Hawkins, said the company asked Whitman County to issue $10.5 million in bonds to pay for infrastructure, including sewer and water services. Commissioner Jerry Finch, who's berated Chaney and Moscow officials for attempting to stop economic growth outside their jurisdiction, has warned that Hawkins may "walk" if the county doesn't help.

Partch and Commission Chairman Michael Largent seemed to agree. "I think we have a room full of people who are reasonable, and they may come down on different sides of this," Largent said at the beginning of an afternoon public comment meeting on the proposed bond issue.
Caroline Kiesz of Thorton didn't waste any time voicing her objection. "First of all, even discussing floating a bond for a private for-profit business venture, in my estimation, takes a great deal of gall." She said the county should encourage manufacturing businesses in the corridor over retail outlets. [Ms. Kiesz also felt the need to liken retail and consumerism with tuberculosis. PARD needs to recruit this woman, pronto. ]

Duane Brelsford Jr., of Corporate Pointe Developers in Pullman, said he shared Hawkins' vision for development in the corridor, but not necessarily its pursuit of taxpayer dollars. "I think we're setting a very dangerous precedent by providing these resources to support their infrastructure," Brelsford said, adding that his company and others would expect the same treatment. "We'll, of course, assume that we'll be treated the same and get our infrastructure covered." [Ummm Duane, I think it's already been covered. Pullman's sewage treatment plant and water system are already in place.]

Finch, who has worked with Hawkins for more than two years on the shopping center proposal, continued to champion both the company and corridor development. "I think if we put together the shopping center and do the class job that they (Hawkins) do," he said, "it will set the tenor for the whole corridor. I think that it will be done in an orderly fashion that citizens will be proud of and it will create job opportunities."

Several in the audience agreed, but said the timing was wrong for taxpayers to encumber more debt, especially for retail development. "It sounds to me like this business venture will just provide another place for locals to buy more foreign-made products," Kiesz said. "If you don't understand what that means, it means our hard-earned cash leaving the county and leaving the country." [ I guess continuing to shop out of county somehow keeps our hard-earned cash local?]

Largent said the commissioners favor diversified development, but Hawkins is the only developer that has so far sought to locate in the corridor. Cheryl Morgan characterized the proposed company-county infrastructure partnership as a "plan of schemes, and not a plan of sustainability" because so many questions remain unanswered. Largent acknowledged that many questions remain, but added the county is working to get the answers and make a decision by the end of the month.

If Hawkins fails to secure water rights or obtain water from Moscow, said the commissioners, they will not issue bonds for infrastructure. That's one of the conditions, Largent said. [Another condition is Lowe's signing a commitment to the shopping center]
De Voe said Hawkins "just wants to build a shopping center" and is willing to work with governmental entities on both sides of the border to get the job completed. Once the shopping center is finished, said De Voe, Hawkins would donate water rights to the county. [Jeff De Voe made a special point to state that public infrastucture has always been a part of the plan. It would be nice if Hawkins Co. would pick up the entire legal tab for Whitman county to secure water rights, but I don't think we should act surprised when they ask us to share in some of the cost.]

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