Photo courtesy of Yelm-based photographer Guustaaf Damave
Keri Brenner of The Olympian filed this report earlier today:
“The city council on Tuesday unanimously denied an appeal by JZ Knight, leader of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, clearing the way for construction of five residential developments totaling 568 homes within city limits.
Council members said they could not find legal grounds to overturn an Oct. 9 ruling by hearing examiner Stephen Casseaux Jr. that found a “reasonable expectation” that adequate water would be available to serve the new homes in the future.
Knight’s attorney, Keith Moxon of Seattle, disagreed with Casseaux, arguing at Tuesday’s meeting that the city already was pumping more water than it had legal water rights to use.
He said Casseaux was engaging in “speculation” that within four years, six times as much water might become available.
“It’s not a surprise, but we’re still disappointed,” Moxon said after the 7-0 vote to uphold Casseaux’s ruling before a packed room of about 30 people, with more people listening in the hallway. “They’re playing Russian roulette with the city’s future.”
Moxon said he would review the council’s written ruling before a decision is made whether to appeal the case Thurston County Superior Court.
Moxon said the city was ignoring its own comprehensive plan for water, which states that “it is becoming difficult if not impossible to get future water rights.”
“By the time of final approval, developers will be long gone, the lots will be sold to unsuspecting buyers, and there will be no water certificates,” Moxon said.
The five proposed developments Tahoma Terra Phase II, Windshadow I, Windshadow II, Wyndstone and Berry Valley I are in the southwest part of the city within about a mile of Knight’s 80-acre ranch, which was established in 1988…
Seattle attorney Richard Settle, representing the city, argued that state law does not specify that water rights be secured prior to preliminary development approval. The law, Settle said, only requires that the city have a “reasonable plan, with a reasonable expectation,” that water rights will be available later.
“It could be many years before these homes are built,” he said.
Settle also downplayed the value of an Aug. 20 letter from Tammy Hall, a hydrogeologist for the state Department of Ecology, in which she specified that Yelm has water rights for a total of 719.66 acre-feet. Moxon distributed the letter to city officials at the meeting Tuesday as proof that claims by the city that 832 acre-feet were available are in error.
One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land at the depth of one foot…
Councilman Mike McGowan pointed to a condition attached to Casseaux’s approval that none of the homes would be granted final plat approval or building permits without secured water rights.”
1. Interesting that homes could be built in the future without knowing whether water rights will exist at that time.
2. The city attorney on this issue swept aside the Washington State Dept. of Ecology official’s report on the availability of water in Yelm – or lack thereof. Is Thurston County Superior Court the only place the State’s own Dept. of Ecology will be taken seriously?
3. Of course building homes at all is a dicey thing right now with the housing market in steep decline and a credit tightening not seen in years. The City of Yelm’s budget is based on permits and home sales from these developments plus property tax revenue. Will that revenue be available to the city with this kind of market slowing?
The Olympian reported last week that “Mortgage foreclosure notices rose nearly 52 percent in Thurston County last year, returning to levels they reached during the recession earlier in the decade, the county auditor’s records show…
In addition, South Sound home sales have slowed as inventories have risen, making it harder for buyers to escape mortgages by selling their homes…
Luke [Randy Luke, branch manager of Horizon Mortgage] and other South Sound lenders predict this will be another year of high foreclosure activity before victims of the liberal lending practices of the past work out their problems…
‘The next two years could be rough unless a lot of new people move into the market,’ he said [Ron Hanson, president and co-owner of Madrona Mortgage in Olympia].”
The Pierce County Business Examiner is reporting in this week’s edition that:
“Dampening of the housing market elsewhere in the country has not thwarted plans for the Thurston Highlands Master Planned Community, a 1,251-acre mixed-use development headed for Yelm. But the hoped-for building time line of this summer has been delayed…
Dampening of the housing market elsewhere in the country has not thwarted plans for the Thurston Highlands Master Planned Community, a 1,251-acre mixed-use development headed for Yelm. But the hoped-for building time line of this summer has been delayed…
Thurston Highlands LLC now hopes to be near completion of the environmental impact statement process this summer, said spokesman Mike Williams.”