King County
A King County map shows three unincorporated areas (in white) Seattle is considering for annexation: North Highline and White Center (Area Y), the Duwamish Triangle (Area Q), and the Sliver by the River.

Seattle to revisit North Highline annexation discussion in late 2013/early 2014

With North Highline and White Center residents clearly rejecting the City of Burien’s annexation proposal in 2012, Seattle’s City Council met with city staff on Feb. 19 for an update on whether they will pursue the unincorporated area of King County in the future.

The short answer? Maybe, but no decision will be made until late 2013 or early 2014.

Meg Moorehead with Council Central Staff reminded the council that they have declined pursuing annexation of North Highline in the past, also known as “Area Y,” because a City of Seattle analysis found the costs of taking the area on exceeded revenue they could pull from it “by several million a year.” Seattle stepped aside and let Burien take a crack at annexation.

Moorehead did not discuss whether anything has changed in the analysis, but told the council they should decide on whether to pursue North Highline by the early part of 2014 so they could perform outreach with Area Y residents and put Seattle annexation on their ballot before Jan. 1, 2015, the deadline for a Washington State-guaranteed incentive to any city that takes on North Highline of a $5 million a year tax credit over 10 years.

King County, as part of the state’s growth management plan, has made it clear they wish to annex urban unincorporated areas to neighboring cities as quickly as possible, as the county’s unincorporated services are geared towards rural areas, not urban zones.

Moorehead said Seattle has always planned on giving North Highline residents the chance to vote on their own fate in terms of annexation to the metropolis, and that intent has not changed.

Sixty five percent of North Highline voters rejected annexation to Burien in November of 2012, based on a number of concerns including worries over new taxes and new regulations to the more historically-grounded reasoning that North Highline and White Center have been “independent” since the early 20th century when people started moving into the area. Those in favor of annexation to Burien said becoming part of Burien would ensure better services – services King County has said will likely erode over time if North Highline does not accept annexation.

“That rejection (of Burien) doesn’t necessarily mean that folks want to come to Seattle,” Moorehead warned.

SliverQ – The Sliver by the River and the Duwamish Triangle
Moorehead said while the city will hold off on serious discussions over North Highline, they hope to move forward in 2013 with an attempt to annex the Sliver by the River and Duwamish Triangle (Area Q), two mostly-industrial urban unincorporated areas on the western shore of the Duwamish River.

She told the council the two areas, to the northeast of North Highline, are being pursued jointly to make the proposal revenue-positive, hence the nickname SliverQ (for Sliver by the River and Area Q). According to Moorehead, pursuing the Sliver alone would not make financial sense due to the maintenance costs of the South Park Bridge, currently under construction.

Tukwila recently attempted to annex the Duwamish Triangle after over 60 percent of business owners in the area signed a petition saying they would rather go to Tukwila than Seattle. Tukwila set their plans in motion, in turn putting Seattle’s plans on hold until Feb. 14 when King County’s Boundary Review Board denied Tukwila’s annexation bid.

Moorehead said Tukwila has one month to appeal the Review Boards decision. If they don’t, Seattle will move forward in working out an interlocal agreement with King County and fire districts to take on the areas. If they do appeal, Moorehead said the process will likely work its way through the courts for several months, which would put Seattle annexation efforts on hold until 2014.

There are three ways for an area to become annexed, according to Moorehead: (1) By vote of the people in the potential annex area, (2) by petition of 60 percent of property owners in an unincorporated area, or (3) by way of an interlocal agreement between the annexing city and King County.

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