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Originally published Friday, September 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Development deal reached for "Donut Hole" in Maple Valley

King County has reached a tentative deal to sell a 156-acre parcel of county land in Maple Valley to a Kirkland developer for $51 million, King County Executive Ron Sims announced Thursday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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King County has reached a tentative deal to sell a 156-acre parcel of county land in Maple Valley to a Kirkland developer for $51 million, King County Executive Ron Sims announced Thursday.

The deal with YarrowBay Group comes after more than two years of controversial negotiations between the developer and the county for the "Donut Hole" property — so nicknamed because it is an island of unincorporated land in the middle of Maple Valley.

The county started talks with YarrowBay as a no-bid deal, but Sims in January agreed to solicit bids for the land. The only bid came from YarrowBay, which had the advantage of years of planning for the site, where it intends to build more than 1,000 new houses.

The developer's bid initially came in at $35 million, but after Sims balked at the price, the developer agreed to raise its offer to $51 million.

That's substantially less than the $70 million a county appraisal said the land was worth last summer. But it is higher than the $40 million estimate in a YarrowBay appraisal last September. The proposal is still subject to approval by the Metropolitan King County Council.

The county's plans to sell the "Donut Hole" property have proved controversial in part because Maple Valley leaders accused the county of refusing to allow them an adequate say in how the land would be developed.

Last week, a county growth-management advisory board sided with Maple Valley and declined to act on Sims' request to designate the "Donut Hole" for urban development until the county made peace with the city.

Newcastle City Councilmember Jean Garber, who represents suburban cities on the advisory board, said a majority felt Sims' office had failed to adequately cooperate with Maple Valley as required under growth-management policies.

Sims has now set such talks in motion. Members of his staff, along with YarrowBay representatives, met with Maple Valley leaders on Monday, trying to work out a joint-planning agreement.

Christy Todd, Maple Valley's interim city manager, said she is hopeful the city and county will be able to come to terms.

"I think we forced them to the table," she said. "I'm hopeful, but we're looking for an agreement in writing."

One unresolved issue in the land deal is the county's demand that conservation land be included in the transaction. YarrowBay had originally offered to sell the county a 276-acre swath of forest land along the Green River as part of the deal. But once the county solicited other bidders, the developer withdrew that offer.

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In a letter to the County Council announcing the proposed deal Thursday, Sims said YarrowBay had wanted to sell the forest land for $10 million — a price the county deemed far too high.

Sims said the tentative deal with YarrowBay includes a commitment by the developer to find an alternate piece of forest land to preserve — a parcel of at least 75 acres.

The proposal also commits the developer to ensuring that at least 30 percent of the housing in the eventual "Donut Hole" development is considered "work-force housing," affordable to people earning at or below the county's median income.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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