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Originally published September 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 9, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Southeast Opinion

A little "donut hole" creating a big problem for Maple Valley

Maple Valley marks its 10th anniversary this week. The desire for self-determination of how the Maple Valley area would develop, and frustration...

Special to The Times

MapleValley marks its 10th anniversary this week. The desire for self-determination of how the Maple Valley area would develop, and frustration and disagreement with the vision that King County held for this area, were some of the major drivers behind incorporation.

Ironically, 10 years after this "declaration of independence" from King County, the single most important issue, Maple Valley's development, is controlled by the county. The issue at hand is the potential development of what is known locally as the "donut hole."

The donut hole is a 160-acre rural unincorporated island in the geographic heart of Maple Valley. It is unique in Washington as the only unincorporated rural island entirely surrounded by a single city. The donut hole's significance is that the land use and zoning of this large area is controlled by another government and can be modified in ways that the city surrounding it does not approve.

To put that size in perspective, think of Seattle's Pioneer Square, which is 142 acres. Would Seattle, or any other area, want another government controlling what does or does not happen in an area bigger than Pioneer Square?

King County owns the donut hole and so far has not been willing to commit to it being annexed by Maple Valley prior to any further development of the land. This was fine as long as there was no likelihood that it would be developed. Currently, it is leased as a nine-hole golf course and King County's Department of Transportation uses it for maintenance and gravel. The county's presence in the donut hole for the past decade has been that of a good neighbor, and that is appreciated.

Unfortunately, Maple Valley was surprised about a year ago to hear from a county contractor about plans to sell or swap the land to a residential developer that was looking to put as many as 2,000 housing units in the donut hole. This is at more than double the density of the surrounding neighborhoods and could result in a 30 percent increase in Maple Valley's current population of 20,020.

As the land is outside the urban-growth boundary and designated rural with a mineral extraction overlay, it is legally allowed to have a maximum of one home per 20 acres, or eight homes in total. The Growth Management Act does not allow Maple Valley to plan for growth in the donut hole because it is outside the growth boundary.

To force a city that has already met its 20-year growth targets in only 10 years to take on a 30 percent increase in population, all of which is unplanned and without adequate infrastructure, is at the very least a clear violation of the spirit of the GMA.

At stake is the principle of local self-determination and any notion of planning for smart growth. That is why the 37 cities united as the King County Suburban Cities Association have asked King County to have the donut hole annexed into Maple Valley prior to any development applications for this land. Local government should be allowed to plan and approve of the growth that they will be servicing in the future.

Many of the goals of which the city's founders dreamed have been met in the last decade, making Maple Valley one of the most dynamic cities in King County. Maple Valley today has excellent school, parks and has achieved the lowest crime rates in South King County.

More than half of the city's expenditures have consistently been used to make up the considerable infrastructure deficit that existed upon incorporation. These funds have also been used to keep up with Maple Valley's rapid growth as young families are drawn here because of both the nice community and some of the most affordable housing in the county.

These hard-won improvements in the quality of life and infrastructure to support it are now at risk because of the scale of future development in the donut hole. In the interests of all in Southeast King County, we ask the county to listen to the 37 suburban cities and the thousands of residents who have contacted King County officials — and to commit to having this land be annexed into the city of Maple Valley prior to development, and have any future development there be negotiated and agreed, not forced upon the surrounding community.

Anthony Hemstad is Maple Valley's city manager.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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