Mukilteo officials punt Rosehill issue to voters

MUKILTEO — Until now, elected officials in Mukilteo have been unable to decide what to do about the aging Rosehill Community Center.

This week, after more than 15 years of debate, the Mukilteo City Council finally made a decision: Let voters decide.

Sorta.

In February, Mukilteo residents will likely vote whether the former school building in Old Town should be restored or replaced with a new community center on the property at 304 Lincoln Ave.

The vote would be an “advisory” vote, so the council would still need to make the final decision on Rosehill after the election is over, Councilman Marko Liias said.

Council members Jennifer Gregerson, Lori Kaiser, Bruce Richter and Liias voted to put the issue on the ballot because of the emotion and controversy surrounding the long-running debate.

“With the council making a decision, there would have been hurt feelings and a sense of divisiveness,” Liias said.

The City Council made its decision this week at a public hearing attended by more than 30 people. Some audience members asked the council to put Rosehill on the ballot, while others asked council members to decide for themselves.

City Councilman Tony Tinsley called the council’s decision “city leadership at its worst.” It’s the council’s duty to make tough decisions, he said.

“It’s hard to argue against giving the voters a say, and we all support democracy, but there’s more than one way to give the voters a say,” Tinsley said. “Elected officials need to listen to the voters, but at the same time, elected officials need to make a decision.”

The decision to hold an election could drive up the costs of upgrading the community center, Tinsley said. An election could cost the city more than $30,000. Also, delaying the project until after the election could result in construction costs rising by hundreds of thousands of dollars because of inflation, Tinsley said.

“We’re talking $500,000 of increased costs just because we are waiting, and that’s just fiscally irresponsible,” Tinsley said.

The City Council has considered three plans for the Rosehill Community Center.

The first design option, to renovate and preserve the building as it is, would cost the city an estimated $13 million. To renovate the outside and remodel the interior would cost an estimated $15.3 million. To start from scratch and build a new community center would cost an estimated $16.2 million.

In the upcoming election, Mukilteo voters will have to pick from one of two choices — renovate or rebuild.

Before the election, council members must decide what the choice of renovation would entail.

Holding an election will allow the public to become more informed about Rosehill, Councilwoman Kaiser said.

“I think we need to fairly get the information out there, and to educate and dispel historical rumors,” she said.

Mukilteo resident Pat Kessler, a candidate for City Council who has long advocated renovating Rosehill, said the public has had enough time to weigh in on the Rosehill debate.

“I’m just disappointed that the City Council didn’t step up to the plate and do what they were supposed to do,” Kessler said. “We elect them to represent us, and instead of represent us, they’re taking this issue back to the community.”

Reporter Scott Pesznecker: 425-339-3436 or spesznecker@heraldnet.com.

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