Woodway eyes $6 million Rosary Heights estate for town hall

WOODWAY — If people here vote to purchase the grand Rosary Heights estate from an order of Dominican nuns later this year, the 15-acre property with sweeping views of Puget Sound will almost certainly not be sliced, diced or subdivided.

Majestic and historic, the estate could become a new Town Hall, a new community center and a new expansive park.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Rosary Heights’ $6.2 million price tag doesn’t spread very thin across a community of only 1,100 people.

The purchase would cost the average homeowner $650 a year and increase the city’s property tax rate 56 percent. The average home in Woodway is worth $1.3 million.

Woodway’s Town Council is scheduled to decide tonight whether or not to ask voters for the money to buy Rosary Heights. The council is likely to send the issue to voters, observers said. The meeting is 7 p.m. in Town Hall, 23920 113th Place W.

Together with another ballot initiative to support town operations, the city’s property tax rate could jump from $1.07 to $2.17 per thousand dollars of assessed value.

In a town of handsome properties, the Rosary Heights property stands out.

For 53 years, sisters of a Dominican order of nuns have lived on the property. They have been generous with the space. While it isn’t technically a public gathering space, multiple public meetings have been held there.

Even the town’s 50th anniversary celebrations were there.

That has translated into public support. At a series of eight neighborhood meetings about Rosary Heights, roughly 75 percent of people supported a possible purchase, town administrator Eric Faison said.

“We’ll see how that translates to the ballot box,” Faison said. “But this is a very special piece of property.”

In addition to the 15-acre site on the bluff, the property also has an eight-acre tide flat, he said.

Preserving perhaps the most spectacular property in a town full of them is worthwhile, others said.

Buying Rosary Heights will require a lot of upkeep, though, said Robert Schillberg, who was involved in town government for 15 years, until resigning earlier this month for personal reasons.

“It’s just a gorgeous building. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen,” he said. “My big concern is that people know what they are getting into. It’s not going to be a short-term gain for them. In the long-term, I think it could be.”

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