Mansion for sale

  • By Mina Williams Special to the Enterprise
  • Wednesday, May 27, 2009 12:27pm

Woodway residents will be deciding the fate of a 1930-era Tudor mansion along with 14-acres of grounds and prime Puget Sound views.

The Town of Woodway’s Council voted unanimously on May 18 to put a $6.1 million bond measure on the Aug. 18 ballot to enable the town to purchase the building and the property comprising Rosary Heights.

The amount of the bond was raised by Council members from an initially proposed $5.9 million, intended to cover only the initial purchase price. Boosting the bond was done to cover ancillary costs, rather than tapping into the town’s reserve fund. The property is assessed by Snohomish County at $8.7 million.

Despite reports, Rosary Heights’ wiring and plumbing is up to date and the building is in good shape. “The building is not dilapidated and one appraiser reported it to be in ‘remarkably good shape’,” said Eric A. Faison, town administrator. The building needs to be brought up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act, making the first floor accessible. That would take about $50,000, according to Faison.

The mansion, former home of Philip Johnson when he was President of Boeing, has been occupied by an order of Dominican nuns since 1956. The sisters have operated a convent and motherhouse for their order in addition to having a reflection center and the Rosary Heights retreat house. The nun’s order, based in Adrian, Mich., is selling the property citing their reduced numbers and the cost of Rosary Heights’ upkeep. Only a few of the sisters remain in residence at Woodway. July 1 will end programs at Rosary Heights.

The Dominicans initially approached the Town of Woodway over one year ago, according to Councilmember Bill Anderson, with their possibility of selling the property for $7.2 million. The town negotiated a selling price of $5.9 million to include all furnishings and fixtures.

“We have an obligation to send this to the public for a vote,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Mitchell. “It would be irresponsible of the Council to not put this on the ballot after raising the issue at community meetings.”

A series of public meetings introduced the possible purchase of Rosary Heights. Straw votes, taken at these meetings, proved overwhelmingly favorable to explore the purchase, according to Anderson. “It’s one thing to verbally support the purchase in a meeting,” said Anderson. “It’s quite different to go into the private voting booth and do it. I would be uncomfortable if the measure passed by 51 or 53 percent. The good news is that, in this instance, it takes a 60 percent vote to pass. To me that’s a voter mandate.”

Residents favorable to the town purchasing Rosary Heights vision the site as preserved for a park, Town Hall offices, meeting rooms and a center for education and conservation. Fearing that the prime real estate would be subdivided and developed, with the mansion itself in danger of being razed, Woodway resident Kerri Bumgardner is spearheading the drive supporting the town’s purchase.

Those opposed to the town purchasing the Rosary Heights property question whether Woodway can shoulder the burden of a 70 year-old facility and expansive grounds. “I want to avoid that burden for the town,” explained resident Elaine Jorgensen at last week’s council meeting. “The neighbors are hopping mad. If the town needs a new town hall, hire a good architect and look at town property that would not cost $5 million. The town does not need a park and the town should not be in the rental business.”

With Woodway residents shouldering the lion’s share of city revenue through property taxes, passing bond measures have been rocky. Woodway citizens voted down annexation to the Sno-Isle Library System twice because taxes would lift. “Just because the Council votes to put something on the ballot, does not mean it will pass the voters,” said Councilmember Kent Saltonstall.

At the same meeting the Council also unanimously approved putting a levy lid lift up to voters. That measure would effectively guarantee the same dollar tax rate for property taxes, despite any flux in property values. Raising the levy lid is necessary, council members said, to cover town operations and Emergency Media Services provided by Edmonds. “If this is not on the ballot, we will face a big financial decline” said Saltonstall. “It’s the way Washington works to put things like this on the ballot.”

Should this and the Rosary Heights bond measures pass, Woodway residents would effectively see a doubling of the town-side of their taxes. Faison pointed out that Woodway has the lowest levy rate in Snohomish County at 7.17, falling below Mukilteo, Index and Brier.

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