Hard questions raised about history of Twisp’s undeveloped industrial park
By Ann McCreary
Twenty-three years ago the Town of Twisp and Lloyd Development Corp. joined in a public/private partnership with the goal of developing an industrial park at the former Wagner Mill site on the east side of town.
Although more than $1 million in site preparation work was eventually completed on the property through loans obtained from the state by Twisp, the proposed 110-acre commercial development — and the investments, jobs and revenue it was projected to generate — never happened.
Twisp town officials and a small group of residents are conducting separate investigations into where the project stands after all these years.
“What’s happened on that property has transpired over 20 years and many [town] administrations and councils,” said Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody. “There’s a lot of institutional memory that’s been lost. We want to get down to the facts of where things are.”
“What’s happened over 23 years is we’ve never been able to see the whole elephant in the room at the same time,” said Mike Price, who was mayor of Twisp from 2000-2004 and was familiar with the project during that period.
Price has spent an estimated 100 hours in recent weeks researching the project and its history in order to develop a more complete picture. The ultimate goal, he said, is recouping some of the public investment in the project.
“Millions of public dollars were invested in the business park project,” Price said. “As of 2016 … the project has not resulted in a single dollar in private investment or tax revenue, a single job, a single building, or a single tenant. The property, improved at public expense, continues to appreciate.”
Trail project prompts interest
The renewed interest in the moribund business park project grew out of planning for a recreational town trail, and the decision late last year by the Lloyd family and its business — Lloyd Holdco LLC — to retract a promised easement for the trail across Lloyd property on the east side of the Methow River.
Town officials have been planning the recreational trail for several years and obtained a state grant of about $200,000 to acquire property and construct the trail. Town officials hope to break ground on the trail this year.
A portion of the trail was planned to follow the route of the former Wagner Street next to the Methow River that borders the west side of the Lloyd property. The proposed route was included in plans submitted to the state to obtain the grant, and the value of the Lloyd easement donation was going to be part of the town’s required match for the state funding.
Speaking for the family, Twisp Council member Bob Lloyd told the mayor and council late last year that the family, after negotiating with the town on the trail easement for more than two years, had decided to withdraw its commitment to the trail access along the riverfront because of “safety and privacy concerns.”
That decision did not sit well with Dwight Filer, who was just completing a term on the town council in December and has been a longtime proponent of a recreational trail in town.
One of the things that bothered Filer most was the fact that the trail along the river on the Lloyd property would have followed the former Wagner Street, which the town vacated (terminated the public right-of-way) at the request of Lloyd Development in 1995. By that time, developers described the project as a business park, rather than an industrial park as originally planned.
Company officials testified that vacation of the road was “necessary for the viability of the development of the proposed project.” They cited issues with the street location and width, and said they would reconstruct the street at a location further east.
The company also cited public benefits from the project including a projection of up to 175 new jobs, $2 million to $5 million in private investments, increased tax revenues and a strengthened economic base. By law, an ordinance vacating a street must specify a public benefit.
Opposition to vacation
Many citizens opposed the idea of vacating Wagner Street, saying the town would be relinquishing future public access to the shoreline. About 100 citizens signed a petition opposing the vacation, and dozens of people spoke in support of a business park but against the street vacation during a lengthy public hearing before the Town Council in January 1995. The council subsequently approved the vacation of about 1,100 feet of Wagner Street along the river.
“I was in the room the night they vacated it. There was a lot of opposition. Person after person said ‘if you’re going to vacate it, maintain access for a trail,’” Filer said in an interview last week.
“That’s what prompted me to run for council in the ’90s,” said Filer, who served his first term from 1996–1998. “It was a real bad mistake by the previous council. To give them credit, they thought the development was going to happen. That’s why they did it.”
When the Lloyd family withdrew its commitment last year to grant trail access on Lloyd property along the Methow River shoreline, Filer felt the community had been betrayed.
“Twenty-plus years of waiting patiently for the Lloyd family to do what they committed to has yielded nothing,” he said in a recently published letter to the editor. “Their recent pullback of a trail commitment, after three long years of planning and expending precious town resources, poured salt on an old wound.”
Early this year Filer contacted a few other community members, including Price, who were familiar with the history of the Lloyd business park project and the Wagner Street vacation. The group has gathered extensive documents related to the project and the street vacation.
“My goal is to build a body of evidence and facts and the history of this whole affair so that a future council, mayor or citizen can easily access it,” Filer said. The group also created a website, www.OccupyTwisp.org, where they have posted related information.
Before his council term ended last December, Filer consulted with an attorney at the Municipal Services Research Center, which advises towns and cities, to investigate options for regaining shoreline access lost when Wagner Road was vacated.
Lawsuits and limbo
The current initiative led by Filer and Price is not the first challenge to the council’s vacation of Wagner Street. In June 1995 a group of citizens filed a lawsuit in Okanogan County Superior Court challenging the council’s actions and questioning whether the street vacation violated the State Environmental Policy Act and Shoreline Management Act.
The lawsuit stated that the Methow River is designated as a shoreline of statewide significance. As such, the town was required to give preference to uses of the shoreline that “preserve the natural character of the shoreline … (and) increase recreational opportunities for the public.”
The lawsuit also cited Twisp’s Shoreline Master Program that calls for maintaining public access to shorelines and obtaining recreational access easements.
Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Jack Burchard ruled that the council had not acted illegally, and noted that the development will be subject to environmental review and compliance with shoreline management laws when development plans are submitted to the town.
Until a plan is submitted, the issue of public access remains in limbo, Filer said.
“For 20 years I’ve been waiting for the day when the Lloyds come to town with a development plan, because that’s when the town can address the shoreline management plans that were breached in 1995,” he said.
“The other option is condemnation. That’s a heavy lift, but that’s something we’re exploring,” Filer said.
“The ideal outcome would be for the Lloyds to rethink this — go back to the agreement and give the right-of-way for the trail. It would build a lot of good will. If that trail were to be built the property would be worth more and it would be a boon to the development if it goes forward,” Filer said.
Price said he has maintained an interest in business park project “as a big piece of unfinished business from when I was mayor.” When the Lloyds recently withdrew the trial access along the old Wagner Street route, “I realized the two pieces of the narrative were inseparable.”
One issue is public access to the shoreline, the other is the public investment in the property, he said.
“We had about $1 million in 1995 dollars [invested]. In today’s dollars we would have a couple of million. We need some kind of fair, just closure to this,” Price said.
In order to finance the site preparation for the development, the Town of Twisp obtained a loan of $825,550 from the state Public Works Trust Fund, and $500,000 from the Community Economic Revitalization Board.
Because the total amount exceeded the Twisp’s legal debt limit, the town was required to seek voter approval. The town placed a proposition before the voters in November 1993 authorizing $616,000 in debt “for street improvements upon the Wagner Mill Industrial site, to be repaid to the town by the Lloyd Development Company.”
Voters approved the proposition, which authorized the town to increase property taxes to repay the loan if Lloyd Development defaulted.
Wagner Street was included among the proposed street improvements, but in 1994 Lloyd development asked that the street be vacated.
An alternate road was proposed further from the shoreline. The road, since constructed by Lloyd Development, is the south end of the road that connects Twisp and Winthrop along the east side of the Methow River, known locally as the Eastside Road.
During Price’s tenure as mayor, the Public Works Trust Fund loan came due. According to agreements made with Lloyd Development as part of the partnership, the town would make the payment and would be repaid by the company, Price said.
He said he was initially met with resistance when he informed Lloyd Development that payment was due. The company based its resistance on the town’s apparent lack of water rights and resulting constraints on development, Price said. After negotiations with the town, the company initiated payments and has since repaid its share of the debt.
Ing-Moody said the town finished repaying its portion of the loans — $383,772 — in 2013. The annual payments were $24,412.
The loans financed the Eastside Road construction and installation of water and sewer mains along the road through the business park property, said Andrew Denham, Twisp Public Works director.
“It would allow future development to tie into the mains,” he said.
The work was done by Lloyd Development, which was the successful bidder for the job. It was completed in 1998, Denham said.
As part of the partnership with Twisp, Lloyd Development conveyed property within the business park to the town for a municipal well and a 500,000-gallon water reservoir.
The well was used briefly but has unresolved problems and has not been used since 2000, Denham said. The reservoir is used as part of the town’s municipal water system.
Based on infrastructure development plans from Lloyd Development, “pretty much everything that was drawn, with the exception of [improvements to] Wagner Street” has been completed, Denham said.
Back to the drawing board
The project never moved forward, Bob Lloyd said this week, because “water was a big issue and the economy … with no water you can’t attract business or commercial development.”
Twisp’s water issues stemmed from a 1997 Supreme Court decision that found the town had lost historical water rights. At various times over the years the town placed temporary limitations on new wells and water hookups and arranged to lease irrigation water while town officials looked for a solution.
The town’s water deficit has been resolved through a contract signed last year to purchase water from the Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID).
With the water issue gone, the Lloyd family is moving toward reviving plans for the property, Lloyd said. The development is guided by a family business, Lloyd Holdco LLC, which represents four siblings, he said.
“I would say the plans are just getting going again since the city has adequate water rights,” Lloyd said.
Under new zoning adopted by the town in 2009, the property is now zoned for commercial and residential uses, rather than industrial.
“With the new zoning … it would be more commercial than industrial. It also allows for residential,” Lloyd said. Future development plans would likely be a combination of residential and commercial, he said.
“We’re just at the beginning” of planning for future development, Lloyd said. “We don’t have a timeline.”
Ing-Moody said the idea of finally developing the property “is exciting and encouraging. I look forward to having those discussions.”
Working with Twisp Council member Hans Smith, Ing-Moody said she is continuing to gather information about the history and current status of the Lloyd project.
“We are reviewing the facts around the historic agreements made regarding the business park to gain an understanding before entering into any further agreements,” Ing-Moody said. “There have been so many agreements made in the past that we have to understand where the town stands.”
An agreement that had recently been under consideration, in which Lloyd Holdco would provide $18,000 worth of in-kind services such as materials and labor to compensate for the decision to withdraw the promised trail easement, is “no longer on the table,” Ing-Moody said.
“It’s interesting to see that as administrations changed, we’ve had changes in agreements. I did not want this administration to get more muddied in this issue without fully understanding before we move forward,” she said
“We have a few questions still and are seeking legal advice. I’m looking into anything in the town’s best interest. If there is an asset there it’s in the town’s best interest to make sure that everything has proceeded as agreed upon,” Ing-Moody said.
Price said his review of the history of the project indicates there were no performance requirements on the developer and therefore no incentives to complete the project in a timely manner.
Now, with zoning changes that allow residential development of the property, the vacation of Wagner Street gives the property owners “waterfront lots with exclusive riverfront,” Price said.
“If there were no performance requirements [on the developer] in the past … that is part of the potential issues at stake here,” said Ing-Moody. “I’m trying to do clean-up on many decades of serious issues [for Twisp], and this is one of them.”