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Petition seeks citizen control over location of downtown Renton library

Stuart Avery - Tracey Compton/Renton Reporter
Stuart Avery
— image credit: Tracey Compton/Renton Reporter

Following unrest among residents over Renton City Council's decision to move the downtown library, concerned residents have started a petition for an initiative to stop the process.

The petition is being spearheaded by Renton resident Stuart Avery and is designed to allow Renton voters control over where a new downtown library will be located. It is not an attempt to prevent library improvements, Avery said, only to dictate that any location of a downtown library other than the existing location must be approved by voters.

This summer City Council members voted to construct two new Renton libraries. The Highlands branch is being moved to a new location and the downtown library over the Cedar River will be moved and redesigned at the former Big 5 Sporting Goods site on South Third Street.

Avery understands the need for a new Highlands library, based on the small size of the current branch and the area's growth issues.

What he is uncomfortable with is the way City Council has handled the move of the downtown library over the Cedar River.

"I am against the city spending enormous amounts of tax dollars which it must borrow for the relocation of our downtown library, especially when faced with so many other much greater needs in our community," Avery said. "It is the epitome of fiscal irresponsibility considering it is so widely unsupported by the public."

The city, along with the Chamber of Commerce, has wrongfully allowed residents to believe that the current downtown library is unsound, Avery said. He feels that Proposition 1, which was put on the February 2010 ballot to annex Renton libraries into the King County Library System, made people think that that was their only option for saving Renton libraries.

In an interview, Avery produced documents from structural engineering firm, Swenson Say Fagét, to Peter Renner, the city's facilities director, that state that the building does not have to conform to present code unless it is substantially altered or subjected to a higher capacity.

This statement is true, said Renner, but, "That's with a lot of qualifications."

Renner explains that even if the building were to keep its present use, it would require upgrades in the future that would potentially trigger seismic upgrades.

"In a practical matter, KCLS would not leave the library in the way that it is now," he said.

He said the building is under-served electrically now and as soon as those types of upgrades occur, code compliance issues come into play.

Renner couldn't specify what other upgrades those would be because of other deciding factors,  such as quantity and costs, and what other upgrades might be incurred.

"We aren't required to go in and fix it because of a deficiency at the present time," he said.

The matter, he said, has caused confusion among people, but he feels that whether the downtown library stays or changes locations, the present site will require upgrades in the future.

Avery cites the engineer's statement and issues such as less parking, less amenities and more occurrence of crime at the former Big 5 site as reasons for why the move should not take place.

"A lot of things just don't make sense," he said. "The city has been telling us, well the library can't hold the load of books. That it's seismically not sound and that's just not true."

Avery has a core group of about eight to 10 volunteers who have been out canvassing the neighborhood for signatures.

He has no idea how many signatures they have collected so far, as the petitions are being returned by mail, by hand and some may not be returned for weeks.

"What I can say is we have many (signatures), and the effort is snowballing as more and more connections are made," Avery said. "Everyday I receive  emails from individuals that want to get one or two petition sheets to circulate, or join in a more active role."

They are hoping to gather more than 7,000 signatures by a mid-December deadline.

The group is required to obtain signatures equal to 15 percent of Renton registered voters who voted in the previous general election, according to Avery. The county auditor will determine whether that standard is met by reviewing the signatures.

Then, the City Council can adopt the ordinance without any changes or can let the voters decide in an election, perhaps as early as February.

City Attorney Larry Warren was asked how the initiative could affect a City Council action.

"I have not been asked for an opinion by the city and don't think it would be proper for me to give you an opinion before giving one to the city," he said.

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