Part 1: July 31, 2019
SUNNYSIDE — Larry Helberg, a long-time area resident acknowledges his towing businesses is one of the area companies called upon by first responders to accident scenes for vehicle hauling and clean up duties.
Throughout the past 47 years, he has seen a lot, “too much,” he noted during a recent interview.
But throughout Helberg’s lengthy work and community volunteer experiences, the proprietor recalled without hesitation, that he’s never witnessed a government process of any type, take the length of four years.
But he knows now it can, because he just went through the drawn-out ordeal.
On July 28, the Sunnyside City Council, after multiple discussions weighing numerous versions of code compliance scenarios, approved the annexation of his property from county jurisdiction to the city’s oversight, without conditions. The debate is over, but paperwork remains.
Over the past three decades, Helberg has operated several small businesses in Sunnyside and within the region, served in multiple community volunteer capacities.
He is a past Granger Planning Commission Director and member of it’s Fire Department and past President of the Granger Lion’s Club, and currently an officer with the Sunnyside American Legion.
Helberg states he is utterly familiar with the governmental complexities, processes, red tape, ambiguities, stops and starts associated with capital projects, professional courtesies and protocols. But the four-year stretch to complete his Haley property annexation is an involvement he never wants to repeat.
The newly annexed 4.31-acre property at 1210 Midvale Rd. houses his Helberg Towing Company operation.
The operation today, includes approved plans and permitting which he learned after the fact, was premature.
The building when complete, will house storage, shelter and an office for his two on-site staff, a holding and auto storage yard and fencing.
The annexation procession began in 2015, with original owner, Jay Haley, an Outlook resident. The process proceeded through hearings and boundary review processes and ultimately received approval by the Washington State Boundary Review Board for Yakima County allowing the annexation to proceed in April 2018.
During the hearings and reviews, according to public records, Haley passed away in September of 2016, a year and some months after the process was underway.
Helberg subsequently purchased the property. Once the ownership changes were complete within the annexation documents, the process should have continued to completion by a final review and approval by the Sunnyside City Council.
But the final review and approval did not happen as expected, due to a series of undefined actions, including a change in city leadership. But other actions did occur.
Part 2: August 7, 2019
Some of those actions included, according to Helberg, “some 60 visits I made to the planning and city offices.”
On Jan. 23, 2019, the city’s planning department issued Helberg building permits to construct a pole building. That permit expired July 22, 2019.
Helberg began to improve the business yard and exterior aesthetic to meet city codes along with beginning work on the pole building.
Even with the city building permit in hand, the work was stopped by Yakima County Public Services Department, who still retained jurisdiction, as of May 6, 2019.
Following the stoppages, Helberg states he reached out to the city planning department and was told by former city planner and development director, Jaymie Ayala, “I’ll get that fixed for you.”
Helberg said no further word was received and no movement took place on the annexation, “for months.”
He was in no man’s land without authority to continue to work on the pole building. Helberg said he became “very upset,” and attended the July 8, Sunnyside Council meeting after an unsuccessful attempt to meet with Ayala in his planning department office.
Helberg said once he checked in at the city office, he was told “The planning director is no longer with us,” and instead met with the City Engineer Shane Hunter.
Helberg praised Hunter for his exceptional customer service, but realized he is in a straight up learning curve role.
During this same period when Helberg was trying to get traction from the city on its plans to reintroduce and complete the annexation process, Helberg said he received another unexpected surprise.
On June 20, 2019, D.K. Bain Real Estate made an offer on the property for $215,000 under the name of an unnamed assignee.
Helberg said it took him “Just a minute,” to learn the assignee was the Port itself.
Second and third informal offers followed in the amounts of $220,000 and $237,000.
Helberg stated he declined both subsequent offers to purchase.
After Helberg declined all the purchase offers, he and Port Commissioner Jay Hester both attended the July 8 Sunnyside City Council meeting.
According to public record, Hester shared with the council that the port considered the Helberg property to be in poor condition and noted it did not fit the area’s development standards.
The Port has authority and oversight for some of the new commercial property development adjacent to Helberg’s Midvale Road property, but not Helberg’s.
Also, during the July 8 meeting, the council debated the annexation without conclusion and the matter was tabled and returned to the July 22 meeting.
The annexation was approved with no conditions on July 22.
Helberg’s property will remain under Yakima County’s jurisdiction until Sunnyside Mayor Julia Hart signs off on the final document.
According to Hart, “when the document comes to me in the proper format, I will sign it.”
She anticipates the document will be ready at the next regular council meeting.
Helberg says he only wanted goodwill and progress, no hard feelings between himself and the various government organizations all throughout the four-year life of the annexation process.
“I’m not trying to be a problem for the city or the port,” Helberg said.
He stands firm as he continues to value his working relationship with the city.
Helberg also noted, he provided the Port a counteroffer some thousands higher than the $230,000, and he is open to accepting their offer, if comes back to him in full.