Sammamish in Review: A look back at 2013
December 31, 2013
By Ari Cetron
New: Dec. 31, 12:31 p.m.
Sammamish is a quiet town, and most residents like it that way, but some stories from 2013 still reverberate. Possibly the biggest story of the year, and the one which put Sammamish on a national stage, was the incredible run of the Eastlake Little League baseball team.
Eastlake Little League
shines on national stage
Only one team from Washington – the 1982 Kirkland all-stars – has ever won the Little League World Series, but the youngsters from Eastlake nearly matched the accomplishment over the summer.
Eastlake lost its first game at the state tournament in July, but rallied to win eight consecutive elimination games. That qualified the program for the Northwest Regional tourney for the first time.
The team was far from done. It walloped Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, 13-1 in the regional title game, becoming the 10th team from Washington to advance to the World Series in Pennsylvania.
Eastlake’s run made it the darling of Washington; residents across the Evergreen State tuned in to watch the middle-school students battle their way through the competition in Pennsylvania.
Eastlake nearly reached the U.S. championship game, but settled for third in the country after a heartbreaking, 14-13 loss to Westport, Conn.
Ace is no longer the place
Topping the city’s business news, Ace Hardware closed in August. The store closed after owner Tom Koch was unable to sign a lease with Regency Centers, the property owner. Koch had been looking to find someone else to take over the store, and Regency was unwilling to give him a new lease without a new owner shored up.
As the clock wound down, Koch then tried to find a location to build a new store, but was unable to find one that worked for his business and conformed to the city’s zoning and environmental regulations.
Some individuals pressured the City Council to rewrite large parts of the environmental codes to allow the store to relocate. The council, however, noted it was a bad precedent, and there would be no guarantee, after the store was built, that it would remain a hardware store.
The location Ace called home is now a Trader Joe’s.
City stays with EFR
After more than a year of brinksmanship and high-stakes negotiations, Sammamish decided not to form its own fire department. The city has been a member of Eastside Fire & Rescue since its founding in 1999. The consortium merges the fire service of Sammamish, Issaquah, North Bend and King County Fire Districts 10 and 38.
Sammamish has long complained about the way EFR is funded. With funding based entirely on assessed property values, Sammamish notes that its expensive homes and low call volumes lead to the city subsidizing fire service for the other partners.
Sammamish officials sought to change that funding model to be based 75 percent on value and 25 percent on calls for service. The city was rebuffed in its efforts and hired a consultant to study if it was viable to create its own fire department.
The study indicated Sammamish could, and after some one-time start up costs, it could be cheaper than staying with EFR. The city seemed poised to leave.
But an 11th-hour change of heart from the other partners kept the group together. Sammamish got an 85-15 funding split, and a handful of clarifications to the agreement that underpins the agency.
While the lawyers still need to review the fine print, it seems the agency will survive, at least for another seven years – the length of the new agreement.
An ongoing dispute between the city of Issaquah and the water district that covers most of Sammamish flared up into high-tech trickery. Issaquah has been planning to take over the portion of the Sammamish Plateau Water & Sewer District that sits inside that city, causing some bad blood between the entities.
That was compounded when Issaquah decided to start using a filtration system near the Issaquah highlands, which is also about 600 feet away from one of the water district’s pumps.
The district said the system is unsafe and could cause contaminants to enter the water being pumped. Issaquah countered by claiming the system is safe, and will be monitored by the state Department of Ecology to ensure it remains safe.
Both sides presented arguments from dueling engineers to prove their points, and accused the other side of deliberate misinformation.
This came to a head when an Issaquah city staff member purchased Internet sites similar to those used by the water district, and then had those route users to the city’s site – a practice known as cybersquatting.
Issaquah quickly shut down the fake sites after the practice came to light.
Issaquah and the water district are still in talks about the possible takeover.
Sammamish is looking at a similar takeover itself. In September, the Sammamish City Council authorized the city to begin talks about a “friendly takeover” with both of the water districts that serve Sammamish.
Community Center progresses
Construction on the Community Center is on track to start later this year, but decisions made in 2013 have paved the way.
City voters approved a $30 million community center ($5 million to be paid by the YMCA) with a laundry list of amenities in a 2012 advisory vote. However, as the design team started work on the project, it became apparent that something would have to give – either the budget or the planned amenities.
At a City Council meeting in September, project designers estimated the cost for the center promised in the 2012 vote would be closer to $34 million. In November, that number was refined and the center is now expected to cost $34.5 million.
Council members John Curley and Ramiro Valderrama each opposed the center with the higher budget. Both focused on the dollar amounts promised, rather than on the amenities promised.
The rest of the council, however, went the other way. They noted the city has a healthy account balance and projects a budget surplus at the end of next year, so it can cover the overrun without a tax increase. The council approved the center with its new budget in November. If all goes as planned, it could open in the fall of 2015.
Tent City comes to town
A group of visitors no one expected caused quite a stir in October. Tent City IV, a traveling group of homeless people, set up camp behind Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church.
The group has been staying on church grounds around the Eastside for years, but it had never before come to Sammamish.
The city believed the relative dearth of public transportation options, and lack of spacious locations, meant Tent City would skip the plateau. But when plans to locate in a different city fell through, Mary, Queen of Peace stepped in to offer a hand.
The group moved to Sammamish with a 60-day permit, which the City Council later extended to 90 days. Some in the community welcomed Tent City openly and have been delivering food and other needed goods to help residents.
Others have been opposed to the group, fearing an increase in crime. To date, there have been a few reported incidents involving Tent City residents. The group is set to move to a new location toward the end of this month.
Fresh faces in government
John and John – not the ones from They Might Be Giants – announced they would be leaving the Sammamish City Council. Councilmen John Curley and John James each announced they would retire from the council after each serving a single term.
Even two open seats, however, did not draw many people interested in serving on the City Council. Former Planning Commission Chairman Robert Keller ran to fill one of the seats, and was unopposed.
The other seat was contested. Former City Councilwoman Kathleen Huckabay ran to return to council after retiring four years ago. She was challenged by political newcomer Larry Wright. Huckabay won about two-thirds of the vote and will be returning to the council. Councilmen Don Gerend and Tom Odell both stood for re-election this year, and neither drew an opponent.
On the Lake Washington School Board, Sammamish resident Doug Eglington retired after more than 20 years of service. Mark Stuart, of Redmond, was the only person who ran to fill the seat.
Things got a little more interesting on the Issaquah School Board. Board member Chad Magendanz resigned his seat to serve in the Legislature.
A field of applicants to fill the seat for the remainder of the term was winnowed down to two finalists – Alison Meryweather and Lisa Callan. The school board vote to choose a replacement was split at first, before siding with Meryweather.
But Callan took her case directly to the boss – school district voters – and won the post in the November election.
New parks popular
Two new parks facilities were both wildly popular after they opened this year. Sammamish Landing Park provides the only public beach access to Lake Sammamish within the city limits. It opened this year and was far more popular than even the most optimistic estimates.
Its popularity came with a downside; there is little convenient parking nearby. Many park-goers had been parking on a nearby street in Redmond, but that city repaved the road with a bike lane, removing all parking spots. In December, the Sammamish City Council voted to allow staff to begin the design process for a parking lot across the street from the park.
Even if the lot opens, however, it will only serve to replace the spots lost to Redmond’s project, and officials are not sure how to provide more parking at the site. The city also will start designing an access ramp mandated by federal law. A proposed bathroom, however, was put on hold after the council balked at its price tag.
The city also enjoyed the first year for its community garden. The garden that had been planned for Beaver Lake Park fell through after permitting became problematic. A new location in the lower Sammamish Commons, however, proved to be the right spot.
Dozens of gardeners applied for the roughly 45 spots in raised planter beds. Residents grew a cornucopia of foods and flowers in their planters, and in September, the city held a harvest festival to celebrate the first year of its operation.
Critical areas remain
In a series of meetings which likely bored most residents, the city reviewed its Environmentally Critical Areas Ordinance. The ordinance governs how development takes place, or in some cases doesn’t take place, in a host of areas, such as steep slopes, wildlife corridors and near streams and wetlands.
The discussions largely centered around the need to protect the environment being balanced with an individual’s right to develop their property. In the end, neither of those sides can really claim a clean “victory,” said most council members, as they approved the new set of regulations in July. Most said they found some parts they agreed with, and other parts they didn’t much like.
With the process complete, the city will now move on to an even larger task, reviewing its Comprehensive Plan. The Planning Commission has already begun its review of the document, which underlies most land-use regulations in the city, along with a host of other programs and rules. That document will be under review during 2014, and isn’t expected to be finished until 2015.