Sammamish leaders discuss visions of the future

February 15, 2014

By Ari Cetron

New: Feb. 15, 10:14 a.m.

The numbers generally showed what many people might already have guessed. People come to Sammamish in their mid-30s, raise their children and then move away. Sammamish leaders wondered if that’s the way the city should operate.

“Is this really a long-term characteristic?” said Planning Commissioner Mahbubul Islam. “Is it a viable characteristic?”

The City Council and Planning Commission held the first of a pair of joint meetings Feb. 4 that are part of a visioning exercise surrounding the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Sammamish is in the early stages of updating the plan, which will guide growth and development through 2035.

The meeting opened with a presentation concerning nationwide demographic trends. On a national scale, the population is getting older, with the percentage of Americans over 65 projected to increase dramatically over the coming decades.

This coincides with a different trend of shrinking household size. Again, on a national scale, the number of households consisting of a single person is expected to rise.

Putting these two factors together, some demographers and urban planners are expecting a decrease in demand for three- and four-bedroom single-family houses, which, of course, are the bread and butter of Sammamish.

Sammamish actually bucks the national trends, having an unusually high number of children and families of four or more people.

One of the larger questions discussed at the meeting was whether or not adults in those families will stay in town after their children leave home. There is anecdotal evidence on both side of the argument, but no hard numbers.

The answer to that question is likely to guide how the city changes. If seniors want to stay in Sammamish, the city needs to find ways to accommodate them.

This could include making way for rental housing, smaller units and residences with a single floor.

If the city is going to be a continuous churn of people coming when they have a young family and leaving when the nest empties, then it should accommodate more of the traditional single-family houses.

In either case, beyond housing, the city will need to be able to provide the sorts of amenities for those demographic groups.

Most council and commission members focused on finding way to keep things as they are, in general.

They stressed that while they need to accommodate growth, they must also strive to maintain the character of existing neighborhoods.

“How can we retain what we have that people like, but also add some things that we’d like to have?” Planning Commissioner Mike Luxenberg asked.

Among the top priorities for city leaders were preserving quality schools, keeping neighborhoods safe, providing gathering places, adding new retail opportunities, encouraging diversity and allowing people to age in place.

Quality schools, said many city leaders, was a large factor in their moving to Sammamish, and in the decision of many other families to come to the city.

Planning Commissioner Ryan Kohlmann agreed that schools are important, but noted that the city has no control over what goes on in them.

He wondered what sorts of things the city can do to help.

City Councilman Tom Odell answered, pointing to partnerships the city has made with schools. The city has helped pay to upgrade athletic facilities, such as adding artificial turf to fields.

That way, the schools can use their money on other things.

Councilwoman Kathleen Huckabay also noted that the city can help maintain safe walkways for children to get to school.

With the initial meeting done, a team of consultants will try and aggregate the comments so that at the next joint meeting, the groups will be able to hash out a more cohesive vision for what the city should look like in 20 years.

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