Klahanie pushes county to consider park proposal
January 12, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Klahanie residents asked King County officials last week to slow the proposed Klahanie Park transfer to Sammamish until the homeowners association can assemble a proposal to take on the park.
But the cash-strapped county hopes to complete a transfer before money runs out — possibly within the next few months — to keep the 64-acre park open.
The park and Klahanie, bordered by Sammamish and Issaquah, is in unincorporated King County. The former county executive proposed closing Klahanie Park and 38 others in unincorporated areas in August to help the county close a yawning budget gap.
Sammamish then offered to acquire the park and adjacent Issaquah School District land, despite protests from Klahanie residents. Neighborhood residents, however, failed to submit a proposal to take over the park — something residents blamed on poor communication between county officials and the homeowners association.
County Parks Director Kevin Brown said officials want to see a proposal from the Klahanie Association — the homeowners group — and consider the available options before a transfer occurs.
“We’ve got an agreement that we’re working through with the city of Sammamish,” Brown said during a Jan. 9 meeting with Klahanie residents about a potential park transfer. “You said you want to submit a proposal. We’ll look at that proposal.”
But the parks director said he needs to receive a proposal from residents within the next few weeks, because little money exists to keep Klahanie Park open longer.
“There is no funding in place for Klahanie Park this year, so it is a priority to address this issue quickly,” Brown said.
More than 100 neighborhood residents packed the raucous, 90-minute meeting at Challenger Elementary School to discuss options.
County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who represents Klahanie, Issaquah and Sammamish, said officials had questions for Klahanie leaders after the homeowners group indicated interest in a park transfer.
But county officials wanted to know whether Klahanie residents supported a transfer to the homeowners group. Residents, meanwhile, remained divided about the additional costs in association fees a park transfer would bring. Brown said Klahanie Park would cost its new owner at least $50,000 per year to maintain.
‘We want it to be successful’
Without follow-up from Klahanie residents, and a formal vote in the community about the park transfer, county officials proceeded with the Sammamish agreement last fall after city officials submitted a proposal to acquire the park.
Lambert encouraged residents to draft a proposal to acquire the park and submit the offer to County Executive Dow Constantine, in order for county officials to weigh the neighborhood plan alongside the Sammamish offer.
“Take the vote, make a resolution and present it to the executive,” she said. “They have held off, because of this very issue. As [Brown] said, all of these parks were supposed to be closed by Jan. 1, and because we knew that citizens wanted more input, we’ve held it off.”
Brown said officials would evaluate several criteria before a park transfer occurs. King County officials must determine whether Klahanie could afford to maintain the park, and if residents would turn the public park private after a takeover.
“It’s a little bit more difficult than just going out there and mowing the lawn,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of scheduling that takes place, and then, I guess, just as important, this is a park that serves greater than Klahanie.”
Before a park transfer takes place, officials want to make sure the park will be well maintained.
“We don’t want to get this park back in six months, and have all of you calling and saying, ‘The weeds are this high, there’s vandalism everywhere and we’re being robbed,’” Lambert said. “We don’t want that to happen. We want it to be successful. We want it to be seamless, to be easy.”
Annexation questions emerge
Brown noted how well the county and Sammamish worked together on past transfers.
“With the city of Sammamish, we’ve transferred facilities to them in the past,” the parks director said. “They’ve got a good track record in terms of managing those facilities, and so that had a lot to do with earlier decisions to have discussions with them.”
The proposal from Sammamish includes plans to add lights and artificial-turf fields to the park. Some residents at the neighborhood meeting expressed concerns about light pollution and increased traffic as a result of the changes.
The park transfer decision also raised concerns about a Klahanie annexation into Sammamish. Many longtime Klahanie residents oppose such a move.
Wary residents view the Sammamish move to acquire Klahanie Park and school district property as a prelude to annexation. Sammamish and Issaquah officials reopened discussions last month about the Klahanie Potential Annexation Area — about 1,200 acres spread across several subdivisions and home to about 11,000 residents.
Although the area borders Issaquah and Sammamish, the area is included only in long-term growth plans for Issaquah. Unless Issaquah, Sammamish and county officials sign off on a redrawn potential annexation area, only Issaquah can annex Klahanie. However, cities may own land outside a city or a potential annexation area.
Annexation into either city could move forward only with approval from Klahanie voters.
Meanwhile, Issaquah and Sammamish leaders face pressure to annex developments just outside city limits because county leaders want to shed Klahanie and other unincorporated urban areas.
Klahanie residents questioned whether the area would be less attractive to cities for annexation if Sammamish acquired the park. But Lambert said the appetite for annexations is low due to the recession.
“Annexations cost money, and all the governments, pretty much in the state, are having financial problems,” she said. “Nobody is looking to take on more citizens at this point.”
Another stumbling block to a Klahanie annexation exists: needed improvements to Issaquah-Fall City Road. Lambert urged Klahanie residents to push the Puget Sound Regional Council — a transportation-planning group — to add the road to long-term transportation plans.
Lambert also advised neighborhood residents to get to work — fast — in order to gauge community support for a park takeover. The homeowners association will take up the proposal before January ends.
Michelle Kolano helped organize the meeting as a member of Concerned Citizens of Klahanie, a group opposed to the Sammamish proposal. She also serves on the Klahanie Association board, though the board is unaffiliated with Concerned Citizens of Klahanie.
Kolano and other neighborhood leaders said the community would work to draft a proposal, but asked for assurances from county officials to weigh their bid alongside the Sammamish proposal.
“I am more than willing to step forward and make the efforts through the community as a whole, if that’s what they agree to as a community,” Klahanie Association President Thom Beeks said.
Officials said the county planned to consider the Klahanie and Sammamish proposals equally.
“Klahanie has a very large voice,” Brown said. “As part of any park development, there’s a public process. That’s where ideas get shot down, that’s where they get supported. So much of what happens in a community has to do with what the people say.”