City wants Klahanie Park decision to hinge on growth

March 2, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Local residents try to have their say in keeping Klahanie Park open, and which local jurisdiction they would like to see be its steward as King County officials plan to close the park. — By Greg Farrar

Issaquah city officials called last week for decisions about adding Klahanie Park to the municipal parks system to be made alongside long-term growth agreements.

A City Council committee followed a recommendation from city administration to weigh decisions about the park in conjunction with potential Klahanie annexations in mind. Officials also encouraged King County officials to forge a maintenance agreement with a volunteer group or government agencies to keep the park open.

Although Klahanie and nearby neighborhoods border Issaquah and Sammamish, the area is included only in long-term growth plans for Issaquah.

Issaquah and Sammamish city council members will discuss the issue and others at a March 9 joint meeting.

Leaders heard from city and county parks officials, as well as Klahanie residents, Feb. 25 during the Council Services & Safety Committee.

County Parks Director Kevin Brown reiterated — as he has during earlier meetings about the park — the desire to close the park as soon as possible to save money for cash-strapped King County.

“Our timeframe for finding a solution is critical and short,” he said. “We do not have funding in our 2010 budget for this park, and to the extent that it stays open today, it takes away from other parks and levels of service have diminished.”

The county requested offers from sports groups and volunteer organizations after then-County Executive Kurt Triplett announced a plan in August to close Klahanie Park and 38 others. But the park attracted no interest aside from Sammamish and the Klahanie Association, the neighborhood homeowners group. The proposal by Sammamish to take over the park riled Klahanie residents, who then asked Issaquah officials to consider the park.

Officials removed several parks from the closure list when nearby cities annexed the facilities and surrounding communities.

Brown said annexations by Burien, Kent and Kirkland will result in transfers of 16 parks by June 2011. The county also has agreements to transfer four other facilities.

Besides a potential transfer for another park, potential annexations in White Center and Renton could occur in 2011. Brown said the annexations, combined with agreements with other cities, could result in the transfer of eight more facilities.

The county intends to consider all offers for Klahanie Park, Brown said. But the process could be complicated because the process to transfer county land to a private group, like a homeowners association, requires officials to go through a process to sell the land at fair market value or shed the land as surplus. A new owner or operator must also address issues related to liability insurance and scheduling teams for use of the sports fields.

“We haven’t been specific in terms of what the proposal needs to look like,” Brown said. “We’ve been open to different types of proposals — whether they had the resources to take it on or if they contract it with us.”

Stretched system

Issaquah lacks the money and employees to maintain the park, officials said at the meeting.

City Parks & Recreation Director Anne McGill said the municipal park maintenance division remains understaffed due to a vacancy and a layoff. Officials stopped hiring for noncritical vacancies early last year, and then laid off 10 workers in September. Cuts and freezes also eliminated and reduced the amount the department can spend on supplies.

McGill noted how the parks system expanded in the meantime, as the city opened Harvey Manning Park at Talus; Squak Valley Park South; and artificial turf fields at Central Park in the Issaquah Highlands.

Besides the employee and supply expenses, parks staffers estimate the cost to maintain Klahanie Park to city standards at $125,000 per year. King County spent $92,983 last year to maintain the park.

Moreover, McGill said a decision by Issaquah officials to take on Klahanie Park would require the City Council to authorize her to fill the vacant positions and restore spending for parks maintenance to pre-cuts levels.

“After careful and deliberate review of the current situation, the administration recommends that any decision regarding Klahanie Park should be made in conjunction with a decision on annexation,” she said.

Councilman Tola Marts, a former Klahanie resident and a Services & Safety Committee member, supported the decision to keep the park entwined with the Klahanie Potential Annexation Area. The land encompasses about 1,200 acres, several subdivisions and about 11,000 residents.

The meeting attracted about a dozen Klahanie residents, several of whom had urged Issaquah officials at past meetings to consider the park.

Councilman Fred Butler, another Services & Safety Committee member, said the meeting provided information to Klahanie residents who could become Issaquah residents if the city attempted to annex the neighborhood.

“While we’re not prepared to move forward on that right now, we do have a responsibility to you — in my opinion — to provide forums like this, where you can come and be heard and listen to the discussion,” he said.

Marts said the estimated strain on city finances prevented the city from taking on the park outright.

“We obviously are in a tough economic climate, and I don’t think we can take on any expenses, so the only way that Issaquah could look to do this is if there was some sort of mechanism” to join with other organizations to help maintain the park, he said.

McGill recalled how the Issaquah Soccer Club assumed soccer fields from Lake Sammamish State Park about 30 years ago, when the state faced budget trouble. The soccer club leases the fields from the park, and handles field maintenance. The park takes care of other maintenance, like trash hauling. Rich Benson, the state park manager at the Lake Sammamish facility, described the relationship between the club and the park as positive.

McGill cited the agreement as a good example of a public-private partnership, and suggested a similar agreement as a way for King County to keep the park open.

“There are all kinds of different, creative ways you can enter into with different volunteer organizations in exchange for their use of the park — of certain parts of the park,” she said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

Get involved
Issaquah and Sammamish city councils joint meeting
March 9
6:30 p.m.
Council Chambers, Sammamish
City Hall
801 228th Ave. S.E.

Klahanie group rebuts letter from Sammamish

Klahanie residents opposed to a proposed Sammamish takeover of Klahanie Park responded last week to Sammamish City Manager Ben Yazici — days after he sought to dispel rumors about plans for the park.

Yazici sent a letter to the Klahanie homeowners association Feb. 12. He told residents Sammamish sought only to keep the park open.

“It’s been unsettling to see letters to the editor accusing Sammamish of trying to pull off a ‘land grab,’ and frustrating to see the level of misinformation that has persisted around this issue in recent weeks,” he wrote.

Members of Concerned Citizens of Klahanie — a neighborhood group opposed to the proposed park transfer — rebutted the letter in a Feb. 23 response sent to Yazici and other officials, including Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger. Members asked Yazici for specifics about plans for King County-run Klahanie Park, if Sammamish takes the property.

“The city of Sammamish has alluded to vigorous public debate if any park development occurs,” members wrote. “What the city of Sammamish fails to clarify is how we in the community are able to have a vote in that process. We are not city residents and therefore have no customary political representation. We would make the same argument for the city of Issaquah. Anything less is unacceptable.”

The group also raised the issue of annexation. Although Klahanie sits between Issaquah and Sammamish in unincorporated King County, only Issaquah can annex the area until the cities work together to update long-term growth plans.

“For those who wish to annex to Sammamish the question to ask is: Why didn’t the city of Sammamish offer to take the entire Klahanie PAA (or just Klahanie) as well?” members wrote. “That would certainly be one way to alleviate political representation and Klahanie property issues.”

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