Sammamish backs away from Klahanie Park, for now

The Sammamish City Council has rejected a King County plan for the maintenance and operation of Klahanie Park. But their unanimous vote at last week's council meeting not to support the county's Memorandum of Understanding which says Sammamish should take over responsibility for Klahanie Park, does not mean the end of their possible involvement in the future of the facility.

Instead it represents the eagerness of the councilors to ensure some security for any financial investment in the park, should the neighborhood of Klahanie annex into the City of Issaquah, or become its own city.

The broader question of the future annexation of Klahanie again weighed on councilors minds as they considered the wisdom of committing about $80,000 a year to a park which they did not own, in a neighborhood that has demonstrated a great resistance to their involvement.

Last year King County announced it would soon not be able pay for the maintenance of the park and that unless Issaquah or Sammamish took over responsibility for it, the park would close. Issaquah stated it could not afford to maintain the park either, but Sammamish expressed interest in it as a way of accommodating the growing demand for park space on the Plateau.

Klahanie, which in the past has rejected annexation bids from both the City of Sammamish and the City of Issaquah, is currently in Issaquah's Potential Annexation Area (PAA), a designation which can only change through through the agreement of both cities, and King County.

A number of Issaquah councilors have stated that annexing Klahanie is not in their short or medium term plans.

Several Sammamish councilors repeated their belief that if Issaquah wants Sammamish to take over operation of the park, it would need to make some definitive statement of its annexation plans.

"Why are we cutting their grass for free?" said councilmember John Curley, in his inimitable style. Curley's concern that $80,000 a year was a lot of money during these tight economic times for the city was shared by his peers.

Councilmember Mark Cross said that, while he was open to the idea of Sammamish helping Klahanie keep the park open, the Klahanie Homeowners Association (KHA), which has been the source of strong opposition to Sammamish's offer, should be contributing also.

"It makes sense for klahanie, even if they were to start moving toward cityhood themselves, to start taking up the responsibility for maintenance of this park," he said.

Deputy Mayor Nancy Whitten reiterated Cross' comments from an earlier meeting that Sammamish should not be offering to assist a community that appears to not want its support. The Klahanie opposition centers around the fear that, should they take charge of the park, Sammamish would develop the grass fields and make substantial changes.

"We've gotten a lot of e-mails from people in Klahanie, and they really don't want Sammamish involved in their park," Whitten said. "I think we've got to respect their wishes. We, in good faith, tried to take on the park, because rather than see it close we thought it would be a community service. But they made it very clear, and gave us petition signed by 500 people, that they don't want us involved, so i feel we should just let it go. I don't want to spend $80,000 a year to maintain something, when we don't have an investment in it, or ownership of it."

Curley made the point that he had heard from Klahanie residents who were eager for Sammamish's involvement.

Mayor Don Gerend went against the grain a little with his comment that Sammamish had made a commitment, at least informally, to Klahanie and King County.

"When the county first came to us, we said yes, we would step up, if the county basically deeded the park over to us," he said.

Gerend supported Tom Odell's idea that a new Memorandum of Understanding include a clause whereby Sammamish would be reimbursed for its expenditure on the park should Klahanie end up annexing to Issaquah or becoming its own city.

"I feel we should go back to King County and say we are ready to step forward under different conditions than what you have presented, rather than just simply saying, well we're going to punt," he said. "I think that's disingenous to how we started discussions with King County."

The Issaquah Soccer Club, which maintains a number of fields near Lake Sammamish State Park under an agreement with the City of Issaquah, has expressed an interest in being involved in a solution in Klahanie. Soccer club officials are scheduled to meet with the King County Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Brown next week to discuss options for their involvement.

At the moment that relationship is a work in progress. The City of Sammamish appears content to sit back for the time being and see what pans out.

"I don't think this is an appropriate Memorandum of Understanding, but I do want to keep and open palm and an open hand with the Klahanie residents to work towards a solution," Cross said.

"I think we should let them wrestle with the problem for a while, and see if another solution comes forward. We can always step back in," said councilmember Michele Petitti.

The KHA did not respond to The Reporter's request for comment.

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