A right-of-way stake marking the center line of the expanded East Lake Sammamish Trail is hammered just to the edge of a homeowner’s property, located within segment B of the trail. Another stake can be made out in the background, next to a tree in the homeowner’s backyard (Joe Livarchik/staff photo).

Sammamish Homeowners continue battle with King County over property rights

Questions persist on who actually owns land on which county will build ELST expansion

Residents from along the East Lake Sammamish Trail flooded Sammamish City Council chambers on Jan. 10 to once again voice their concerns with King County’s proposed expansion of the trail.

During over two hours of public comment at the council’s special meeting, more than 20 residents spoke. Many voiced issues with the county’s 60 percent design plan for segment B of the trail, which runs from Southeast 33rd Street to Inglewood Hill Road, and urged the council to rescind a shoreline substantial development permit, which the county would need to begin its development.

“There are a lot of people who are asking for the same thing I asked for last week when I spoke before you, and that is, ‘We need help from the city,’” resident Charles Meyer stated. “We cannot get anywhere with the county by ourselves. We cannot get anywhere with the county as a collective group. They have thumbed their noses at us and just flat ignored us, so we need your help. That is what all these people are asking for and we really hope we can count on you.”

King County released its 60 percent design plans for segment B of the trail on Dec. 27. Community members attended the Jan. 10 meeting in hopes to have their concerns heard by the council before a Jan. 27 deadline for providing comments on the pending applications for shoreline substantial development permits.

Concerns raised by community members included that the design plans showed homeowner properties bisected due to King County claiming the right of way for the expanded trail.

During the public comment period, Councilmember Kathy Huckabay interjected to suggest the city hold a joint meeting or a special meeting to create a better dialogue with residents on the matter.

City Manager Lyman Howard said the city would look into that option and would invite representatives from King County to participate.

Councilmember Ramiro Valderrama said he believed city staff needed to follow up with trail residents and their concerns sooner rather than later.

“It would be beneficial and behoove us that King County Parks be sitting here and listen to every one of these comments,” Valderrama said, drawing some applause from those in attendance. “And I think we gotta get that on the agenda immediately so they can come in here and respond back to these issues.”

Both Councilmembers Huckabay and Tom Odell expressed surprise in response to some of the comments that residents gave.

“This whole issue of the right of way is just stunning to me. This is the first time that I’ve heard about this,” Huckabay said. “I don’t even know how to process how anybody can come to that conclusion.”

“If I woke up one morning or came home some evening and found a stake in my yard, I would be furious,” Odell said. “I’m not sure I would have the ability to prevent myself from ripping it out, to be honest with you, consequences be damned.”

‘There’s a sense that the county doesn’t seem to care.’

On a walk along segment 2B of the East Lake Sammamish Trail, Sammamish Homeowners Association board members Reid Brockway and Tracy Neighbors point out the various ways property owners will be impacted by the trail’s expansion.

“The simple solution is to simply pave what we see here,” Brockway notes while walking the gravel path.

On some sections of segment 2B, the county has claimed the right of way with 100-foot-wide easements staked out, with stakes hammered into the backyards of homes. Some properties, and homes, are bisected by the right of way.

The trail follows a former Burlington Northern rail line. The right of way for the railroad was sold to the Cascade Land Conservancy and then to King County.

The Sammamish Homeowners argue that the county is infringing on private land.

“I think the single most profound [issue] in my view is the fact that the county has been claiming since day one that this is now public land and they are required, by code, to issue permits and extract fees for private use of public land,” Brockway said. “The central question is, ‘Is it public land?’ We believe that the federal court of claims did a very thorough job of establishing that it was not, that the railroad merely had an easement for rail purposes and now the county merely has an easement to keep a trail on the rail bed so that it could be reused for rail service in the future, as unlikely as that may be.”

The trail’s master plan has always called for the trail to be paved and widened to 12 feet. Neighbors argued that exceeding that width restricts access to homes for both residents and emergency crews.

“If you look at the Burke-Gilman Trail or the Iron Horse Trail or any of the other trails that are around here, none of them are built to that standard,” Neighbors said. “So why are you doing it here?”

Both Neighbors and Brockway said that they believe the county is unwilling to work with homeowners along the trail.

“I think there’s a sense that the county doesn’t seem to care,” Neighbors said. “They have an agenda and they don’t really seem to care about the impact of the residents of the lake.”

“They’re determined that they’re not gonna let the citizens rule the day, that they will dominate and they’ve got all the taxpayer resources to fight us in court,” Brockway said. “They have never been willing to negotiate seriously about this, so the courts are our only option.”

Kevin Brown, King County director of Parks and Recreation, disputed the notion that the county was unwilling to work with trail property owners. He noted King County currently has staff at Sammamish City Hall specifically to provide technical, detailed answers to trail questions. For the residents who would see their properties bisected, Brown said the residents would need to file a special use permit with the county.

“We have countless examples of where we’ve worked with adjacent property owners to address their concerns,” Brown said. “We can’t always promise that [their] request is going to be honored, but we try to work with them as closely as possible to mitigate the impacts of the construction and the development.”

Neither Brockway nor Neighbors believe a resolution is out of reach, but Neighbors said it would require more of a working partnership between the residents and the county.

“If the county came in and wanted to be reasonable and wanted to take into consideration the concerns of the homeowners, this thing could probably get done pretty quickly,” Neighbors said. “But the fact that they’re trying to ‘railroad’ people is what drives people crazy. I think that’s the big issue. Treat the people fairly and this can get done. It’s a community asset, nobody’s contesting that. Just do it the right way.”

A right-of-way stake marking the center line of the expanded East Lake Sammamish Trail is hammered just outside the gate of a homeowner’s lakeside property. To the far right, another stake can be seen inside the gated property (Joe Livarchik/staff photo).

Tracy Neighbors, vice president of the Sammamish Homeowners Association, points out areas that will need to be cleared for the East Lake Sammamish Trail expansion. To the right, stakes marking the center line of the trail are set along the grass median (Joe Livarchik/staff photo).

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