Sammamish assures wary Klahanie – ‘we have no plan to change the park.’

The Klahanie Homeowners Association (KHA) is in the process of organizing a meeting with the cities of Issaquah and Sammamish, and King County officials, to discuss options for the maintenance and operation of Klahanie Park.

The Klahanie Homeowners Association (KHA) is in the process of organizing a meeting with the cities of Issaquah and Sammamish, and King County officials, to discuss options for the maintenance and operation of Klahanie Park.

Dealing with a large budget deficit last year, King County Interim Executive Kurt Triplett proposed closing the park, only to see the funding restored in the final budget. But the county’s intentions were made clear to city officials — either Issaquah or Sammamish is going to have to take ownership of the park, or it will close.

This announcement reinvigorated a discussion which has flared up from time to time over the last decade — what is Klahanie’s relationship with the two cities that surround it?

At various times in recent history the Klahanie neighborhood, comprised of 3,091 homes, has resisted incorporation into both Sammamish and Issaquah. The neighborhood is currently in the City of Issaquah’s Potential Annexation Area (PAA), however such an annexation appears unlikely in the foreseeable future.

The murky annexation picture is complicating the question of what to do about Klahanie Park. The county can’t afford to maintain it, and neither, apparently, can the City of Issaquah. But the City of Sammamish can.

Late last year the City of Sammamish expressed an interest in taking over the responsibility and cost of maintaining and scheduling the park, in part to ease the building pressure on the Plateau for park space. This idea was met with strong resistance from some Klahanie residents, fearful that the City of Sammamish was intent on putting up lights and installing artificial turf on the fields.

Sammamish is currently in the process of considering putting in an artificial turf field, with lights, at Beaver Lake Park, to satisfy a demand for more sports fields able to be used year-round. There, too, the idea is being met with resistance by a group of residents, eager to see Beaver Lake Park kept free of major development.

A Klahanie group called Save Klahanie Park formed in opposition to the Sammamish proposal. An entry on their Facebook page claimed “Sammamish ‘improvements’ would include synthetic turf, 25-30 additional parking spaces, an access road from Beaver Lake Rd and field lights in use till 9 p.m., 7 days, year-round. In addition, because young children and dogs are not allowed on the turf, the fields would be fenced and padlocked…”

More than 100 homeowners attended a KHA Board meeting on Jan. 26, to discuss the Klahanie Park situation. According to KHA notes from the meeting, roughly a quarter of the audience took the opportunity to express their concerns about a Sammamish transfer.

“The Board listened closely to what was said and came away from that meeting with a clear understanding that an outspoken portion of the Association’s membership wants the Association to take effective action to prevent the City of Sammamish from acquiring the Park and making changes that would dramatically increase impacts those neighboring the Park would have to endure,” the KHA Web site states.

To address what he described as misinformation circulating in the community, Sammamish City Manager Ben Yazici wrote a letter to Klahanie homeowners on Feb. 12 assuring them “the city does not have a plan in place to change the park,” and “if and when significant capital improvements are made to the park, a robust public process will ensure that all Klahanie residents have the opportunity to weigh in.”

Yazici told The Reporter in January it would cost the city somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000 a year to maintain the park, a figure which would include significant rehabilitation of the turf fields over the next two to three years.

However what still needs to be figured out is whether Sammamish can essentially annex one section of Klahanie without a broader impact on future annexation plans for either Issaquah or Sammamish.

City of Issaquah councilmember Tola Marts, who as a member of the council’s Services and Safety Committee (SSC) will this week examine the city’s options in Klahanie, said that a key consideration was whether or not “owning” and “operating” the park were one and the same thing.

“Inviting Sammamish to operate the park may be completely different from anything to do with changing the PAA,” he said. “At the moment, we just don’t have enough information.”

Hence the importance of a meeting with King County.

Marts said it was important to him to find a solution that was revenue neutral for the city.

“We have had to make some tough budget choices,” he said. “This year it came down to extending the 200 bus service, or hiring an additional corrections officer, which was needed because, at times, the station was understaffed. I can’t go back to the citizens of Issaquah and say ‘we have to give up a corrections officer so Klahanie can have a park.’”

But, he said, if a revenue neutral solution could be found, “I would love to help Klahanie keep the park. I would hate to see it shuttered.”

Issaquah Parks Director Anne McGill suggested the SSC make a recommendation during their meeting on Feb. 25, and return the issue to the Council in March.

Councilmember, and SSC chair, Eileen Barber, said the issue would likely need a longer discussion.

“At this moment, the county’s in the driver’s seat,” she said. “The city doesn’t really have many choices.”

At the moment, the City of Sammamish appears to be offering the only solution, despite the opposition of residents fearful that Sammamish has bigger plans for the park. The park’s location, in the northern part of Klahanie, bordering Sammamish, offers a more natural geographical alignment with Sammamish than Issaquah.

Another option which has been floated is that the KHA would pay for maintenance of the park. In recent weeks, the KHA hired a consultant to gather reliable cost estimates for owning and operating the Park. However whether King County would allow private ownership of a public facility is an idea that needs to be explored.

A spokesperson for the KHA told The Reporter Wednesday that King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert and City of Sammamish Deputy Manager Pete Butkus would attend a meeting with the association on March 4. As of Wednesday afternoon, Issaquah had not confirmed if it would send a representative.