Mars Hill Church, ELST appeal thoughts

  • Sammamish Comment has been silent since Feb. 8 because of travels. We’re back in town now for a while and are back with coverage of Sammamish.

Mars Hill Church

The former Mars Hill Church on 228th Ave. in Sammamish. Photo via Google.

The former Mars Hills Church on 228th appears to be on the verge of becoming the proverbial white elephant.

Purchased in a hasty manner for nearly $7m when the church organization collapsed, with the expectation that colleges were interested in opening a campus here, this dream went up in smoke due to circumstances beyond the City’s control.

At the March 1 meeting, Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama moved to lease the building for five years while the Administration sought to find a long-term solution. Members Christie Malchow and Tom Hornish supported the motion. Members Tom Odell, Kathy Huckabay and Bob Keller opposed it as premature and suggesting too long a period. Mayor Don Gerend, who would be the swing vote, instead moved to put the issue over to the March 15 Council meeting. This passed unanimously.

Here is some background information.

The acquisition of the church was hastily done. The City moved quickly because of other interest in the property, and officials didn’t want to lose the property. But the wishful thinking of a college locating a campus there was under a letter of intent of letter of interest, and not a stronger arrangement that would have been more of a done deal than wishful thinking. The long-running budget crisis in Olympia, with a reduction in tuitions, altered the business case for at least one of the colleges expressing interest. This is out of control of Sammamish and the college.
It currently costs the City about $50,000 a year to maintain the building in more-or-less of a mothball state. Sammamish leases the parking lot to Microsoft for a park-and-ride for its employees. This results in a net loss to taxpayers of about $30,000 a year. Valderrama cites a cost of about $266,000 a year, but it’s not clear how this figure is arrived at.
The entire acquisition process seemed inadequate. However, that’s then and this is now. So what do we do with this facility, which is about 38,000 sf–somewhat larger than the City Hall.
There has been some suggestion that this building be turned into a performing arts center. This use alone is almost certainly a financial disaster.
Member Keller made a persuasive case in opposing Valderrama’s motion that a better public process is needed to decide what to do with the building, rather than rushing into a five-year lease. Assuming the net $30,000 cost is correct, taking due deliberation to decide the future of the Church is the prudent course.
East Lake Sammamish Trail appeal
The City decided to appeal the City Hearing Examiner’s decision on King County’s appeal of the conditions imposed on a permit staff issued for construction of the south end of the ELST.
There are two issues: the Examiner’s decision denying a condition requiring the County to engage in storm water drainage mitigation which he said predates the proposed project and which the County cannot be required to correct. The City Council voted to appeal this on a 6-0 vote. Member Hornish, former president of Sammamish Home Owners (SHO), which is also appealing the Hearing Examiner’s decision, recused himself.
The second issue involves the placement of a stop sign for vehicular traffic crossing the trail rather than the City’s desire to install a stop sign controlling the trail traffic. The County appealed this condition, and the Examiner sided with the County. The Examiner concluded, quite naturally, that in a collision between a car and a pedestrian or bicyclist, the car always wings. He also noted that bicyclists historically ignore stop signs anyway. The Council voted 5-1, with Member Kathy Huckabay dissenting and Hornish again recusing himself, to appeal the Examiner’s decision.
Taking the second issue first: Really? We’re going to spend taxpayer dollars appealing the placement of a stop sign in what is a common sense decision by the Examiner? The argument is that the City has to be present anyway because of the SHO appeal, so let’s appeal this stop sign decision. This is silly.
The Hearing Examiner was exactly right. Even though the City will be there anyway, there will be tax dollars expended for the staff and City Attorney to prepare for an argue the case to reverse the Examiner. The City ought to reverse itself on this one. Member Huckabay, the lone dissenter in the decision to appeal, was right.
As to the drainage issue, on the law the Examiner is right. As one who appealed four projects prior to incorporation of Sammamish (winning three, negotiating a pre-hearing settlement on one), it’s been clear that developers can’t be required to fix conditions not of their making. True enough, there have been cases where the governing jurisdiction and the applicant came to an accommodation–but a requirement to do so has historically been an over-reach.

The Council did not discuss the decision to appeal in open session; the discussion took place in Executive Session. Absent an understanding of the rationale, this decision is perplexing.

These appeals seem ill-advised and a waste of taxpayer dollars.




2 thoughts on “Mars Hill Church, ELST appeal thoughts

  1. The $266,000 number for maintaining Mars Hill fully operational comes directly from the City Manager to the Issaquah Reporter and cited in Public Session. As the building is not moth balled nor fully functional the cost is in between

  2. Glad to have you back! Thanks for the analysis on the appeals. Should be interesting to see what comes of the church property.

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