Property owners along the East Lake Sammamish Trail in the middle section, called 2B, in Sammamish this week implored the City Council to intervene on their behalf in their long-running conflicts with King County over final development of the trail.
Section 2B runs from roughly from the 7-11 on East Lake Sammamish Parkway north to Inglewood Hill Road.
A score of residents asked Sammamish to rescind permits for the section.
Actually, one permit application for designing the trail has been deemed “complete.” However, this permit remains in review.
Another application, for clearing and grading, was deemed by the City as incomplete. The County filed a lawsuit over this determination and is seeking damages, said City Attorney Mike Kenyon.
King County’s over-reach
There are two issues cited by residents: the County claiming ownership, either outright or through what’s called a fee simple. Several owners dispute the claims and some are in court challenging them.
A City ordinance requires the applicant (the County) to prove clear title before a permit can be issued. Residents asked the City to follow its own ordinance and reject permits to the County.
Others complained that the County is marking what it believes to the its right-of-way for the trail, 100 ft wide in some places, that bisects some homes and garages.
Ironically, King County permitted many of these homes before Sammamish incorporated (Sammamish subsequently permitted some others). Some homes date to immediately after World War II. Thus, while the County today is claiming ownership or right-of-way over properties on which it allowed and granted permits for construction.
“It’s the first I’ve heard of it”
“I appreciate people coming for public comment,” said Council Member Kathy Huckabay after the property owners concluded nearly two hours of public comment. “But the appropriate place to look at this is at a study sessions, where we have the county, where we have the community development director present, with an explanation of what the process is, to look at the 60% [design]…
“We owe it to the citizens to really do a better job of understanding as a council what this process is about,” she said. “[We need to get the county here] to explain why they are doing some of the things. This whole issue of the right-of-way is just stunning to me. This is the first time I’ve heard about this. (2 hours :09 in the video of the meeting).”
“I don’t even know how to process how anybody can come to that conclusion,” Huckabay said. “I’m really having trouble understanding how the county can say having right of way is fee simple. I’d like to get better information on that from our attorney.”
Stunned by the claim
Council Member Ramiro Valderrama, sitting next to Huckabay in camera range, was visibly stunned by her statement. Members Christie Malchow and Tom Hornish later told The Comment they were also stunned.
“You gotta be [expletive] kidding me,” Hornish told Sammamish Comment when asked for his response. “I just couldn’t believe [Huckabay] said that. It’s astounding to hear this from council members who have been sitting on the council for the past three years.”
Huckabay’s comments are reminiscent of those she made in 2014, when she said on three occasions that complaints from property owners on the far north end about King County’s development practices “were the first” she’d heard of them. Her statements prompted The Comment to undertake an investigative report that ran 18 pages about the issue: Complacency, willful ignorance, Council infighting mark Sammamish muffing of Lake Trail issues.
Reacting with fury
“If I woke up one morning or came home some evening and found a stake in my yard, I would be furious,” said Council Member Tom Odell. “I’m not sure I would have the ability to prevent myself from ripping it out, to be honest, and the consequences be damned.
“I’m not recommending that,” he added, to some low chuckles.
“We do need to grab this one by the horns,” Odell said. “I would like to see a get-together with the city, with the property owners, with the county council, with the county staff. I am really upset about what I’ve been hearing tonight. I had no idea that houses were being bisected. To me, that’s nuts. I believe this should be a priority for us.”
Odell’s claim about homes being bisected also drew a stunned response from Valderrama and Hornish.
Residents have been appearing before the Council, meeting with Council members and staff and emailing them for years about these issues. Maps showing the rights-of-way claims and how deep they went into some properties were presented at several meetings.
Before he was elected to the Council in November 2015, Hornish appeared before the Council as president of Sammamish Home Owners (SHO) about these very issues.
Valderrama championed the cause of the property owners for years from his position on the Council and to his fellow members, including Odell and Huckabay.
Odell has been on the Council since 2010. Huckabay was on the Council from 1999 through 2012 and was returned in 2014. These issues predate incorporation. They’ve been election issues in many of the Council races.
Many residents also expressed concern that driveways will be taken, excessive property takings and legal ambiguities will make it all but impossible to sell their homes at market value.
A little history
In the Complacency, willful ignorance, Council infighting mark Sammamish muffing of Lake Trail issues report, The Comment noted that Odell, while mayor, met with property owners on the north end. He later aggressively sought to hold the County accountable for its development practices, at one point urging that the County employee overseeing the ELST development be fired or reassigned.
Odell walked the southern portion of the trail to get a first-hand look at design issues and he also met with property owners in the middle section.
This involvement makes his claim about not knowing of the bisected homes is stunning to Hornish.
“Either [Odell and Huckabay] have their heads in the sand, or they just didn’t want to know about it before,” Hornish said.
Valderrama was also taken aback by the claims from Huckabay and Odell.
“I’m stunned, given all the testimony, emails and having gone down to Mint Grove (which is part of Section 2B) themselves to talk to people in the past,” said Valderrama. “They’ve had presentations from city staff about the effects of the trail on the homeowners.
“This is the same issue they’ve been fighting for three years,” Valderrama said of the property owners. “I was down there once with [former Mayor Tom] Vance and Huckabay.”
Malchow concurred with the reactions of Hornish and Valderrama. She also said the three of them just stared at each other in disbelief of what Odell and Huckabay claimed.
The Council didn’t set a firm date to schedule a meeting with all the parties, but undoubtedly will. The topic is certain to come up at the Council’s annual retreat Jan. 19-21 at the Murano Hotel in Tacoma.