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Lost alleys, found: After decades of overgrowth, Snoqualmie survey is reclaiming access pathways
Bordered by fences on both sides, the strip fronting River Street is a patchwork of tall grass, concrete blocks, stacked firewood and leaf litter. Roots of big maples furrow the ground. A child’s fort overlooks the scene.
On the city’s official maps, this place is supposed to be an alley. But the connector between River and Newton Streets went back to nature years ago.
Not for much longer. The city of Snoqualmie is in the midst of a complete survey of downtown alleys, with the aim of transforming how people move around this historic neighborhood.
“We’re starting to get a real good grasp on the city’s infrastructure in the older parts of town,” says Dan Marcinko, the city’s director of public works and parks. “We really need to clean it up, so that we can have access.”
The survey says
In historic Snoqualmie, alleys date back a century.
Over the years, the back alleys were ignored, then lost as property was exchanged, lived in and built on.
“Homeowners took them over,” with garages and sheds, chicken coops, fences and playsets, trees planted decades ago, Marcinko said.
“It sort of fell by the wayside,” Marcinko said.
The problem with the lost alleys, though, is that the city’s sanitary sewer runs under them. Marcinko said the city wants to ensure access by sewer trucks, fire trucks and garbage vehicles.
In August, the city council approved $19,000 for the second phase of an alley survey by Perteet, Inc.
The city paid Perteet last year to survey property ownership within the Fir Street alley between Cedar Street and Fir Street, and within the three “Greek Street” alleys between Falls Avenue and Schusman Avenue.
The next phase includes the alley behind Cedar Street between Cedar Place and Fir Street, and the alley east of Silva Avenue between River and Newton streets.
The survey will set the property corners, search for roadway monuments, lines of occupation such as fences, shrubs, curblines, and determine the center lines of Southeast Cedar Street, Cedar Place, Southeast River Street, Silva Avenue and Southeast 384th Street. A record of the survey will be filed with the county within 90 days of setting the property corners.
The Perteet survey gives the city a definite answer on “what’s ours, and what’s homeowners’,” Marcinko said.
Visiting the River-Newton alley, Marcinko points out how much of the overgrowth will have to go—fences and possibly trees, too—if this space is to become a 16-foot-wide alley served by garbage, fire and sewer-pumping trucks.
The city has already made some surprising discoveries about the alleys and pipes in the oldest part of town.
One alley runs under the Snoqualmie school administration building. The sanitary main runs under the high school, and also under some property owners’ fences.
One road that the city believed was its alley turned out to be partly someone’s driveway.
“This is all private, and we’ve been maintaining it,” Marcinko said.
When the survey is finished, the city’s downtown map will be more complete.
“We have manholes that are buried,” Marcinko said. “We don’t know where they’re at. We need to start clearing the main out.”
When a homeowner needs to make room for an alley, “We send them a letter,” Marcinko said. “We say, please remove everything from the public property, and we send them a copy of the survey.”
The city doesn’t require homeowners to get a permit for a fence less than six feet tall. That’s being re-examined, Marcinko says.
Citizens who call the city’s planning department can get advice on infrastructure near their property at no cost.
When the city reclaims lost alleys, homeowners relocate fences and sheds. Then contractors do the dirt work, removing dirt, organic material and trees to create a roadbed. The surface is paved in small, loose rocks.
Gary Carroll, a six-year Snoqualmie resident, is among those who weren’t happy with the new alley between Gamma and Delta streets.
The alley behind his rental home is now a straight shot from Falls Avenue to the Mount Si High School parking lot.
“We have people coming through that we’ve never seen before,” Carroll said. “We’re picking up garbage all the time. Why did they do this?”
Resident Gennese Page said that the trees cut down to make way for the alley weren’t in a perfect line. She didn’t see why some couldn’t have been left standing.
“They could have made a perfectly wide alley and left trees for privacy, wildlife, oxygen.”
“We were well content,” Carroll added. Now, “We’re actually looking to move.”
Marcinko acknowledges complaints over the change—some residents never wanted the alleys—but “The next thing you know, you put it in: ‘When’s mine coming?” he says.
In some cases, “they’re not happy, but they understand,” he added. “We have to be consistent.”
At the same alley that Carroll laments, Marcinko describes the project as a success, describing the many discarded items that were cleaned out.
“It’s really turned out well,” he said. “It looks beautiful.”
Marcinko said the city is willing to work with residents to look at the traffic issue and consider solutions, such as one-way access.
As for the reason, Marcinko stresses the need for access by utility vehicles.
It was “absolute dumb luck,” he says, that when the city sewer backed up a few weeks ago on one of the Greek streets, the alley had been restored.
“If we didn’t have access to the manhole and weren’t able to get our vacuum over there,” sewage might have gone into someone’s home. That saves the city liability and everyone a big mess.
But after sewers, the alleys help create a better residential look to downtown, driving garbage and other trucks off the main street.
“This is where your garbage belongs, your deliveries,” Marcinko says. “The front turns out prettier. It allows for on-street parking.”
As the downtown is redeveloped, “This is going to become more of an issue,” Marcinko said. “We don’t want driveways to go out onto the public road. We want them to go to the back alley.”
Marcinko points out roadsides along the end of Delta where residents’ bushes are growing onto city property. That’s going to change soon.
“People just haven’t been paying attention, which is unfortunate,” he says.
Marcinko points out a business on Beta Street, where a new owner called ahead and learned that his new fence needed to be placed a few feet back. That call saved a lot of trouble; otherwise, the city might make a property owner move it at the owner’s expense.
“All it takes is a phone call,” Marcinko said. “We’re not here to harm, we’re here to help and work with the community. But by the same token, we have to be firm with what’s ours, with the public right of way.”
• Call the Public Works Department at (425) 888-2311.