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Residents picket to 'save Tollgate'

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NORTH BEND - Last Saturday, a group of North Bend residents gathered at the intersection of North Bend Way and Bendigo Boulevard to get the word out about the upcoming development of the historically and culturally significant Tollgate Farm property.

The group is called Friends of Tollgate Farm and is made up of Tollgate neighbors and community members concerned with preserving the rural character of North Bend. With signs that read "Follow the rules! Save Tollgate!," the group waved at motorists, passed out fliers and chatted with passers-by about their cause.

Group members believe the property, which is slated for development by its owner, Miller Land and Timber, is prone to floods, holds relics and artifacts pertinent to Native American and Valley history and overall, is an important piece of land to preserve and leave as permanent open space.

But Friends of Tollgate Farm members didn't have much time left when they gathered downtown, and that's exactly what called them to action. They went out on the chilly and windy day to remind residents that Feb. 20 was the last day to turn in written testimony about the 1-million-square-foot business park and 34-home subdivision proposed for the property, which was home to Native Americans and later settled by farmers. A tollbooth was also located there, at which travelers paid to cross Snoqualmie Pass.

The North Bend Planning Commission held public hearings at the end of January on the development proposal, and extended the written comment period to ensure that residents had the opportunity to state their opinions and observations. Starting today, the commission will meet to review the comments, as well as the documents and plans submitted by Miller Land and Timber.

After planning commissioners have looked at and discussed the documents, they will submit a recommendation to approve or deny the project to the group that has final say, the City Council.

Friends of Tollgate Farm members were pleased with the public's response to their demonstration. Several motorists driving by honked and waved in support, and some parked their cars to get more information.

"I've been real impressed with citizen response. We've got way more positive response than negative response, and there are people who are now interested in educating themselves on Tollgate," said Erik Rudd, a member of the group.

"We don't want this to be another Issaquah," Rudd said of the other city's growth spurt and subsequent infrastructure problems, such as traffic congestion. "I think this particular battle is going to define North Bend for the next decade. It'll determine if it will be a farming community, a rural community or an industrial center."

Rudd and his wife, Karen, moved to North Bend last July from Redmond to get away from industrial parks like the one proposed for Tollgate.

"You couldn't see the stars there; you heard noises 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even on holidays," Rudd added. "So we came out here to enjoy being close to the mountains, to get away from the industrial stuff and the postage-stamp development that's so popular."

Although the comment period was extended, many group members said they felt the Tollgate property is being developed "right under the noses" of the public. They also worry that if the land is turned into a business or industrial park, more North Bend land will fall prey to the same fate.

Tollgate Farm neighbor and protester Kelly Young said she was frustrated to only have a few weeks to read over the developer's plans and submit a comment. She was also surprised by the number of North Bend residents she recently talked to who knew nothing about the land proposal.

"Everyone that we've been talking to has no idea this is happening to this land," she said.

Saturday's demonstration is just one event the group has used recently to get their message out and educate the community. In the last month, Friends of Tollgate Farm members have collected signatures outside the QFC supermarket, have distributed pamphlets and have gone door-to-door to talk with residents.

"If they build the thing the way they want to, there will be an office park bigger than Bellevue and development on each side of our old North Bend Highway," said Kelly Young's husband, Terry Young. "It's a dumb idea, basically."

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