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Debate heats up over Community Center

SNOQUALMIE _ Longtime Valley residents fondly remember the

old community center at the now long gone mill town of Snoqualmie

Falls. The historic old wood structure _ which came down in the early

1970s _ helped to unite the company town, giving its residents a focal point

for meetings and recreational activities.

Some 30 years later the new Snoqualmie Community Center is

expected to fulfill the same purpose, and then some. Planned for

construction on Snoqualmie Ridge, the new building will serve not just as a center

for the community, but will also help unify the residents of "old" and

"new" Snoqualmie.

City Park Superintendent Jeff Mumma said as much in an

October 1998 interview with the Valley Record.

"We're looking at this building as a way to unite Snoqualmie Ridge,

historic Snoqualmie and the Upper Snoqualmie Valley," he

commented. "It's definitely been a long goal

with the city to bring both groups of people together and create one

community, rather than one up there and one down here."

However, the subject of the community center and its proposed

construction schedule now threatens to drive a wedge between "old"

and "new." The city has a plan, an agreement and financial commitments

from Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Corporation (WRECO) to start construction

in 2001 with an estimated completion date in 2004. For some Ridge

residents that's not soon enough and they've started a campaign to get the

project started now.

For the homeowners on the Ridge, it comes down to their perception

of broken promises and declining property values. On the opposite side

of the fence are other Valley residents who have indicated the people on

the Ridge should raise their own money if they want an early start to

the project.

The city staff of Snoqualmie, which has signed agreements

with WRECO, worked community center funding into its budget and has

facilitated the planning and design process and public meetings, is caught in

the middle.

The Controversy

The issue first broke at the Dec. 13 meeting of the Snoqualmie

City Council. During the course of the session Ridge resident John

Jamieson presented the results of an informal survey of 100 neighbors which

he'd performed in late November. In their response, 83 households said

construction of the community center should start now.

Chief among their concerns, according to Jamieson, were the lack

of ball fields on the Ridge and a decline of property values due to the

absence of "amenities" they say they

were promised by WRECO.

"When we purchased our homes, certain amenities were promised,"

he wrote. "This included items like tennis courts, basketball courts,

soccer fields, baseball fields, parks, walking trails and the community center.

None of us expected to wait over six years for these amenities.

"We are well aware we won't have baseball fields in our

Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood, and we feel these amenities are slipping away

very fast! When we lost the baseball fields our property values declined; if

we wait years to build the community center, our property values will

decline even further."

Jamieson stated the city's plans for the community center had two

major flaws: one was the planned completion date of 2004, while the other

was a reliance on fund-raising efforts to bring in the bulk of the money for

construction. Therefore, he offered a proposal to take roughly $2.8 million

_ incorporating a portion of the $2.5 million in mitigation funds

allocated by the city to develop the ball field complex at the former Candy

Cane Tree Farm and $750,000 allocated by WRECO for the community center

_ and start construction now.

In support of his proposal, Jamieson noted the general consensus

among Ridge residents was that holding a fund raiser for the community

center would be "very difficult."

"Most people `laughed' when I told them we needed donations to build the

community center on the Ridge," he wrote. "One person said, `let the rich

folks up there pay for their own community center.'"

"We would still need a fund raiser to complete the community center

and to build the baseball complex," he added. "This plan would

ensure completion of the community center at the earliest possible date."

In response, Council Member Cathy Reed strongly

reminded Jamieson that the community center had many proponents, but the city

had to take into account other funding requirements, such as staffing and

operating costs.

"Who's going to pay to maintain it?" she queried. "Who's going to

pay for the staff, for the equipment? I've been the strongest proponent of

the community center, but I'm not going to have it shoved down my throat.

"Look at the hospital; it's failed twice because there were not

enough people up here to keep it open."

"I didn't say it should be done tomorrow," Jamieson responded, "but

it will take three years to get the plans, get it started and get it finished."

"We want this thing as soon as possible," answered Reed.

"Nobody wants it more than me."

At that point Councilor Colleen Johnson expressed her concern

over the "us versus them" issue that

seemed to be sprouting again.

"This upsets me no end," she stated, adding an apology for the

comments by some citizens of Snoqualmie and North Bend. "I don't want to

see us start fighting."

"Nor do we," Jamieson replied.

While the issue could conceivably drive a spike between the "old"

and "new" Snoqualmie or pit longtime Valley residents against the

newer families who are moving into the homes on the Ridge, the key

remains this: the planning and development of the community center has

involved two years' time, multiple public meetings and several rounds of

negotiation between Snoqualmie and WRECO.

The city's guidance and time and finance checkpoints for the

Ridge buildout and community center are contained in several planning and

legal documents dating back five or more years.

The Proposal

In August 1995 the city's Department of Community Development

released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

(SEIS) for the Snoqualmie Ridge Mixed Use Final Plan. The document

specified that 54 acres of the 1,343-acre total project would be dedicated to

community parks, with another 308 acres maintained as natural open space.

Notably, the report incorporated a neighborhood center conceptual

plan depicting an extensive complex which included a community center,

"neighborhood green" community area transitioning into a "Meadow

Park" and wetland interpretive area, an elementary school, a commercial

center and sports facilities. The proposed list of sports-related facilities

included one baseball field; two youth baseball/softball fields; two soccer fields;

three tennis courts; two basketball courts; two volleyball courts; one youth

football field; one track; one gymnasium; and one community center.

The document noted the size of the community center would be

determined during the facility planning stage. It added the actual facilities

to be provided would be determined during the platting stage, and could

vary slightly from the list.

Through the planning process _ encompassing several reports

and studies _ the concept of the community center continued to be

refined. The Sept. 15, 1995, city-approved Mixed Use Final Plan for

Snoqualmie Ridge listed "1 community center"

as part of the proposed facilities on the Ridge. It recommended

development of the community center in phases, with completion of the initial

phase coinciding with completion of the 800th residential unit. Next,

during consideration of the Phase III Municipal Services and Facility Plan of

O

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