City council candidates talk YMCA, City Hall

With their campaigns for Snoqualmie City Council’s position 5 nearing the final days, incumbent Maria Henriksen and challenger Terry Sorenson plan to be found visiting with voters and touting their priorities.

Henriksen and Sorenson both agree that Snoqualmie’s economy needs support, but take differing views on the new Snoqualmie Ridge community center and downtown City Hall.

Economic future

An 11-year resident of Snoqualmie, Henriksen said she is passionate about quality of life issues in Snoqualmie. Recreation and environment are among big reasons why people move to Snoqualmie.

“That’s what we’re trying to promote and protect here,” she said. “We have a lot of important initiatives right now — economic development, the community center, the buildout of Snoqualmie Ridge Phase II. I think they’re too important to leave.”

Henriksen said her most important reason to remain on the council is securing the city’s financial future.

“Now is a critical time,” she said, While the economy has hit rough times, the city is in better shape than its neighbors, Henriksen said.

“That’s due to the hard work done by the council in the past six years,” she said. “We’re starting to see things we’ve been working for, for years, come to fruition.”

Shovels will start work this spring on Snoqualmie’s federally-funded downtown infrastructure modernization. Last week, Henriksen witnessed the ceremonial activation of the Outside Seattle tourism Web site, a city-sponsored regional site promoting the Valley to metro residents.

With so many great sights and natural wealth in Snoqualmie, “we needed a jewel to market (them),” she said. “We have it now. It’s really exciting.”

City changes

Terry Sorenson is a 22-year resident who served on the council in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was one of the four council members who approved the Snoqualmie Ridge development, and said Snoqualmie was one of the first cities in the region to hold developers accountable for all impacts.

“I’m proud of how hard we worked to make sure citizens didn’t have to pay for a developer,” he said.

Still, Sorenson said he was dismayed by how quickly development proceeded to the Ridge’s second phase. He claims the city was promised that development wouldn’t begin until 2014.

When work started on homes there five years ago, “I felt like I was let down,” he said. With all of the planning that went into the Ridge’s first phase, Sorenson wonders if more time was needed before more growth resumed.

Sorenson said he wants to see the million-plus tourists who visit Snoqualmie Falls and Snoqualmie Casino spend more time and money in the city. Sorenson wants to see more creative ways to harness tourism.

He’s heard from business-owner friends that it’s up to three times more expensive to start a business in Snoqualmie compared with other regional cities. If Snoqualmie is to be revitalized, hassles and hurdles need to be removed from business development.

“We need to be as competitive as other towns that businesses might be looking into,” Sorenson said. “We’re behind the eight ball. Some things we can’t change — floodplains will always be an impediment. We’ve got to convince new businesses that we can work through that.”

As the campaign nears its climax, Sorenson said he is talking to residents and meeting neighbors and business owners. Talking to the local barber, Sorenson said he learned of business concerns about losing Snoqualmie’s downtown King Street lot, a busy overflow parking area, festival plaza and sandbagging site, to corner development.

That site is more than just a money-maker for the city, Sorenson said.

“Every business will tell you that if you don’t have convenient parking, (customers) will keep on going,” he said. If the city wants to fill empty downtown storefronts and welcome tourist dollars, “we need to make sure we don’t lose things like parking.”

New center

Henriksen seeks to stay in office to see through planning for the new Snoqualmie community center. That center was promised to residents before the first home was built on Snoqualmie Ridge, she said.

“We’ve finally come to a way to do that without tax increases to citizens,” she said.

Henriksen sees the center as a “very important priority to our community.” In three votes, which failed to capture a needed 60 percent supermajority, Henriksen noted that the measures captured majority votes in spite of school bonds and a stuttering economy.

“When the council committed to go on the ballot (in 2008), the Dow was at 11,000,” she said. “By election day, the Dow was at something like 750. Still, the majority voted yes — they wanted to be taxed to build the whole thing.”

Those who voted no still indicated that they wanted a center, only for less cost to them, she added.

Henriksen said there are “no showstoppers” in the current center plan. The YMCA of Greater Seattle has been a loyal partner through the process, she added.

“Now, we’re putting the details into the contract and should have that ready to go before the end of the year,” Henriksen said. She is excited about holding public meetings on what citizens want in their center, and seeing ground broken next spring.

The city, she said, is working with the business community to alleviate their concerns and help them capitolize on another draw to the Ridge Town Center.

“Businesses here need another anchor,” Henriksen said. “We will have two great anchors in this retail center — the grocery store and the community center — so that we can start to put this center in the regular traffic patterns of residents.”

Sorenson countered tha the center was meant to be a meeting place for elders and recreation site for young people.

“I disagree with the size of the community center,” he said. “It was never intended for a small community to have a behemoth of a community center.”

Sorenson added that he is troubled by the council proceeding despite three failures at the polls.

“Those of us who respect what the vote was, we feel like we’re not being listened to,” he said.

“I respect that they believe that they are doing the right thing,” Sorenson added. “I don’t think they are doing anything unethical. I just disagree with them.”

Sorenson raised other options, including having a community center run by the Snoqualmie Ridge Residential Owners Association. Si View Community Center, too, exists and is underutilized, he added.

City hall

A parent and federal employee, Sorenson is also a member of the Snoqualmie United Methodist Church. The church, one of the oldest in Snoqualmie, teaches him the history of the community, “what’s important.”

But right across the street from his church, one of the community’s older buildings, is Snoqualmie’s new city hall. Sorenson echoed concerns from business owners and neighbors on parking impacts from the new city hall, and also raised issue with its look and cost. The building was one of the driving forces behind his entry in the race.

“I think they spent way too much money for it,” Sorenson said. “It’s way overpriced for what we got.”

The new city hall is projected to cost more than $6 million, above the $3.9 million original price tag as well as the $4.9 million winning bid.

“Based on our buildings around it, it sticks out like a sore thumb,” Sorenson added.

Henriksen was one of the three council members who voted against proceeding with the current city hall plan.

She said that, while she strongly supported building a new city hall downtown, she was concerned about the financial package.

“We were being pushed to make a decision,” Henriksen said. “I felt it was important to take a step back and look at other options.

“The package we have is fine,” she added. “There was the potential that we could have done better.”

While Henriksen disagreed with the decision, she said it is a strength of Snoqualmie that the council can discuss, differ, then move forward.

Regarding the length of time and overages in construction, Henriksen said that the city’s legal team is looking at ways to recoup costs. She said she has few concerns that the city will incur more additional costs from the project.

Campaign efforts

As the campaign nears its final weeks, Sorenson will be delivering hand-made fliers and visiting neighbors.

He doesn’t plan to doorbell on the final weekend, saying he dislikes bothering people on their days off, and also declines to try mudslinging his opponent.

“Do I agree with everything she stands for — no, I don’t,” Sorenson said. “If I have to say something negative to win, I’m getting into (the race) for the wrong reasons.”

Sorenson said he never spent much money on campaigns as a council member, and isn’t taking any political contributions now.

“That way, I don’t owe anybody anything,” he said.

Henriksen touted her professional background, which includes managing multi-million-dollar projects. She has worked in the hotel industry, publishing, university administration and international management for Microsoft Corporation.

Henriksen gives spare time to Cascade View Elementary School’s PTSA, where two of her three boys attend school. Her family “is why I’m on the council, period,” she said.

With an all-mail election at hand, Henriksen reminds residents to vote. Without a polling place open, she said it’s too easy for the vote to be forgotten and ballots lost in the shuffle.

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