Deal on for Snoqualmie YMCA, Community Center

Demonstrating their desire to end a 15-year wait for a community center, the Snoqualmie City Council unanimously voted to cement a deal with the YMCA of Greater Seattle as the center's operator.

The council approved an operations agreement with the YMCA in a Monday, March 22, vote. About a dozen residents spoke prior to the decision, with most in favor of a center serving youth and adults. However, several Ridge residents and merchants renewed calls for a slower approach.

Early in the meeting, Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson revealed a miscalculation, caught last week, in the city's funding formula for the new center. For several years, going back as far as the initial bonds for the project, the city had calculated the full allotment of homes on the Ridge in its mitigation funding total from Weyerhaeuser. However, some 278 units do not count for mitigation, amounting to a $385,800 shortfall in the roughly $4 million that the city must set aside for the community center.

However, Larson and city administrator Bob Larson told the audience that the city has a solution to the shortfall. The fix involves using casino mitigation money from the Snoqualmie Tribe from the 2008, 2009 and 2010, about $216,000, and increasing the proportion of real estate excise taxes (REET) in the final solution. The project will not touch city reserves, the mayor said.

A number of Ridge residents approached the podium Monday, urging the council to act, both for community reasons and for economic ones.

"I've sensed a great need for a community center, a need for a place that kids can walk to, bike to," said Edward Yoshikawa. "A place that's safe, that's supervised."

"The timing is perfect to strike," said Cliff Brown. "The downturn is the absolute best time to go to market for construction."

At the same time, critics of the site, which is adjacent to the Ridge retail marketplace and Cascade View Elementary on city-owned parkland, again voiced congestion concerns.

"We have traffic problems already," said businessman George Issacs. "It's going to further exacerbate them. We're going to experience further delays."

He noted that the majority of YMCA users will come from outside the city.

Ridge marketplace developer Mark McDonald urged the council to take a more solemn view of land use and parking at the site.

"There are some legal issues that need to be addressed," he told the council.

But prior to their vote, council members made plain their desire to move forward.

Councilwoman Maria Henriksen touted the 900 elementary-age children living within a mile of the proposed site, while Councilman Charles Peterson said he hoped legal maneuvering won't cause the citizens of Snoqualmie to miss out on the change to use a community center.

Agreement details

The agreement, good for 40 years, confirms the YMCA as operator of the center and spells out how that organization will run the facility.

The YMCA will run the center rent-free. The agreement states that the value to the community of a YMCA outweighs the rental value of the site.

“I think it’s a fantastic deal,” Mayor Larson said. “We feel that we’re effectively getting a payment. We don’t have anything come out of our general fund. The taxpayers don’t have to pay a dime. It’s a very good deal.”

In its first phase, the center would be between 9,500 and 12,000 square feet in size. Under the agreement, the city will lease the community center site, about two acres not including current parking, to a developer for construction. Once built, the property would be leased back to the city with an option to purchase, which the city intends to do.

The agreement calls for residents of the city to receive a 50 percent discount in joining fees and 15 percent off annual membership fees. City residents will also receive membership in regional YMCA facilities.

Under the agreement, the YMCA must make a meeting room and youth drop-in facility available to citizens. The organization must accommodate scheduling of community activities for gyms or meeting rooms.

Businesses that subcontract inside the center must have city approval.

Under the agreement, the YMCA must establish a Snoqualmie Branch Advisory Board of between 15 to 25 people. The YMCA may terminate the agreement due to financial reasons on one year’s notice.

Larson said that one of the reasons the YMCA was selected was for its fundraising ability. The YMCA may be able to bring additional grants and funding to the table for a larger first phase, and may also help fund future expansions of the center — perhaps precluding an eventual voter-approved bond for a gym expansion or aquatics facility.

Planning and Parks Committee members explicitly stated last week that no new bond is actively being considered.

“Not one staff member of the city has spoken to me about a bond,” Councilman Charles Peterson said. “I would not vote for a bond in November.”

The city is pushing forward now, Larson said, because the recession has amplified purchasing power.

“We’re looking for every opportunity to grab time,” he said.

Parking and traffic

On March 8, Fehr and Peers Transportation Consultants of Seattle released its traffic and parking analysis of the proposed community center. That document states that the city’s initial Environmental Impact Statement for the Ridge’s phase one estimated a maximum of 2.6 car trips per thousand square feet of the facility, or 43 peak hour trips for a 15,000-square-foot facility and 72 peak hourly car trips for a 35,000 square foot facility. Fehr and Peers looked at recently built YMCAs in Bellevue and Newcastle and found between four and five car trips per thousand square feet. That generated between 200 and 253 peak hourly car trips. Those facilities are 48,000 and 49,000 square feet in size, respectively.

If Snoqualmie sees comparable visits per square foot, a 15,000-square foot Valley YMCA would see 69 peak hour afternoon/evening trips. Under the same formula, a 35,000-square-foot facility would get 165 peak hour trips.

There are 114 parking stalls at Ridge Community Park now. Between 50 and 60 would be built in the community center’s first phase.

The consultants called for a formal traffic study to be conducted to provide more details about the adequacy of existing traffic controls and school traffic circulation.

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