Opinion

Put Snoqualmie YMCA impact questions to bed

Snoqualmie took a bold step toward a new community center last month, when all seven council members voted “yes” on an operations agreement with the YMCA of Greater Seattle.

The council also approved a call for proposals from companies to design the new center, slated for a minimum of 9,000 square feet and to be sited on the south edge of Snoqualmie Ridge’s Community Park.

It’s taken a decade and a half and multiple failed bond votes to reach this point. The current proposal, which would open the first phase of what could become a full-size YMCA with an aquatics center, had its genesis last year when the city began exploring a way to build a facility without a bond vote.

The 40-year agreement reached last week defines the YMCA as the operator — something that was probably never in doubt.

Proponents of the center raised comparisons between Snoqualmie and North Bend, where the venerable Si View Community Center hosts so many activities for young and old alike. In the past year, Si View has hosted community benefit auctions, family fun nights, meals for senior citizens and hundreds of fitness classes and swimming lessons.

Snoqualmie’s older residents remember the days when another YMCA, part of the long-lost company town of Snoqualmie Falls, provided the same service. Thousands of Ridge parents are also aware of the need for a gathering place for all ages in Snoqualmie. Anyone who has seen one of the YMCA’s new facilities in Bellevue or Newcastle should be excited at the prospect of a modern facility coming here.

But several Ridge merchants and residents raised legitimate concerns about the impact that a community center, big or small, would have on their neighborhood. Some of those were the understandable competition concerns of nearby businesses with similar offerings to a health and fitness-oriented YMCA — folks who probably knew a community center was coming to the Ridge but never dreamed it would be a Y.

There were also some folks concerned about the addition of a busy facility drawing hundreds of cars daily to what is already a bustling neighborhood. Anyone who’s visited the Ridge marketplace on a busy summer afternoon knows that parking spaces can be at a premium — the city recently installed signs to free up stalls over-used by park-and-ride commuters not far from the YMCA site.

According to a professional traffic analysis, if a Snoqualmie YMCA draws the number of cars per square foot that Bellevue or Newcastle Ys do in its first phase, it will see a maximum of 70 trips per hour daily. There are 114 parking stalls at Ridge Community Park now, and between 50 and 60 would be built in the YMCA’s first phase. If those numbers hold, the big questions are whether that number of stalls can accommodate the number of cars visiting the YMCA, and what those hourly car trips mean in terms of congestion or safety impacts to the neighborhood. Let’s not forget that hundreds of people, young and old, will also be walking to the center for at least part of the year.

The city is currently weighing a proposal for a follow-up traffic study by its Seattle-based consultant. Some answers may not come until a center has been opened. But for the sake of due diligence, let’s hope that city can put most traffic questions to bed before shovels hit the ground.

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