If No Walmart, Then What is the Development Future of the I-90/SR-18 Interchange?

The history of the land where the old Leisure Time Campground sits at the I-90/SR-18 interchange is long and complicated.

In 2008, the City of Snoqualmie and the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital  (SVH) District hoped the King County Council’s 4-year Comprehensive Plan would be altered, adding the rural-designated land to Snoqualmie’s Urban Growth Area (UGA), allowing for development.

Such a move would’ve enabled SVH to build a new hospital, along with a Bellevue College satellite campus and some retail, on the land it purchased in February 2008.  This hospital location was something SVH CEO, Rodger McCollum, says King County Executive Ron Sims told him was a sure thing.

Leisuretime2

Land formerly home to Leisure Time campground on NE corner of I-90/SR-18 interchange.

But the King County Council disagreed, saying no, and SVH found alternate land.  When asked why, Mayor Larson simply said, “fear.”  He said the King County Council was scared that by adding that land to Snoqualmie’s UGA, development would expand to the north, further commercializing this stretch of the I-90 corridor or the whole freeway interchange.

Mayor Larson says the Leisure Time area land “logically belongs in the city [limits]” and its proximity to the freeway and Snoqualmie Ridge make it a logical choice for additional retail development.

Currently, the City of Snoqualmie has about a 70% retail leakage rate.  That means most residents leave Snoqualmie for their retail needs, and the taxes they pay meeting those needs supplement other cities where the products and services are purchased.

Mayor Larson says this leakage puts additional pressure on Snoqualmie property taxes, which will continue to exist unless the city can diversify the local tax base and add some retail to meet residents’ needs.

According to an analysis, Snoqualmie has about a 25-30 acre retail deficit.  Mayor Larson says the current 100,000 square feet of retail space on Snoqualmie Ridge is just about equal to the one Issaquah Target store.  And according to an amendment in the King County Growth Management Act, cities who can demonstrate a retail deficit can alter their urban growth area to add more.

So in 2012, when King County was preparing its new 4-year comprehensive plan update, city officials again asked the King County Council to add the Leisure Time land to Snoqualmie’s urban growth area – only to be turned down again.

Mayor Larson says “ideal city planning has been compromised by politics” over the past few years.  He points to one King County Council member, Larry Phillips, for undermining Snoqualmie’s 2012 effort to add the Leisure Time land to its urban growth area.

Larson claims a smear campaign against Snoqualmie was started, with unions being alerted to a rumor that Snoqualmie wanted to build a Walmart on the land if it was added to the UGA.  Something the mayor says is not true.

Gus Erickson of Puget Western Inc., who own 50 acres of adjacent land also concurred, stating via email that “Puget Western is evaluating potential development activities on the site…Big box retail (i.e. Walmart) is not among the uses being evaluated.”

The mayor says Snoqualmie knows how to develop land in a balanced, less impactful way, while protecting green space; pointing to a  Transfer of Development Rights, where other land is bought for future green space, making up for developed land.  It’s done in a 4 to 1 ratio – so for every acre developed, four acres would be added in green space.  The city would also leave a forest buffer space for the developed land, being respectful of the Mountain to Sound Greenway that runs through the Snoqualmie Valley.

But in the end, and under pressure from local unions, the mayor says the King County Comprehensive Plan was not altered.  Snoqualmie is now appealing that decision, taking it to the county’s Growth Management Board.  Mayor Larson says Snoqualmie is supported by legal basis in the Growth Management Act and added that the King County Council should not micromanage small cities   An appeal decision  is expected this summer.

Mayor Larson maintains that Snoqualmie’s retail is “woefully short.”  The only retail development planned for Snoqualmie Ridge Division II is on the corner of 99th (parcel S-21), home to the new Snoqualmie Valley Hospital under construction.  There are also seven more, 1-acre parcels to be developed on S-21, which are zoned for hospital, hotel and retail, including drive-thru usage.

According to the retail analysis, even that future area is not enough for the amount of residents now calling Snoqualmie home – at least not enough to stop a majority from leaving Snoqualmie for their retail needs – and taking that tax base with them to nearby Issaquah, Bellevue and North Bend.

Regardless, any development of the Leisure Time area land is years away.  Mayor Larson said if he’s elected to another term, maybe during that term the land might make it into the city’s UGA.  A hurdle that must be cleared before the process of building retail can ever happen.

In the meantime, later this year SVH plans to begin using some of the Leisure Time buildings as administrative offices in lieu of letting them sit empty.

 

Comments

  1. i live in north bend and still leave the city to shop there is nothing here or even to eat if there was something here in north bend or snoqulmie me and my husband would stay we have to go to issaquah for costcos or even convington for walmart it is hard to support our cities when there is nothing

  2. I’m glad to see that Mayor Larson has time to be concerned about THIS when his plate is full trying to force the approval of a property tax exemption status for Imagine Housing in a city that’s strapped for cash.

  3. Isn’t there a pool back there? If there is why not have a community pool like Klahanie has.

    • Danna McCall says

      The SVH District CEO told me when they move their offices to these buildings, they plan to fill the pool in. I think it has safety issues.

  4. Bruce Sullivan says

    I sincerely hope the Mayor is being honest here. I can’t imagine anything more potentially damaging to the long-term local economy than a WalMart. Yes, it would seal the deal with the devil that would bring taxes into Snoqualmie city coffers. But the impact to the many GOOD smaller businesses in the valley would be dramatic. It would not bring quality, family wage jobs. It would more likely push smaller shops that would not be able to compete, out of business. The good jobs that exist there now, as well as the money (not just taxes) they put back into the local economy would be lost forever. You could kiss good-bye to places like Carmichaels, the grocery store on the Ridge, and a lot of others. Never mind what it would do to traffic on the Parkway and through the I90/18 interchange. These disasters have followed WalMart into many small communities across the nation. I have no desire to live in one of them.
    I do like Costco. They are the anti-WalMart. They treat employees well, pay competitive wages and provide good benefits. But I don’t find it onerous at all to drive to Issaquah. Frankly, that doesn’t take any longer than finding a parking spot and getting in Costco’s front door!
    Regards,
    Bruce

  5. I’d rather pay higher property taxes than see big box retail go in to compensate. Living in this bucolic setting is worth it.

  6. Most residents I know were looking forward to seeing the S-21land added to Snoqualmie. We were surprised and disappointed to find out the hospital and a drive thru food option would not be there.

    The extension of the Bellevue College campus, retail space that is both family (and family budget) friendly, an indoor (or indoor/outdoor) play space for our kids, an (outdoor!) pool &/or water play space, a respectable/comfortable/modest hotel, and a place to pick up a drive thru meal (oh, please NOT MCDONALDS. seriously, IN-N-OUT Burger needs to expand into the Pacific NW, anyway, lets figure out how to be their first:) ) – all of those businesses would be welcome additions to the valley.

    I am also looking forward to the day when we will be able to buy books, games, high quality toys, gifts, electronics, craft supplies, basic gardening supplies, sporting goods, and other every day items here. It would be nice to be able to order some family photos and pick them up locally. It would be a dream to be able to shop at a grocery store like PCC or Trader Joe’s where I can buy the foods my family needs and wants the most. I would love to be able to donate to a second hand/consignment/even goodwill store locally so that my donations could help the people in need that are right here in the valley, instead of someone in Bellevue or Seattle.

    There are so many businesses that our population has grown large enough to support and I look forward to seeing them succeed here.

    I go to Issaquah because I still have to but, especially in the middle of winter, I would be VERY happy to not need to do that! So glad to hear that the city has their attention focused on making that a reality.

    Still, I would rather drive to Issaquah for everything if it meant keeping a big box Walmart, Target or Fred Meyer at bay. The high end stores that existed here when we first moved were not supported by tourism nor the family budgets of the average local shopper, but that doesn’t mean that similar businesses wouldn’t be a perfect fit for the valley. I do hope that the pendulum doesn’t swing so far the other direction that Walmart becomes the only store in town that can keep their doors open. I do hope that through attracting the businesses that are compatible with the character of our area that we will be able to bring that tax revenue back to our own community. And soon!

    Please let us know if there is anything we can do as a community to affect the outcome/progress.

    & Thanks for the update!

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