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.
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.