Expressing frustration with city council’s decision to extend the construction moratorium for another six months, Councilmember Jason Ritchie resigned during the virtual council meeting on Jan. 19.
“I did what I could and it fell on deaf ears,” he said during an interview after his resignation. “I want to see my city succeed.”
Ritchie, who was elected in 2017, said his immediate departure was the only action he felt he could take after three years of stalled council debates about development in Sammamish.
The city is now seeking applicants to temporarily fill the vacant seat until the November 2021 general election. Interested residents are required to apply by Feb. 24 at 5 p.m.
Councilmember Pam Stuart, who is a close ally of Ritchie, said she would miss him on council, particularly for his role as the only member consistently working towards compromise.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Stuart said in an interview. “I hope that Councilmember Ritchie’s resignation causes all of us on council to pause and say ‘Are we doing this the right way’?”
The moratorium was initially proposed in 2017 as a short-term solution for the city to temporarily pause development efforts while investigating allegations of fraudulent traffic concurrency reports. These reports are meant to collect data on a community’s infrastructure needs, such as road repairs, ahead of any planned development.
Although the claims have been refuted by the city, these allegations of fraudulent reports have resonated in all of the council’s discussions about development ever since, Ritchie said.
Ritchie voted to pass the first moratorium in October 2017 but eventually pulled back his support for the construction ban and opposing the council majority’s justifications for halting development.
During the Jan. 19 meeting, Ritchie was disappointed in the council’s lack of consideration to discuss ending the moratorium. The agenda listed only two available motions for the council to consider, both of which were pro-extension options.
“We have an obligation to find solutions, not create roadblocks,” Ritchie said during the meeting. “It is unfair, in my opinion, and inappropriate that this council has chosen a path of obstruction in the form of continuous moratoriums.”
The city is currently working to block the building of a town center in Sammamish, and renewing a legal battle with former Mayor Don Gerend and the state’s Growth Management Hearing Board (GMHB).
On Feb. 9, the city filed an appeal with King County Superior Court to challenge a recent GMHB decision. In that decision, the GMHB found Sammamish to have violated the state’s Growth Management Act through its use of moratoriums and tinkering with traffic concurrency regulations to halt development.
The city’s lawyers have consistently lost every GMHB hearing, including their most recent attempt on Dec. 17, Ritchie said.
“I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to look at a legal situation and say, ‘You know what, let’s charge taxpayers millions of dollars more just to fight something we keep losing,” he said during the interview.
Before resigning, Ritchie asked council members twice during executive sessions to consider settling with the GMHB. He said the council’s determination to extend the moratorium, on top of appealing the board’s decision, was a line he would not cross.
“They don’t like to have their opinions challenged,” Ritchie said, referring to the council’s anti-development majority. “You have people on this council that are absolutely 100% locked in, Kool-Aid-drinking crazy about one blogger and his philosophy. And it is a dead end.”
Regardless of his resignation, Ritchie said he remains hopeful for progress within Sammamish politics.
The city’s communications team declined all interview requests for this story. According to an email from Communications Manager Celia Wu, the city will not provide interviews or comments moving forward.