The debate over development and housing has been continuous across multiple election cycles, and 2021 is proving to be no different.
Many of the current city council members, as well as a bloc of those running in the upcoming Nov. election, want to stop development of nearly all housing in the city. But what is emerging in this election is a growing opposition to that viewpoint, spurred by the reality that homes in Sammamish are becoming increasingly unaffordable for many people.
Vocal residents in Facebook groups like Vote Sammamish and Save Sammamish, as well as groups like Sammamish Life PAC, have argued that more development would exacerbate overpopulated schools, traffic congestion and environmental problems within the city.
These views have been echoed by Melanie Kelsey and Richard Benack, two of the candidates running for city council, across their statements on social media and their campaign websites.
“Our traffic and schools cannot handle that many additional dwelling units, of any kind,” wrote Kelsey, who is running for position 7, on her Facebook page.
She believes that the current proposed plan for the Sammamish Town Center, a mixed-use development in the middle of the city, would contribute to congestion and overpopulation at schools due to new residents moving in. Kelsey has also tied the notion of any development to negative environment impact, with a particular focus on trees.
“Lots that are divided, clear cut, and then stuffed with big homes on small lots. Large trees that helped with stormwater retention are replaced with small ones that will take years to grow to a useful height,” Kelsey posted on her Facebook page.
Benack, who is running for Position 5, has repeated many of Kelsey’s positions.
“I am highly concerned with the increase in traffic, longer commute times and delays getting around town that we have all experienced because of overdevelopment on the Plateau,” Benack wrote on his candidate website.
According to Benack’s campaign posters and signs, he only supports the building of single-family homes. His campaign signs on city streets are adorned with the slogan: “Tired of Traffic?”
However, other city council candidates have prioritized making the city more affordable and a livelier place for residents to call home.
The median sale price of a home in Sammamish sits at $1.39 million in August and has grown 24% in the last year, according to Redfin. In the 2020 survey of Best Small Cities in America by Wallethub, Sammamish ranked near the bottom for “quality of life,” scoring low on factors like restaurants, bars, clubs, coffee shops, and movie theaters per capita.
“I think that the Town Center is an exciting prospect for our city,” said Nazir Harb Michel in a previous interview with the Sammamish Independent. He is running for city council position 3.
“I simply want the city council to make decisions based on data and to follow the county and state guidelines with respect to growth and development so that we’re doing our part and providing homes for people who work in Sammamish at all levels,” he said.
Harb Michel wants to make Sammamish a place where teachers, policemen and grocery store workers can actually afford to live in the city that they work in.
Karen Howe, who is running for position 7 against Kelsey, wants to create a thriving Sammamish community with more diverse housing options that are affordable for workers, families, and retirees in the community, according to her campaign website.
She also wants to make the city more livable through public spaces, local shops, and more convenient public transportation.
Paul Stickney, 68, a Sammamish resident and voter since 2013, supports a more balanced approach to development in Sammamish. He is a residential real estate broker and has had a financial interest in a five-acre parcel of land that would be part new town center since 1997, if it ever gets built.
Construction on the town center has not begun, even though a plan to develop the town center has been approved by the city since 2008.
Stickney, who has commissioned his own research, believes any candidate that supports more single-family homes will make the traffic situation worse, and that any additional growth should be focused on building more diverse, affordable, and smaller multi-family homes within denser mixed commercial and residential communities, similar to developments like Saffron and Sammamish Village.
“Single-family homes generate about ten car trips a day on average, and measured results in the traffic studies we did show that in a mixed-use environment, not the Town Center, but mixed-use generated about 2.8 trips per day,” Stickney said in an interview, explaining that residents can take care of many needs within the mixed-use development without having to drive.
Both sides agree that the current city council is not taking any action to continue development in the city. While this response favors some of the candidates and community’s beliefs, others are hoping that this upcoming election cycle will change the council’s direction to make Sammamish more affordable, livelier and more convenient for its residents.
City council candidates Melanie Kelsey and Richard Benack, as well as Michael Scoles, who founded the Sammamish Life PAC, all declined our requests for an interview.