In final forum, city council candidates offer range of views on development
With election day fast approaching, a local Facebook group hosted the third and final city council candidate forum of the 2021 cycle.
On Oct. 20, the Vote Sammamish Facebook group hosted a virtual forum that was attended by seven candidates. Amy Lam was the only candidate who was absent.
Melanie Kelsey, Karen Moran and Rich Benack, who have coordinated their campaigns closely this election cycle, shared similar stances on development and housing options while the other four candidates provided more varied ideas. Police funding, mental health services and the need for a senior center were also discussed.
Kelsey, Moran and Benack honed in on concerns about overdevelopment.
“We shouldn’t have to accept high traffic and bad roads so that an out-of-town developer can make millions by adding thousands of high-priced dwelling units to our city,” Kelsey said.
Both Moran and Benack advocated for prioritizing infrastructure programs to match the city’s growth before allowing any further development to take place.
“I want to stop the overdevelopment we’re seeing, and making sure any future development is tied to existing infrastructure,” Benack said.
Other candidates shied away from this blanket doctrine.
Karen Howe, who is running against Kelsey for position 7, described herself as “pro-planning” and “pro-strategy.” She proposed managing growth through transferring development rights to a centralized area that is well planned, and one “that we have input into and that we have designed control for.”
Nazir Harb Michel, who is running against Moran for position 3, did not offer a clear stance on development. He said more information is needed to determine residents’ demands.
“I’m personally interested in enhancing community outreach, and using statistically valid surveys regularly to learn more about what residents and people who work in Sammamish want and need over time,” Harb Michel said.
Kelsey, Moran and Benack were also in sync on housing — unanimously opposing high-density housing.
Benack, a father of two kids who went to Sammamish schools, said that high-density housing will take a toll on a school system that is already over capacity.
“It’s not just a theory, it’s a reality. And anybody who has kids going through the school system knows that high-density housing is unneeded in our town,” Benack said.
Josh Amato and Kelsey both agreed. Amato stressed that Sammamish’s schools and roads cannot support the high-density housing that Lam, his opponent for position 1, embraces.
Harb Michel did not concur. He said that people who live in multi-family housing typically have fewer children that those in single-family homes, which actually helps alleviate pressure on schools. But he stopped short of demanding that housing gets built.
“It’s also my understanding that Sammamish has long been technically overcapacity at school,” Harb Michel said. “So, I think we don’t necessarily have an immediate urgency.”
Kali Clark, who previously advocated for high-density and multi-use housing, backtracked from her stance. Though still maintaining that high-density housing is beneficial from an environmental standpoint, she also said it is not necessary.
“If it doesn’t work for Sammamish, it doesn’t work for Sammamish,” said Clark, who is running against Benack for position 5.
Though Amato is against high-density housing, he supports building smaller houses to provide more housing options for empty nesters and seniors. Howe shared this view, saying that some of her friends wanted to find “a great condo or downsize.”
Despite their varying opinions on development, all seven candidates are committed to preserving forests and parks.
None of the candidates want to defund the police. Amato, Kelsey, Harb Michel, Moran and Clark proposed increasing funding for police and hiring mental health professionals to provide human services support. Howe and Benack agreed, adding that adequate training must be ensured.
Caring for senior citizens was another top priority. Kelsey, Amato, Clark, Benack and Moran all envision building a senior that offers seniors a place to connect and access recreational opportunities.
Howe emphasized the importance of programming for the senior center rather than just building the facility.
“We have to be able to fund the appropriate programming that pulls people in that makes them want to stay longer and to stay engaged to the community,” Howe said.
Harb Michel had a grander idea, proposing the city build a multi-purpose center to be used by more people across the community with a special section carved out for seniors. He said the YMCA was meant to serve that purpose, but it ran out of space.
Lam declined the invitation for this forum. On her campaign Facebook page on the day of the event, she accused one admin of the Vote Sammamish Facebook group for being “openly hostile, demeaning, and condescending” towards her.