June 28, 1999
Community concern continues to be raised regarding the future of the Sorenson property, including its ball fields, owned by the Northshore School District.
However, many of the protections for this site have already been implemented through Woodinville's zoning code which has designated the site for public institution use. Questions about the site's continuation as a public resource surfaced as the Northshore School District remains willing to consider selling that site should an acceptable formal purchase and sale offer be made.
The Sorenson property, approximately six acres facing NE 175th in downtown, currently houses Woodinville City Hall and variety of other services and community organizations.
The campus contains Woodinville's oldest historic building, Woodinville School, built in 1909. The Sorenson School building, including its indoor pool and gym and surrounding ball fields, was added by the school district in 1974 and completes the campus.
Both the City of Woodinville and the Northshore School District have recognized the value of retaining the campus as a public resource. The City and District have been in negotiations on and off since 1993 for the City to acquire the site.
In 1996, the City took the issue to the voters twice, in the form of a bond to fund the purchase, and both times the ballot measures failed to secure the required 60% for passage. Four years ago, the city purchased three acres adjacent to the Sorenson property and is now preparing to develop the site for the new City Hall.
Dr. Karen Forys, Superintendent of the Northshore School District, expressed support for the role of the Sorenson property in the community. "The district shares the interest of the public in maintaining the Sorenson fields for public athletic use. The information that has been distributed in the community via a letter to parents of youth athletes contained information that was new to me about the intent for the future use of those fields," said Forys.
Much of the community concern focuses on the uniqueness of the site's facilities, especially the ball fields. The Woodinville Historic Society is among the groups also concerned about impact on the historic Woodinville School at that site if the property is sold to a private developer.
"Once this property is lost, it is irreplaceable. There is nothing else like it in our community. If we lose it, we're going to kick ourselves up the Sammamish River for the next one hundred years," said Phyllis Keller, past president of the Woodinville Historic Society.
The Society has been working closely with the city for the past three years to preserve and enhance the Sorenson site. "People will look back and say, 'Wouldn't this have been a wonderful site for soccer fields and a community center?' Isn't the cost of losing it greater than the dollars to buy it? Once this is lost, there is no way to ever get it back," said Keller.
The City of Woodinville has already taken some steps to protect the public's stake in the event of private development through zoning requirements.
Private developers of the Sorenson property would have to comply with Woodinville City Ordinance No. 193 which requires "Pre-development versus post-development need for services such as ... parks, playgrounds, recreational facilities ... shall be measured not only from increased demand created by the development itself, but any reduction in the municipal facilities or services brought about as a direct result of the development."
"It is my understanding Woodinville has current zoning regulations which require anyone developing those fields to provide an equivalent or better amenity. We would expect current Woodinville zoning to protect the public's interests. If the Northshore School District decides to sell the Sorenson property, the public can be assured that its interest in maintaining fields for public use would be a major topic of discussion," said Dr. Forys.
Locating a comparable site that works well as ball fields won't be that easy, according to Dave Shipway, President of the Northshore Youth Soccer Association.
"The simple fact is, show me the ground where it can be done. It is a great thing to put it in the code, but find me the property where we can move the fields the way we can at Sorenson because of the natural soil. The Sorenson site is unique geologically. It has the right type of soil to grow grass, and the drainage to create great athletic fields for active use," said Shipway.
When asked if the school district has a buyer for the site, Dr. Forys responded, "The school district has not been presented with a formal purchase and sale agreement for the Sorenson property. If and when the Board is presented with a formal offer, it will be decided in an open public meeting."