County proposes widening of Novelty Hill Rd.
by Lisa Allen
Valley View Editor
Taxpayers may have to pay the majority of the $43 million cost of widening NE Novelty Hill Road, with the remainder coming from mitigation fees, King County Road Services Division officials said at a Jan. 23 open house on the proposal.
King County Road Services proposes to widen the two-lane Novelty Hill Road from Avondale Road east through the planned developments on the top of the hill.
The developments include Redmond Ridge, now under construction, and the previous Blakely Ridge (now called Trilogy) on the north side of the road. The developments are being constructed by Quadrant, a Weyerhaeuser company.
The county is considering several alternatives, including "a three-lane roadway section (two travel lanes and a center turn lane), a five-lane roadway section (four travel lanes and a center turn lane) and a no-build alternative."
The purpose of the project is to handle current traffic volumes and traffic loads anticipated for 2020.
Road improvements, however, will stop at the top of the hill at the east end of the road, just before the steep, curved portion descends into the Snoqualmie Valley. County officials said there are no plans in the works for improving the winding section of the road.
"There are unstable slopes there," said Kristen Langley, Developmental Review Supervisor. "But there are improvements planned for the intersection at West Snoqualmie Valley Road and NE 124th."
Langley said road improvements completed by Quadrant as part of the Redmond Ridge development are in line with the widening proposal.
"The lanes are where they need to be," she said.
Redmond Ridge, a planned community, will contain 1,500 homes and a school that is not yet built, she said. Langley added that the Trilogy development is designed for seniors 55 and older, with some commercial development.
"That is part of the Master Planned Development," she said. "With much of the development self contained, with businesses and schools, that cuts down trips to the outside. Bus and shuttle services will also be available."
Langley said the county is making sure that state laws protecting the property rights of developers are being followed.
"There is an increased level of interest in the agency to look out for the rights of property owners who are trying to develop," she said. "It's a balancing act."
Nearby residents, however, are looking askance at the proposed road widening.
Anne Salmi lives along Novelty Hill Road and says she feels that widening the road is an exercise in futility.
"This was all decided five years ago," she said. "They (the county) talked to everybody like they were a blank wall and set it up so Weyerhaeuser would pay for as little as possible."
Salmi has proposals of her own, which include new roads. In a letter to King County, she suggested new, alternative routes. But, she says, the county says building new roads is too difficult.
Friends of the Law (FOTL), a citizens group that has fought the developments in court for years, claims the county, during EIS hearings in 1995-1996, insisted that the current two-lane road would handle the traffic forecasted for the buildout of the developments. As a result, said FOTL, Quadrant was given permission to build the developments without improving the road, except for adding center turn lanes and lights.
Now, they say, the taxpayers will be paying for the needed road improvements.
Joe Elfelt, head of Friends of the Law, said a county hearing examiner will be taking testimony during upcoming public hearings regarding the permits that have not yet been granted for Redmond Ridge South, which would take up about one-half of the Redmond Ridge development.
The hearings will begin on March 5 at the DDES office in Renton.
"Friends of the Law has been given intervenor status which gives us the right to do discovery (on the road capacity)," he said. "County staff and Quadrant officials will be testifying."
"Traffic is the real issue," he said. "But another problem is that Quadrant wants to change the location of the school and put it in the south end where it would be much more difficult for the kids to walk to school."
Friends of the Law has also claimed victory in a land use zoning battle on part of the proposed development property. Last month, the King County Council downzoned 60 percent of the 2,586 acres planned for the developments, leaving all of the Blakely Ridge site and the area east of Redmond Ridge zoned rural.
But Elfelt said Quadrant and King County have filed a lawsuit to restore urban zoning on the land. FOTL, however, also has a lawsuit to downzone all the property, with a tentative court date toward the end of April.
"It's not over until Quadrant divides all of it into five-acre lots," he said.