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Thursday, July 25, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Issaquah or Sammamish? Community shops for a city

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

With its leafy streets, wide sidewalks and well-educated owners behind the doors of well-kept houses, Klahanie is a neighborhood any city would be eager to claim for its own.

Mandated by King County to incorporate into one of the cities flanking it, Klahanie is in the ideal position of choosing between the two, each city willing to make Klahanie its own.

It's a choice not without controversy as residents consider the options.

Should Klahanie form an alliance with Sammamish, a 3-year-old city of 34,000 people with which it has much in common, including several miles of border atop the Sammamish Plateau?

Or should Klahanie join Issaquah, a city of 13,000 with a nice sense of history and a nicer retail tax base, which is already saddled with rapid growth and perhaps needs to put off such a union for years?

Klahanie, which opened in 1985, was among the first master-planned communities in the Northwest.

The community is pinched between Issaquah and Sammamish in unincorporated King County. It has about 11,000 residents in single-family homes, apartments and condominiums.

Last year the Klahanie Homeowners Association began to look seriously at which city Klahanie should join. A study showed that annexation to Issaquah would save the owner of an average-value Klahanie home (assessed at $291,000) roughly $270 annually, and joining Sammamish would save roughly $200.

Sammamish has been eager to quickly annex Klahanie. More homes would increase the city's tax base and boost its population to nearly 50,000, making it a much bigger player on the Eastside.

Yet Klahanie lies within a designated area that Issaquah intends to annex one day. But last fall the city told Klahanie it probably couldn't welcome the community until at least 2006, and perhaps later. Adding Klahanie would nearly double the population of Issaquah overnight, and the city already is trying to keep up with two other planned communities, Issaquah Highlands and Talus, that will add 5,000 housing units to the city. City officials fear annexing Klahanie could burden existing city services.

"We have undergone tremendous growth and it's not fair to our current citizens to be forced to accept a lower level of service because we annex someone," Issaquah City Council President Fred Butler said recently.

Last fall, after a small straw poll showed Klahanie residents' overwhelming interest in joining Sammamish — but did not give residents the choice of waiting to join Issaquah instead — the homeowners board passed a resolution recommending annexation to Sammamish and began working on an initial agreement with the city.

Waiting years to join Issaquah isn't practical, said Kevin Seward, president of the homeowners association, which spends $65,000 annually to hire off-duty police officers who provide extra traffic enforcement because the county does not provide the level of service residents want. "They're all staffed out here not for an urban area, but for a rural area," Seward said.

Seward added that Klahanie residents pay about $1.7 million in county road taxes annually, but don't see nearly that much in return.

"We owe it to our residents to do something," he said.

Ben Yazici, Sammamish's city manager, said, "It looks like we can provide the services much better than the services that they are currently receiving."

The news that Klahanie would work toward joining Sammamish amazed some residents. In one week, homeowner Karen May and others collected 350 signatures of people who were interested in joining Issaquah.

"It's a part of our daily life," May said of that city. "I go down there sometimes three or four times a day."

"I Love Issaquah," a vociferous group that May helped form, championed joining that city. A second straw poll showed overwhelming support for waiting for annexation to Issaquah.

Since then a third poll has been taken. The results are to be announced at the end of July.

Impressed by the support, the Issaquah Planning Policy Commission unanimously recommended earlier this month that the City Council keep Klahanie in its "potential annexation area." The commission also urged Issaquah to perform a study by the end of next year on how feasible and expensive it would be to speed up the annexation of Klahanie.

"It needs to be judicious but it also needs to be expeditious," said Valerie Southern, a Klahanie resident and a member of the commission.

Complicating the debate is money for fire protection. Several cities' fire departments and surrounding fire districts belong to a consortium called Eastside Fire and Rescue. A new study has suggested that some participating areas such as Klahanie are paying more than their share for fire service, while others aren't paying enough, based on the number of calls for service.

Sammamish said that if it annexes Klahanie, the city would push to reduce Klahanie's contribution from $1.5 million to $800,000.

Chris Solomon: 206-515-5646 or csolomon@seattletimes.com.

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