Sammamish Community Council faces likely demise

It might soon be easier to build a store, a road or house of worship in east Bellevue, where voters appear to be dismantling their Sammamish Community Council.

The council, representing 15,000 people, was one of three in the state with power to veto developments, even those approved by city councils.

For builders, its demise would mean one less layer of red tape.

For residents, the vote reduces local control over growth.

Barring a dramatic reversal in final tallies, at least two big projects will no longer need community-council approval: a new mosque near Northup Way and rebuilding Phantom Lake Elementary.

The community council hasn't taken a position on either but has asked tough questions about the school, while some neighbors near the mosque site urged the council to stop it because of traffic.

Just two months ago, neighboring East Bellevue Community Council scrapped expansion of the Lake Hills Shopping Center after the city had OK'd it in August, and proponents retaliated with a "One City Campaign," which urged voters to reject the two councils.

In updated vote counts yesterday, only 46 percent voted to renew the Sammamish council for four more years, while the East Bellevue council received approval from 53 percent of the voters. The Houghton Community Council in Kirkland attracted a 76 percent yes vote. However, as many as half the votes remain to be counted.

Margaret Smith, who's on the Sammamish Community Council, was not conceding defeat, but she said voters would regret such a decision if the vote count held.

"I feel really sorry for them, really sorry, because they have no protection from the city," she said.

Smith predicts Bellevue will widen 156th Avenue, a two-lane street that passes single-family homes. Mayor Chuck Mosher called such a scenario "doubtful" because 156th isn't on the city's list of major arterials eligible for expansions.

A more immediate issue is Phantom Lake Elementary, whose library and gym would be enlarged as part of a $15 million rebuilding project.

In a hearing last month, community-council President Jim Kenney repeatedly voiced concerns over traffic and who might use the gym. His questions spooked parents who feared the rebuilding might be denied, and word spread to parents at nearby Spiritridge Elementary, one of several schools also in need of renovation, said Phantom Lake Principal Jill McLeod. Those parents made the difference in forming an anti-council majority.

The proposed Shiite mosque, at 1200 173rd Ave. N.E., would have a domed sanctuary, a school and a 45-foot-high minaret, to serve up to 240 worshippers by 2025. Despite traffic worries, the mosque was not a big issue in the community-council referendum.

Jawad Khaki, president of the mosque's board, said he didn't think the community-council referendum affected whether the mosque would be built, because people of good will can reach agreement regardless of the process.

Mosher declined to speculate on the mosque but said that going to two government agencies is a greater burden than dealing with the Bellevue City Council alone.

But he's sure the City Council "would be more for rehabilitation of our schools than the community council has given an indication."

Mike Lindblom can be reached at 206-515-5631 or