While many residents in any given city have concerns about what’s going on in their communities, attending a council meeting or public hearing is not always easy.
For some people, making it down to City Hall in the evening may be difficult because meetings are held during dinner time while for others, they might have a hard time finding child care.
Whatever the case may be, the City of Redmond has been putting in the effort to make it easier for people to talk to their council members and voice their concerns with Neighborhood Conversations, a series of casual public forums held in different neighborhood venues. In addition, these events also give residents the opportunity to learn about city projects.
The events are kid friendly, with the city providing activities for youngsters, so attending is more convenient for parents.
The latest conversation on Monday evening at Horace Mann Elementary School was the third the city has held and the final one for the year.
Lisa Rhodes, communications and marketing manager for Redmond, said they plan to hold more come 2017.
At these meetings, Redmond Mayor John Marchione said some of the big questions people have been asking have focused on the downtown, parking and growth. There have also been specific neighborhood questions.
The conversations are a question-and-answer format, with attendees writing their questions down to be presented to council members. It is mostly council members who answer questions, although Marchione — who serves as the evenings’ emcee — will chime in from time to time. And for questions that require more technical or detailed answers, the mayor said they will refer the resident to specific city staff or ask for the resident’s email address so they can answer the question that way.
Growth was a common area of concern among attendees.
In addressing this topic, council president Hank Margeson first explained how the city — like all cities in the Puget Sound area — is required by state law to absorb some of the growth that is coming to the region. He said council’s plan is to focus on building density in the downtown and Overlake neighborhoods to preserve existing single-family neighborhoods, although he did acknowledge there has been growth on Education Hill and in north Redmond. This was because there was some space to build in those neighborhoods, Margeson said.
With the amount of multi-family units being built in town, people also wanted to know why they are mostly apartments instead of condominiums as the latter would allow residents to invest in their homes rather than living in Redmond temporarily.
Margeson explained that when developers apply for permits, they only indicate that they plan to “build housing.” They are not required to specify between apartments or condominiums. He added that there are certain state laws that make things problematic for developers to build condominiums.
On the topic of housing, one resident asked whether council has the power to increase the amount of affordable housing developers are incentivised to build from 10 percent to 33 percent — which better reflects the percentage of residents who earn 80 percent of the area’s median income (the formula used to determine whether someone is eligible for affordable housing).
In response, council members said that is something they will look into, though they also noted that if there are more affordable housing units in a building, that could raise the price of rent for the rest of the tenants as developers would need to make up for the loss.
And with growth comes traffic, which was another common area of concern.
Council member John Stilin noted that while the state is requiring cities and counties to absorb growth, it has not done anything to help build up the infrastructure to support all the people moving to the area. He said it may be time for neighboring cities to come together to go to Olympia to ask the state legislature for money to help fund road projects to support growth since the growth and traffic that comes with it is a regional issue.
“It’s not just a Redmond issue,” Marchione also acknowledged.
Residents also voiced their concerns regarding the 166th Avenue Northeast conversion, which was completed toward the end of summer 2014.
Council member Kim Allen explained that the reasoning behind their decision was safety. She said while converting the road from four to three lanes may be a little more inconvenient for drivers, the road is now safer.
Council members told the crowd that they have spoken with people who have walked or cycled up and down the hill and have been told the road is safer for them.
Residents also voiced their concerns specifically about cyclist and pedestrian safety around town.
Allen explained that the city has a rolling plan for sidewalk improvements, which would improve walkability around town.
Council member Hank Myers added that there are also physical improvements that can be done on the pavement to help differentiate and highlight bicycle lanes such as painting lanes a different color.
A new aquatics center was also an area of concern people brought up on Monday as the current Hartman Pool is no longer equipped to serve the community.
“It is a failing pool,” said council member Angela Birney, who previously served on the city’s Parks and Trails Commission.
Allen added that Redmond is also looking into the possibility of partnering with Bellevue and/or Kirkland to build a regional aquatics center.
Birney said there are a lot of factors to think about, which is why the city is planning for more community conversations to learn what people want and need in an aquatics center and/or community center. She also encouraged those at the meeting to participate in these upcoming conversations if this is an important issue to them.
For more information about Neighborhood Conversations, visit www.redmond.gov/conversa