Rats eject Hopelink from downtown: Organization moves to city-owned building in Bridle Trails

Thanks to a very persistent and pernicious rat population, Kirkland Hopelink has vacated its downtown site at 302 First St., where it has served low-income Kirkland clients since 1995, and moved to the former South Rose Hill Water District office building at 12013 N.E. 65th St. The site also includes a garage (where the food will be stored), a pump house and a 195-foot-wide water tower.

The mounting rodent infestation problem at the downtown, city-owned building was likely due to its age, wood construction, proximity to the water and nearby new home and condominium construction. Following an increasing number of inspections and calls, an environmental consultant recommended that they vacate the premises.

Other than the 4,200-square-foot water district office - which has been vacant since March - the other choice was to consolidate Hopelink's services with the south Bothell site, which some felt could add to transportation difficulties for Kirkland clients. (Approximately 25 percent of the clients use public transportation - about 62 people.)

So the city - which funds essential human services such as Hopelink - invited the organization to apply for an emergency permit to use the city-owned property in the Silver Spurs neighborhood of Bridle Trails. As it stands at this writing, Hopelink's last day of operations downtown was Oct. 25 and planned to open its doors in Bridle Trails Oct. 30. The city's planning department is processing the permit and anticipates it will be complete by the end of November.

The entire package seemed like a no-brainer; in fact, the request for the emergency permit was passed unanimously by Kirkland City Council Oct. 17. Even Mayor Jim Lauinger's first response was, "Hooray," when asked the next day about his reaction to the move. And Glenn Miller, Hopelink's communications manager, was happy to have found a new site well before the Thanksgiving holiday. "The Kirkland City Council really stepped up," he said.

Jury still out in Silver Spurs

Unfortunately, not everyone is cheering - and most are long-standing Silver Spurs residents who selected this "horsey" area for its serenity and solitude. Those in opposition stress that their stance has nothing to do with the organization itself; it's the mere fact that this residential and bucolic neighborhood is forced to host a client-oriented, transportation-dependent business.

Residents not informed

Rubbing salt in the wound, according to Bill Anderson - one of the South Rose Hills/Bridle Trails Neighborhood Association founding members and a Silver Spurs resident - is that the neighborhood wasn't notified of the potential move until after Hopelink applied for the permit. "A week after that there was a meeting where it was mostly Jim [Lauinger] talking," he says. "It wasn't a workshop. And a week later, the city council meeting."

About 20 people - half for, half against - civilly spoke their minds at the Oct. 17 meeting, acording to several attendees. Anderson said that to the mayor's credit, he promoted working to a solution. Anderson said the majority of the council agreed that Hopelink should not make its permanent home in Bridle Trails. "I believe even Hopelink people don't think it belongs there," he added. "The city's been trying to find something to use the building for."

Site once considered for vehicle impound

In fact, Anderson says that the police wanted to use the site as an impound lot for drug-seized vehicles; a cell tower also was proposed at one time. Most recently the building was used as maintenance utility office but according to Anderson, "they left after four years because they found out it was too remote."

He adds, "The issue is that there's an unusual piece of property tucked into a quiet, residential neighborhood. It's remote, shrouded in trees, dark and isolated. What needs to go there is something that has very little traffic and doesn't need to interface with people."

Lauinger admits that the issues the neighborhood brought up "were real issues" but feels that the city has solved most of them (such as parking and trash). Moreover, he says that Hopelink is banking on the Bridle Trails site to be a temporary fix - it would be two to three years before they would find a more suitable, larger facility, especially with annexation on the horizon. "They will probably move to a more central location," he said.

All in all, the mayor feels it's a win-win and stresses the positives. "Once again, Kirkland did a very thorough job on process," he says. "We take a lot of pride on putting as much into process as we can. The fact this was an emergency challenged the process." He points to Teresa Swan, senior planner and Carrie Hite, deputy director for parks and community services who "put in an enormous amount of time. Questions were answered overnight. You have to give them total credit for handling a fairly emotional issue."[[In-content Ad]]