LAKE STEVENS — Dozens of Lake Stevens residents could soon have access to a 12-block paved trail dotted with parks, right from their backyards.
The city of Lake Stevens hopes to begin construction on the Powerline Trail sometime this year.
The project is Mayor Brett Gailey’s brainchild, in partial response to residents’ needs shared in a 2019 survey, said Jill Meis, city parks planning and development coordinator. A majority of survey respondents said they believe the city needs more pedestrian trails, and they want more parks within a mile or two of their homes.
“One of the problems we have is we don’t have a lot of sidewalks, but we’ve got a lot of walkers and runners,” Gailey said. “I saw that space as unused space, and space we can easily get turned into a trail.”
When this section of the trail is complete, the existing dirt utility road beneath high-tension power lines will be paved, connecting neighborhoods, picnic and play areas and a new dog park, from 20th Street SE to Eighth Street SE.
There’s one hitch: The city needs to acquire some easements.
The project hinges on property owners’ willingness to sign easement agreements. As of Jan. 12, only about 10 of more than 50 property owners from the Willowood and Quail Court neighborhoods had signed, Meis said.
Residents were invited to Zoom meetings with city parks and planning staff beginning in fall 2020, and again in spring and summer 2021, Meis said. The city shared early plans, with options for a dog park just north of Quail Court, picnic and play areas near the 20th Street entrance, and several designated parking areas.
Still, some residents felt left out of the conversation.
During one of the Zoom meetings, Quail Court resident Stephanie Steffan said city officials cut her off.
“And soon enough, they muted me,” she said.
She said she brought a range of concerns to the meetings.
For one, Steffan said, it seems like the land behind her neighborhood serves as a refuge for wildlife, like coyotes forced out of construction sites across the city. A popular trail and associated parks, she said, would compromise that space.
“Because of all these new developments being built, they’re confused as to where to go,” Steffan said. “And so they’re going back there.”
Steffan said families play with their kids behind the neighborhood, other residents throw balls for their dogs, and if the city wasn’t taking the property, she envisioned Quail Court residents planting a community garden there.
She and others were leery of bringing more pedestrian and vehicle traffic into their neighborhood. Street parking is already sparse, and some worried the easement may mean a loss of privacy. Their homes are already visible from the existing utility road.
City officials heard these concerns loud and clear, Meis said.
In response, the city included a wider natural vegetation buffer between the dog park and homes, and an additional parking lot along 12th Street to ease the pressure on homes near 20th Street, in the preliminary design.
In late November 2021, Quail Court residents received a letter stating they had to agree to an easement in their subdivision. The city valued each of the 33 Quail Court property owners’ share of a 5,500-square-foot field behind their homes on 88th Drive SE at about $10.
Willowood residents received a similar letter, stating that each owner has an equal $41.67 share in the easement through their neighborhood tract.
Property owners in both neighborhoods were offered $100 for signing the agreement within 30 days of receiving the letter.
If homeowners did not agree, the city could start the process of seizing the property through eminent domain, according to a Nov. 30 letter to Quail Court residents.
Local governments can seize properties if they prove that the use is public, public interest requires it and the property is necessary for that purpose.
In February 2020, Meis went door to door around neighborhoods that border the existing utility road.
The pandemic threw a wrench in the outreach process, Meis said. But the city still made at least three contacts, through informational postcards and letters.
Some residents asked if the city would add speed bumps on their road, citing concerns about existing speeding and the potential for increased traffic.
Meis said she’s happy to continue the conversation, recognizing public outreach was simpler in pre-pandemic times.
City staff could conduct face-to-face outreach with those using existing parks and lead in-person meetings, Meis said. Engagement is important for both planning and education.
The project is of personal significance to Meis, who grew up in Snohomish County using and loving the Centennial Trail.
Public spaces like parks and trails “raise quality of life, property values and provide equity — it’s a place you own just as much as anyone else,” Meis said. “It’s such an amazing thing that no matter your socioeconomic status, you will always have a lawn.”
Lake Stevens has about 171 acres of parks.
Quail Court resident Jason Waltman said he and his wife are “really excited,” but they don’t represent the majority opinion in the neighborhood.
“There’s mixed feelings for sure,” Waltman said.
Steffan said she wishes the city would just let the open space be.
“Seriously,” she said. “For years it’s been sitting back there. Nobody’s ever bothered with it. It’s for wildlife. Not for a dog park. … What part of this makes any sense at all? Because you’re just disrupting our whole neighborhood.”
There’s a popular dog park about a mile away from the one included in the preliminary design for the Powerline Trail.
A non-motorized trail connecting Lake Stevens with neighboring cities has been in talks for years, said Jim Haugen, Lake Stevens Arts & Parks Foundation secretary and former parks director for the city.
In 2019, the city signed an agreement with Marysville for the development of the Powerline Trail, laying the foundation for a future multi-city trail.
“The goal is to tie into the Centennial Trail and all those connections back to there,” Haugen said. “It’s huge — the Centennial Trail gets tons of use. What’s great about it is there’s no traffic, you’re not fighting cars.”
Marysville is leading the design effort for a piece of the trail that would connect Lake Stevens’ Powerline Trail with Marysville’s Bayview Trail. The two cities secured about $500,000 in funding from the state Legislature for the project design.
“This is an area that’s really growing in the county,” Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said. “It will be nice to be able to provide a walkable, bike-able trail — obviously for Lake Stevens and Marysville citizens, but also regionally.”