a group of people taking a picture with a camera.
Nov 01 2016

Suncadia: Profile of an Emerging Townspeople – by Jim Fossett and Kathleen Horner

UPPER KITTITAS COUNTY – If you look beneath the branding over the last decade, few would argue families with homes at Suncadia master planned community are taking root as a community. The story of this community is more than the aerial photo that defines the place.

The photo shows only a fraction of the resort community’s neighborhoods. Within them are networks, organizations, causes and clubs homeowners have brought to life that give Suncadia the profile of a townspeople.

The energy of the place is unique. Few second-home communities can approach the 46 percent of Suncadia owners who call themselves “frequenders” (spending two to three nights most weekends there). Proximity to the Puget Sound makes the weekend commute easy and heightens a sense of belonging.

Many residents telecommute and even day-trip to work in the Seattle area. Business owner Bryan Kettel is one of them. “I stack up my appointments on the two or three days a week when I commute to Redmond,” he explains. “On my way home, when I get to the Easton hill on I-90—everything feels better.”

There are 66 permanent households, 389 second homes, and more than 55 more construction starts planned in Suncadia this year. Another 90 homes and 254 condos are available as rentals. Add to that two restaurants, a winery-pub and restaurant, two concert venues, a lodge with conference center, an inn, a health and fitness facility and spa, two golf courses, and a swimming pool.

This is a master planned community that is roaring out of the economic recession, with over $66 million in real estate sales so far this year, up 34% from last year.

“This isn’t your family secret anymore”

Roslyn City Council Member and Kittitas Conservation Trust (KCT) Project Manager Mitch Long agrees. He adds, “A lot of change has happened very quickly here, and that tends to send people into defensive mode.” He advocates accepting change, welcoming our Suncadia neighbors, and working together to manage growth. Change is happening, he said. Salmon La Sac, Roslyn, Ronald, and the Teanaway Community Forest have always been destinations for recreational tourism. “This isn’t your family secret anymore, that’s the difference. And we get to figure out together what that means for us.”

‘Where My Friends Are’

Two well-groomed public parks, miles of trails and two outdoor pavilions seemingly leave Suncadia lacking only a retail district, a mayor and a gas pump—though the community does have state of the art ‘pumps’ for electric cars.

Where most towns have their own fire, utilities, roads, police, land use, and planning departments, Suncadia homeowners contribute to Community Associations and Community Council entities that work with local officials and the KCT to serve the 6,300-acre development and open space. They maintain the roads and public parks. Community Patrol cars monitor the neighborhoods. A Land Stewardship Committee manages forest health and Firewise programs. Suncadia has its own water company, a public utility.

As for being Upper County’s leading economic engine, Suncadia is a lucrative job market, mining local students and surrounding communities for full-time, part-time and contract work. Excluding teams of contractors building homes and condo projects there, Suncadia resort and commercial entities’ seasonal peak of 650 jobs makes it the county’s second largest employer.

“Growth is what developments are about,” says Kurt Fresh, homeowner representative board member of Suncadia’s Residential Owners Association. “But the people who live here, our friendships, the sense of belonging and giving back—that’s the real character of a community.” He says each year brings new owners, “frequenders” staying longer, second homes that become permanent homes.

At a recent owner get-together, Richard Seay, director of Suncadia Real Estate Sales, gained an unexpected insight: “I heard three homeowners tell me the basically same thing that evening: that’s where I work, but this is where my friends are.”

Volunteers, Just Like Their Neighbors

Just like their neighbors in Roslyn and Cle Elum, Suncadia community members are eager to volunteer. They serve on local boards like the Roslyn Downtown Association and Washington State Horse Park, and the County Lodging Tax Committee. They write grants for nonprofits. They tutor kids, build Habitat for Humanity homes, and helped remodel the NWI Building.

They also repair local trails for the Mountains to Sound Greenway. Says Jon Hoekstra, Greenway president, “We’ve had eight work parties of Suncadia owners in four years. This last one—a crew of 25 spent the day cutting overgrowth in the Teanaway. Pretty great, really.”

Retirees—and those getting ready to retire—look for ways to connect with their communities. Says recent retiree (and 22-year veteran of The Boeing Company) Gordon Miller, “I’ve been coming to this area since the 70s. We bought a house in Roslyn in 1981 before we built our home in Suncadia. It’s a great feeling to finally live here full time. Now we can spend more time enjoying the area and volunteering.”

Pat Simpson, director of Suncadia Community Associations, agrees that homeowners are actively involved in building a sense of community. They’ve formed two book clubs, organized public lectures and star-gazing, a weekly hiking group, and kids activities. The owner-funded Suncadia Fund for Community Enhancement, one of two nonprofits in Suncadia, funds public concerts and events like Harvestfest, and makes local grants.

“Our homeowners make significant contributions to local charities and high school scholars through Upper Kittitas County Rotary’s Scholarship fund, and the community supports an impressive public program for the performing arts,” she said.

“We’re Only Halfway Through”

Positive impacts aside, acceptance of the new community has been mixed, even given the rich history of diversity for which Upper County is well known.

Gary Berndt, Washington State Department of Natural Resources Wildland Fire Liaison notes, “Even without Suncadia, there is a dichotomy and diversity of lifestyles in Upper County. It takes a generation to blend and we’re only halfway through.”

Over time there will be better integration of newcomers with Roslyn’s ‘locals,’ agrees Long. “Because we’re neighbors,” he says.

“But let’s face it,” he cautions, “I came here in 2003 and I’ll never be a local.”

Berndt Remembers

Gary Berndt, who was mayor of Cle Elum from 1988 to 2004, remembers the day he first heard that Plum Creek Timber Company had sold the land to Jeld-Wen Inc. in 1996. Jeld-Wen owned Trendwest Resorts at the time. “I remember I drove up to the place and sat on a stump,” he said. “I just knew my life would never be the same.” He said others who worked on the project (like The Cottage Cafe & Fireside Lounge Owner Ben Goldie and Jay McGowan, now mayor of Cle Elum) knew the city   wouldn’t be the same either.

Recalls Berndt, “We said to Trendwest, ‘We’ve been here for about 110 years. You’ve been here for 100 days. You’re welcome to come, but not without cost.’”

What unfolded from Environmental Impact Studies and over 30 agreements with the developer was more than $30 million in sewer and water treatment infrastructure, a fire station and more for the city.

In 2001, Cle Elum City Council approved key agreements that would underpin what is now Suncadia. Berndt, then mayor, is fond of recalling what he said to the Council at the time: “We are writing our legacy. I hope years from now we can stand to read it.”

Looking back, Berndt believes the City did a “pretty good job” of representing its interests and anticipating impacts, including economic impact. “Cle Elum needed an economic engine in the worst way,” Berndt remembers.

He describes lines of patrons at Owen’s Meats and Cle Elum Bakery this summer—and wonders why only one block of First Street seems to have caught on. “Whose fault is that?” he wonders. In contrast, he notes proudly that “Roslyn is feasting on Suncadia.”