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Novelty/Union hills: A rural feel remains above Redmond
Despite a population boom in recent years, the Novelty Hill/Union Hill area east of Redmond still has horses and pastures along with new residential and commercial developments with lots of open space and trails.
Special to The Seattle Times
Novelty Hill/Union Hill
Population: About 18,800.
Distance to downtown Seattle: About 19.6 miles.
Schools: The Novelty Hill/Union Hill neighborhood is primarily served by the Lake Washington school district.
Recreation: The Redmond Watershed Preserve, 21760 Northeast Novelty Hill Road.
Watershed Preserve is an 800-acre open space and trail system, designed for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking. One unique feature is an ADA interpretive trail. There are parking areas and restrooms. Entrance off 209th is equestrian/hiking only with parking at Farrel-McWhirter Farm Park. Rangers are on duty in the summer. No pets.
Contrary to common myth, a bright orange traffic cone is not the official logo for Novelty Hill and Union Hill east of Redmond.
It’s true that such cones and barrels have become familiar fixtures for more than a decade along construction zones on their east/west corridors.
And for the approximately 18,800 residents in this unincorporated area of East King County, there’s no hiding from traffic that often crawls along these routes during rush-hour.
It’s a result of a nearly 70 percent population surge since 2000 on east Novelty Hill — most of it concentrated in a master-planned development including Redmond Ridge, Trilogy and Redmond Ridge East — a suburban pocket many locals call “the Ridge.”
Designed for more than 4,500 mostly completed condominiums, town homes, apartments, single-family and seniors-only homes ranging from the $100,000s to more than $1 million, this suburban village is relatively self-contained.
Retail clusters, parks and trails, an 18-hole public golf course and a business park round out the residential triad.
Nearly half of the 2,126 acres in the Ridge is reserved for open space and parks.
Outside this development, much of the rest of Novelty and Union hills is a landscape of bucolic horse pastures, smaller neighborhoods and unblemished open space in the surrounding 24-square-mile expanse.
It’s that hybrid feel that draws those like Tracy Wick to her home on the Ridge.
“All around us it’s rural. But once you get here it’s just this nice family setting with a grocery store, Starbucks and King County Library Express right in our neighborhood,” she says.
“There are all sorts of neighborhood conveniences, a lot of choices up here,” Wick continues. Aside from an occasional trip to Issaquah for a child’s orthodontic appointment, “we can go for days without leaving the hill.”
“Corny as it sounds,” she adds, there’s a sense of comfort and charm “in driving on Novelty Hill Road, where my kids and I play ‘count the horses.’ ”
In fact, pastoral parcels in horse-acre sizes and larger are often distinguished by classic white pasture fencing and barns along Northeast Novelty Hill and Union Hill roads — and equestrian lifestyles still define many of the homes on both hills.
At the peak of Union Hill, the sneak-up-on-you driveways are often so long and tree-protected that you can’t see the homes from the street.
Down the road, open parcels host chestnuts, bays and palominos that give the occasional glance to cars humming along Northeast Union Hill Road.
And before it reaches a bustling new Swedish Medical Center / Redmond Campus at busy Avondale Road Northeast, the two-lane/no-shoulder road descends along a 9 percent grade of weaving, winding turns.
Home values rising
While home prices vary widely, the median value of all single-family houses (not just those recently sold) in the Union Hill/Novelty Hill area was $514,500 in December, up 4.9 percent year-over-year, according to the Zillow Home Value Index.
The median value of all condos in the area was $253,100, up 0.4 percent over the past year, according to Seattle-based Zillow.
The median rent for houses in the area was $2,414 in December, up 4.6 percent year-over-year, while for apartments it was $1,562, up 2.8 percent over the past year, according to the Zillow Rent Index.
For almost 24 years, Kathy Sternoff’s family has been a mainstay along Union Hill Road. Their Union Hill Ranch boards horses and offers youth programs in English and Western riding. Two of her daughters grew up riding, left the area for college and careers, and have since returned to teach at the ranch.
“I can’t even tell you how many kids we’ve had come through here,” says Sternoff. “We have 25 or 30 in and out of here on a regular basis. I watch these kids grow and it really feels like a family. In some cases, I’ve seen almost a fourth generation.”
If not riding at the various Union or Novelty Hill ranches, many local horseback riders saddle up at Novelty Hill’s 27-acre Kathryn Taylor Equestrian Park, with a sand arena, pen and access to the Tolt Pipeline Park Trail — a route riders share with walkers, runners and bicyclists.
Just north of Northeast Novelty Hill Road, the 800-acre Redmond Watershed Preserve offers an equally accessible labyrinth of seven connecting multiuse trails highlighting scenes of woods, water and wildlife.
Though not a riding family, the Wicks were drawn to the community for “all the parks. It has, in large part, all the outdoor activities you could ask for.”
Lots of paths
Many of Redmond Ridge’s 15 miles of public soft-surface trails buzz with bicyclists, runners and stroller pushers.
Some loop past enviro-smart signs asking neighbors “would you drink the water in your gutter?” Others lead to the community club, where a recent readerboard invited neighbors to join a seasonal cleanup “litter walk.”
It’s a far cry from a century ago when pioneers and Weyerhaeuser logged this region, spawning jobs for farmers and lumberjacks, and — according to whispers — an alleged Union Hill bordello.
Today, paths in Redmond Ridge connect to 14 parks or playgrounds, while others segue onto paved paths and sidewalks that border landscaped boulevards meandering through nearby Redmond Ridge East and Trilogy.
Unlike its two all-ages neighbors, 1,080-acre Trilogy is a 55-or-older neighborhood, requiring that at least 80 percent of owners in its eventual 1,500 homes meet that age; none can be under 18 years. Most one- and two-story single-family houses range from 1,185 to 3,082 square feet.
To attract the active senior- and pre-senior crowd, Trilogy offers homes along the golf course, tennis courts, and a 32,000-square-foot clubhouse that houses a swimming pool, fitness center and spa, plus spaces for social events and education enrichment. Monthly homeowners’ fees cover the amenities.
Despite these comforts, Novelty Hill is having growing pains. Rosa Parks Elementary, the 483-student capacity school opened in 2006, is busting at the seams with nearly 793 kids.
Wick, a past PTSA co-president at the school, has seen 10 portable classrooms added to create more room — but enrollment, she says, is just growing.
“There is such a huge number of young families here — and they’re still building new homes in Redmond Ridge East,” she explains.
In 2010, Lake Washington School District voters rejected a bond issue that would have built a new elementary in Redmond Ridge East; district officials are eyeing another try in February 2014.
Until then, school leaders are reviewing several proposals to deal with the overcrowding.
And yet, like others, Wick likes the school. It’s centralized enough to make it — aside from one bus for physically challenged students — an all-walking school.
“It gives you a sense of community, a way to meet your neighbors when you’re walking to school with your kids,” she says. It’s also a microcosm of the surrounding neighborhood.
“I don’t know how diverse our entire community is, but it seems like there are at least 40 countries represented at our school,” Wick adds.
While the school is within walking distance for its students, the overall area is considered “car dependent” and got a rating of 26 (out of 100) by Walk Score, a Seattle company that provides automated walkability ratings.
Across both Union and Novelty hills, which is close to the Microsoft campus and other high-tech companies, more than one in five employed residents here works for a professional, scientific or technical company; nearly one in 10 is a computer specialist.
It’s no surprise, then, that data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 report show the Union Hill/Novelty Hill population center ranks the fifth highest of 522 places in Washington state for per capita income. The estimated median household income here was $117,824 in 2009, compared with Washington state’s $56,548 median.