Ken Hearing reflects after four terms leading North Bend through growth and change

As the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, Ken Hearing officially said goodbye to the title of North Bend mayor after 16 years. Once again, he’s just a regular resident… a retired, regular resident.

After sitting down with the former mayor, it was easy to see he was looking forward to retirement. He admitted that he really didn’t want to run for a 4th term and then joked that, heck, he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to run for that first term.

He never imagined he’d be leading the city though so much change for 16 years.

Ken was elected in November 2003 and took office in 2004, along with 4 new city council members. North Bend was 5 years into a building moratorium after losing its water rights. His first term included fighting King County over a sex offender halfway house proposed at exit 38 and controversies over a proposed hotel at I-90 exit 31 and a housing development above Forrester Woods – none of which happened.

North Bend grew through his four terms, but Ken said it didn’t grown as much and as fast as many people portray – especially compared to nearby Snoqualmie.

In 1999 North Bend had a population of 4,700. Two decades later that number is just over 7,000, but according to Ken, half of that growth came from the annexation of the eastern area of the city – the Wood River, Truck Town area – in 2009.

That’s also when North Bend got its water rights back and the recession hit. As the recession ended, the city had about 6,000 residents and more neighborhoods started quickly popping up. Those new neighborhoods have brought about 1,000 new residents to the city since 2012.

With the new growth came challenges for Ken’s administration – two big ones being sewer capacity and [mitigation] water. The city is currently expanding its waste water plant – with phase 1 ready in 2021 – and is still in negotiations with Sallal Water to address back up mitigation water requirements. Ken thinks the Sallal water contract will happen. He said currently the city has enough mitigation water and sewer capacity for all projects under construction and planned for the next 5-6 years, including two big apartment complexes in the SE 436th area that are expected to break ground this year. New development projects planned further out will have to sign contingency agreements for sewer and water as the city works out longterm solutions for both.

The North Bend landscape changed a lot during Ken’s tenure: North Bend Way go two new roundabouts to address traffic; a new fire station and city hall were built; Phoenix Plaza has replaced the bare explosion site; new parks were added – one replacing a planned development – thanks to a partnership with Si View and, of course, new neighborhoods have sprung up on former farm land.

During this time North Bend also made the national news with three big events: a natural gas explosion that took out the strip mall near Les Schwab; the Army was called in to help catch Peter Keller in his bunker near Rattlesnake Ridge and a home invasion required a homeowner to shoot and kill an intruder.

Ken said that home invasion was the last straw for the the police contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office, saying the response time to deal with the incident was 23 minutes while the irate man went through numerous backyards and eventually broke into that home by throwing a propane tank through a sliding glass door.

In 2014 North Bend began contracting with the Snoqualmie Police Department, a move considered a huge success by Ken. In fact, he said he began talking to former SPD Chief Jim Schaffer in 2006 about bringing SnoPo in to patrol North Bend, saying it just always made sense due to the the proximity of the two cities. In six years, police response times in North Bend decreased from an average of 13 minutes with KCSO to about 4 minutes with SPD. Ken said the city is a much safer place.

Ken’s also proud of the downtown revitalization work accomplished over the past few years and is excited about a new Veterans Memorial to be installed at the Northwest corner of city hall.

But there are some things Ken still hopes to see happen. The big one is affordable housing. He’d like to see the city-owned senior center site re-developed. The city has explored this option, but Ken knows the current council is opposed to anything taller than 3-stories and for affordable housing to pencil out, codes would have to change and allow for taller buildings. But he said he’s allowed to have pipe dreams and 170 affordable apartments on top of a rebuilt senior center and retail space would be a good start at providing workforce housing for local businesses.

When asked what are three projects he’s excited to see become reality this year, the answer was the new waste water plant and the two new apartment projects: the 212-unit Cedar River complex (Dahlgren property) and the 128-unit River Run complex that will include 20% affordable (80% AMI) units.

Being the mayor of a growing city came with plenty of critics, something Ken was clearly aware of during his tenure. Even before social media there were active Yahoo groups and even a website called the Valley Ghost. When asked how he dealt with harsh social media criticism over the past few years, he admitted it was hard to turn it off, but eventually said he did.

But, now that he’s officially retired, Ken said with a smile that he now has plenty of time to start weighing in on Facebook – and plans to do just that.

In a farewell message to residents Ken ended by saying:

As I retire from my post, I am handing over the reins of the city to the next mayor, Rob McFarland, in much better shape than how I received it. I thank you, the citizens of North Bend, for your support over the years and look forward to seeing you around town as I spend my retirement years in my home town. It has been an honor and privilege to serve as your mayor.”

Ken Hearing during campaign for 4th term in 2015

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  • You forgot about the time he was arrested for DV assault: “North Bend Mayor Kenneth G. Hearing was arrested Tuesday night on allegations he attacked his wife with a golf club, according to jail records and the King County Sheriff’s Office.” (Seattle PI, March 28, 2013).

  • Living Snoqualmie