Woodinville neighbors fight city code enforcement to keep ‘Yoda Grove’ park

Woodinville, WA — You may have seen a miracle. But have you ever heard one?

Jennica Kantak has.

Her son, five-year-old Joey Kantak, was delayed in speech. But this year he met a friend on a tree in a world not too far, far away.

“Some neighbors had put a yoda up on a log down the way. So it would be ‘let’s go meet at Yoda, go stop at Yoda,’” says Jennica.

And it’s that spot where Jennica heard her son’s first word.

“It’s very emotional to hear a word, as a mom, when you are desperate to talk to your child - and something so simple as Yoda,” says Jennica.

Something so sweet has been memorialized through the sweat, labor, and thousands of dollars of the people who live here. This place is a park named “Yoda Grove.”

“The love that someone thought to put a cute little Star Wars character in a tree, not even thinking it would pull language out of children. The fact that it was something so exciting to look at - it got my child who wasn’t even speaking, to talk,” says Jennica.

But the neighbors of Yoda Grove called me because they say the park is about to be downsized by the City of Woodinville.

“You would think the city would have, kind of, some more weighty matters to deal with than kind of enforcing obsolete codes against people who live in the community trying to make the community better,” says Kevin Murphy, who helped create the park.

Simply put, the city believes the park is too close to a wetland.

Murphy says the overgrown vegetation and trash that was there before did nothing to protect the wetland, or the neighborhood.

“It was a staging ground for criminal activity,” says Murphy. “Some of the adjacent - almost all of them had burglaries or break-ins. So it was very bad. Not a compliment to the community.”

In 2018, the city of Woodinville gave the community permission to clear the blackberry bushes, but they had to do it the city’s way.

“You haven’t lived until you’ve moved blackberries from the ground, roots and all. By hand,” says Kevin.

More than 4500 square feet of land cleared. They planted grass. Yoda and friends found their place. And then someone complained to the city.

“Within a week we had two signs posted in here saying ‘stop work,’” says Murphy.

Permission not granted.

“Unfortunately, the issue is mostly with the grass. One, it’s not a native species to the area and two, it’s not a great habitat for a wetland,” says City of Woodinville spokesperson Kevin O’Neill.

I wondered: if the city cared so much about the wetland, why is there still trash in it?

“I don’t know. It could be because we were unaware. It could be due to staffing limitations,” says O’Neill.

Then I got a look at the city’s potential changes to Yoda Grove Park. It eliminates almost all of the grass, except near the sidewalk.

Woodinville Mayor Elaine Cook isn’t happy about it either.

As it stands now, the plans would only allow a six foot strip of grass.

“And that’s not enough. That’s not acceptable,” says Mayor Cook. “They are going to put in some type of plant and the blackberries will win the war, they’ll be right back and it just robbed us of just a real asset of this community.”

Also, under the plan the community must maintain the property for five years - or face possible fines.

And that takes us back to Joey. His parents, along with the neighborhood, will fight to save every inch of this park. As Yoda would remind them, they have no choice. Do or do not. There is no try.

“I couldn’t imagine if we couldn’t come down here, have a place to park the bikes and wagon and play with the leaves or go throw rocks in the pond. They’d be pretty crushed, so that would make me sad,” says Jennica.

Just today I got a call from the City of Woodinville. They said they are re-designating the wetland, and it might preserve a little more grass for their kids to play with. We’ll keep you updated with what the city tells us.

Email Jesse right now at consumer@kiro7.com