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Issaquah Highlands: Hiking, biking trails for Central Park?

Hiking and mountain biking trails may be included in the forested Central Park area in the Highlands. The City Council’s Major Development Ad Hoc Committee met Nov. 10 with the parks department and Port Blakely officials to discuss the possibility of establishing trails, and development ideas for the Highlands, including a potential gas station. The meeting is part of a continued discussion of a proposed land swap that would protect the Tiger Mountain Forest area while opening land for development in the highlands. Under the proposed deal, Port Blakely communities would purchase the Park Pointe area on Tiger Mountain — about 140 acres — and deed it to the city, which would preserve it as permanent open space and park land. In exchange, Port Blakely would be allowed to develop about 36 acres in the Issaquah Highlands. Some community members have asked for $150,000 to be put toward trail improvement at Central Park, and an envisioned hiking trail could link High Street to residential areas above Central Park. A beginner-level mountain bike course is also proposed south of the hiking trail and would feature small jumps, logs and other natural obstacles, City Councilman John Traeger said. A paved trail providing emergency access into the park could also be a possibility, said Keith Niven, program manager for the city’s Major Development Review Team. He said the trail would be at least eight feet wide - big enough for a fire truck to use as an access road if needed - and would probably be built in an east-west direction, near the school. A beginner-level mountain bike course is proposed south of the hiking trail and would feature small jumps, logs and other natural obstacles, City Councilman John Traeger said. A gas station, which was previously not allowed in the Highlands for fear that fuel spills could contaminate the aquifer, is proposed for the south side of transit center, on Northeast High Street, according to Port Blakely officials. New construction standards essentially eliminate the risk of spills, they said. But Councilmember Dave Kappler — who was filling in for committee chair Maureen McCarry — emphasized that committee members need to focus on developing a detailed land use plan and capital improvement plan before working out how and where to develop trails. After solid plans are laid out, trail development can be pursued through grant funding, he said. “We have a pool of money and trying to mitigate that money without solid plans ... you can’t. You need to develop the plans to get grants,” he said. Also discussed was the redistribution of land parcels in order to better suit community desires. Land in the Central Park area of the Highlands is split into different “pads,” and each one is slated for different things, such as development of playing fields or trails, or being left as forested land. The committee discussed incorporating Central Park pad 5 into Pad 4, creating a wider, forested swath around the wetlands, which Niven said was a wish of the community. He also said it would not be developed as was previously considered, but would be left forested. Other possibilities discussed as part of the land swap deal: development of a human services campus, a new theater and construction of 50 units of affordable housing, among other things. The next Ad Hoc meeting will be at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 24 at City Hall Northwest, followed by a progress report at the 6:30 p.m. Nov. 25 City Council Committee of the Whole meeting. Both are open to the public. Katie Regan can be reached at kregan@issaquahreporter.com or 391-0360, ext. 5052.

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