Council approves funding for Front Street improvement project

Council has approved funding for the Front Street Streetscape between Sunset Way and NE Alder.

The city of Issaquah has taken its first step in the Front Street Streetscape project to make improvements along Front Street between Sunset Way and Northeast Alder.

At the Feb. 5 city council meeting, the council approved funding more than $156,000 in 2019 for the Front Street Streetscape project. In the works since 2017, the phase one of the project aims to enhance Front Street and improve it for pedestrians with the installation of trees, planters, irrigation, and decorative seating and benches, bike racks, and artistic screens to block the view of parked cars in alleyways.

Staff brought the question of how to fund the price of phase one of the project to the council and offered alternative solutions. Ultimately the council debated the merits of funding the project entirely through the general fund or using a combination of money from the city’s tree mitigation fund and the general fund.

The split option would take $30,000 from the tree mitigation fund and more than $126,000 from the general fund. The tree mitigation fund has about $100,000 allocated for its use.

The questions asked by the council mostly focused on the use of the tree mitigation fund, and if the intent of the fund was to be used for a project like this. The addition of trees to the street is actually the replacement of trees, as previous trees had to be removed due to sidewalk work, changes in grading, and overall tree health.

Councilmember Victoria Hunt made a motion to fund the project directly from the general fund as she felt the tree mitigation money would be more appropriately used in other tree canopy and health work the city plans to do later this year.

“My understanding of the intent of the tree mitigation fund is to improve and strengthen our trees on public property in the city, so replacing the trees the city removed, I don’t know that meets the intent,” she said. “I think that fund should be for new trees or improving the health of trees in the city, not because we removed trees and are putting them back.”

Other councilmembers, including Chris Reh, disagreed and affirmed it was appropriate to use the tree mitigation fund, as the $30,000 of general fund money saved could be used in more flexible situations for other projects.

Councilmember Tola Marts agreed with Reh and stressed the importance of the general fund for other upcoming projects.

“There’s a lot of heavy lifts to come out of general fund, and if we can spread some of that heavy lifting out, every dollar we can do will help us the rest of the year in the tough choices we have in front of us,” he said.

The motion to approve the project funding solely from the general fund passed with a 4-3 vote with councilmembers Reh, Marts, and Bettise voting against.

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