They were the subjects that took center stage in the 2017 mayoral election.
So it was no surprise that development and transportation topped Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly’s 2018 State of the City address at Monday’s council meeting.
Pauly, who took over as mayor at the beginning of January, spoke for just over 10 minutes on Issaquah’s successes over the past year and its plans for the future.
“My primary objective this evening is that you take away a sense of optimism and enthusiasm about our future, because that’s how I feel and that’s why I’m so excited to serve,” she began.
Pauly praised Issaquah as both surrounded by natural beauty but also the home of a vibrant business community with plenty of services, entertainment and amenities for residents.
“We are indeed at a pivotal moment in time, attempting to carefully grow … The pressure is on our city to continue to welcome and house new residents,” she said. “And so we need to thoughtfully build upon that foundation; that includes taking care not to displace jobs, or commercial spaces, or retail amenities, or natural gifts like our forested hillsides or our existing neighborhood character.”
As Issaquah changes from suburban to urban, Pauly said that redevelopment strategies will include “moving away from single-story buildings and expansive surface parking lots” to mid-size, mixed-use buildings designed for mixed use, and eventually, tall buildings and structured parking on the valley floor.
Pauly said that this process will be helped by the recent city-wide development moratorium, which went into effect in September 2016 and is scheduled to be lifted this June.
“The moratorium’s pause gave us the opportunity to create stronger requirements for better architectural fit, creative and functional urban design, additional affordable housing as our housing stock grows, planning for vertical mixed uses that allow retail and commercial to be in the same building as residential, and planning for structured, or below-grade parking,” she said.
Closely linked to making smart plans for development is transportation, Pauly said. Traffic congestion is a frequent grievance brought up by public commentators at council meetings.
“My top priority is to make it easier for our residents to get around town,” Pauly said. “This means we will not prioritize getting pass-through traffic through our city over our own mobility needs … We need to better control pass-through traffic and better manage its impact on our community.”
Still, Pauly said, there is quite a bit to be excited about in the transportation arena. The city is preparing for light rail, which is coming to Issaquah in 2041 as part of Sound Transit’s ST3 expansion. Several city transportation improvement projects are also underway, such as the Southeast 62nd Street extension, Newport Way improvements and the re-opening of the Fourth Avenue Northwest/Interstate 90 under-crossing, which is set to open back up late this year.
To better “shape our transportation future,” Pauly said that she is also thrilled about the city’s upcoming Transportation Advisory Board and Master Mobility Plan, both of which will help the city to recognize and prioritize the most critical transportation improvements.
The city is also committed to remaining green. Pauly explained that the council last year adopted its Sustainable Building Action Strategy, which was “designed to put Issaquah back at the forefront of environmental sustainability innovation.”
Green space continues to be a priority for Issaquah — Pauly noted that in the past year, the city protected wildlife habitats, made improvements to Confluence and Central parks, and opened the Skate Park at Tibbetts Valley Park. Pauly said that upcoming plans for parks include the creation of an off-leash dog park and the opening of the turf field at Central Park, the latter of which is scheduled for this year.
A frequent complaint brought up by residents during last year’s mayoral and council elections was the city’s lack of transparency, and the lack of trust between residents and their municipal government. To break down any barriers between city staff and residents, Pauly is implementing a practice that she calls “city hall outside.”
“I’m eager to come to where you are, not to force you to come to City Hall,” she said. “We’re also working to increase transparency and responsiveness in all things we do.” New strategies include an improved public notice process, more televised board and commission meetings and more interactive self-service tools, such as being able to use credit card payments for services.
Pauly ended her speech by highlighting the importance of progress and moving forward.
“Change by its nature is new and different, but we are working hard to ensure it is also a net positive to you and our community.”