Issaquah city council weighs in on regional growth plans

Council sends letter to Puget Sound Regional Council asking questions regarding future growth

With a chance to weigh in on the future planning of growth in the region, the Issaquah City Council was supportive of the Puget Sound Regional Council examining transit-focused growth and development in its long-term vision.

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), a body that works with King, Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties to develop a variety of growth related policies, is working to update its regional growth plan from VISION 2040 to VISION 2050.

The VISION plan will set long range goals for growth in the region and cities are being asked for their feedback on the goals of the project.

Keith Niven, Issaquah’s director of Economic Development and Development Services, said the PSRC is looking for comment on three possible alternatives. The first, to stay the course with the current strategy focused on growth in metro areas and cities in the four counties.

The second alternative is to focus on growth in high capacity transit areas. Niven said that approach will plan for 75 percent of future growth to be within walking distance of transit facilities. Higher density near transportation would also lead to more efficient transportation funding, he said.

The third alternative, and one recognized as the least likely to receive support by the council, is to distribute growth out to unincorporated, rural areas and smaller cities in the planning area. While populations in cities would be lower than the other options, regional traffic would be impacted by more people commuting from locations without easy access to transit.

Councilmember Lindsey Walsh was supportive of the transit alternative. She liked that the plan centered around bringing together population and transportation metrics, two elements that have not traditionally been planned together, she said.

“For a long time we have planned population and growth, and we have planned transit and traffic and congestion on two separate arms,” Councilmember Lindsey Walsh said in support of the second alternative. “I view this as a huge way to tie those two together…and say they are essentially one, that you cannot plan for growth without knowing how those people are going to travel.”

This alternative is also projected to have the lowest environmental aspect of the three, Councilmember Victoria Hunt said. In looking at projected emission levels, moving toward public transit options such as light rail would reduce the amount of cars on the road as part of the daily commute.

While the city council was generally supportive of the transit alternative, it did have several questions and concerns they wanted to make sure the PSRC was aware of.

Councilmember Tola Marts spoke to the uncertainty around the Sound Transit 3 project that aims to bring mass transit to the region through bus rapid transit and light rail. Cost overruns on the project and a car tab initiative on the ballot for November could put funding for the project in danger, and both uncertainties had Marts concerned for the future. Without those projects, cities that expect transit may be left with a higher population but no transporation.

One request the council agreed on was having PSRC look at how cities have been working toward their 2040 growth targets when considering 2050 targets. Cities with more progress in growth should get more relief in those update numbers, Marts said.

The council directed the administration to send a letter of support for the transit-focused alternative along with specific questions and concerns regarding how Issaquah would be affected by the plan. The council also noted opposition to the third alternative to spread growth to lower population county areas.

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