The saga of the Polygon Northwest development in the Issaquah Highlands finally came to an end at the June 19 City Council meeting.
And it was a bit of an unexpected ending, as rather than voting on one of the two options that the administration put forward, the council chose to combine the two to maximize the amount of affordable housing included in the plan.
Polygon’s proposition to transfer 100 Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) from Park Pointe to its Westridge Development, located west of Safeway between Northeast High Street and Fifth Place Northeast, necessitated the council’s approval, as it would require a major modification to the Issaquah Highlands Development Agreement.
The TDRs would increase the density of Westridge from 265 to 365 homes. After an analysis of the impact of the additional houses, the city determined that the infrastructure would be sufficient for the new residents.
Polygon had previously promised the city that it would provide some affordable housing units in addition to the TDRs.
Proposal 1 suggested that Polygon build 38 affordable units, as well as a group home for adults with disabilities for Issaquah nonprofit Life Enrichment Options, in the Westridge Development. The 38 units would include 14 units at 80 percent of the area median income, 17 at 100 percent of the AMI and seven at 120 percent of the AMI.
“The whole goal of mixing affordable housing within Issaquah Highlands is that they are in a neighborhood surrounded by market-rate units and their kids will play with the kids across the street,” explained Keith Niven, director of economic development and development services.
As compensation for building the affordable housing, the city would hand over Parcel D, a tract of land just west of Northeast Falls Drive and the Forest Ridge Community that is owned by the city and has been set aside for affordable housing, to Polygon. Polygon would build 11 of its market-rate units on this parcel, which is worth $1.6 million.
Proposal 2 would remove Parcel D from the equation. Instead, the city would transfer 10 affordable units from Parcel D to Polygon, and Polygon would include 10 affordable units at 60 percent AMI in Westridge.
“None of these homes would be affordable for the people that are moving in them if they get built,” Niven said. “These are satisfying a need for people looking to live in this community that cannot afford these units at market [value].”
The major theme during the public hearing that started off the agenda bills was the need for more affordable housing at lower rates than 80, 100 and 120 percent AMI.
“I don’t see 120 percent of area median income as being really affordable housing; I’m not sure what definition we’re using here,” said Elizabeth Maupin.
Council candidate Justin Walsh asked if there was an option that could include both 60 percent AMI units and a LEO house for adults with disabilities.
Connie Marsh suggested building 14 houses, of which 80 percent would be at 80 percent AMI and under, and 20 percent would be at 60 percent AMI and under.
“We need more affordable housing for lower incomes,” she summarized. David Kappler agreed with her.
Julie Adamek reiterated the request for more 60 percent AMI housing. Adamek, a teacher’s aide for the Issaquah School District, said that she knows “many teachers who can’t even afford to live on the Eastside.”
“I can’t imagine people moving here who have to pay $400,000, $500,000, $600,000, $700,000 just for a place to live … I think it’s a shame that developers think that $600,000 is affordable,” said Geraldine Carey. “To me, it’s a crime.”
All of the council members present agreed that affordable housing was a necessity in Issaquah.
Councilmember Tola Marts said that AMI in King County is about $96,000, meaning the incomes of people looking to buy 80-120 percent AMI homes range from $77,000 to $115,000 per year. Marts said that there were currently only about 25 homes on the market in Issaquah for those income levels, and called 39 more houses “a non-trivial increase” that “substantially improves the ability for working families to get access to all the things we love about Issaquah.”
“That’s a cop and a teacher, or a teacher and a painter at Boeing … that to me really feels like workforce housing,” Marts said. “And it’s a conversation we’ve been having for a long time.”
Council President Stacy Goodman said that while she, as a resident of the Highlands, was very much in support of affordable housing and housing for people with disabilities being built in her neighborhood, she did not like the precedent that would be set if the city simply handed over a valuable tract of land to a developer.
“I think this would create a very, very concerning policy if we decided that we were going to subsidize each unit of affordable housing by over $40,000 … that’s not sustainable,” Goodman said. She said that she would support the second proposal if it included a LEO house.
Deputy Council President Mary Lou Pauly agreed that gifting land to a developer would set a bad precedent, and noted that the city is currently at 10 percent affordable housing units, when the goal is 40 percent.
“We’re not going to get there if we subsizize every single one of those units,” Pauly said. “In order to get to 40 percent now, we’d have to build the next 6,000 housing units in town — almost two times the size of the Highlands — and we’d have to contribute to it to get there.”
“If this city wants to change directions … we’re going to have to do it with developers and not for developers,” Pauly continued.
Councilmember Bill Ramos made an amendment combining the two proposals into one so that a total of 48 affordable housing units — 10 of which would be at 60 percent AMI — and one LEO house would be built in the Highlands, and Parcel D would be given to Polygon.
“I’m afraid if we sit on Tract D, we’ll be sitting on Tract D for quite a while, and it’ll be not being utilized … it’s going to take a while, and meanwhile, we’re not having housing,” Ramos said.
“Getting 48 workforce housing units in the city I think is important,” Marts said. “I think it’ll have an effect that’ll allow working families that wouldn’t otherwise be able to live in Issaquah to be able to live in Issaquah.”
The amended motion passed 4-2, with Pauly and Goodman voting nay.
Councilmember Eileen Barber was not present for the vote.