City, Port Blakely announce possible new development, preservation agreement

Good things sometimes come in very large packages. Such seems to be the case in a large "you scratch my back, I scratch your back" proposal Mayor Ava Frisinger presented to the Issaquah City Council last night.

Good things sometimes come in very large packages.

Such seems to be the case in a large “you scratch my back, I scratch your back” proposal Mayor Ava Frisinger presented to the Issaquah City Council last night.

City officials say the package is a smart move because it would preserve a large parcel of open space while “clustering” further development near existing transit and retail in the Issaquah Highlands.

The proposal would offer:

• 144 acres of protected open space in the city

• New homes, land and development opportunities in the Highlands

• $3 million in improvements to Central Park in the Highlands

• New affordable housing

• A Highlands gas station

• $5 million in transportation improvements to the Highlands.

“This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mayor Frisinger said. “I am really excited about it. This is a legacy that I would hate to see not take place.”

The plan

To begin with, Port Blakely would buy the land known as Park Pointe from Wellington Park Pointe LLC. The roughly 100 acres of Park Pointe would be turned into open space for the City of Issaquah. Port Blakely owns about 78 acres, commonly called the WSDOT rural parcel. That land would be added into the Issaquah Highlands — a move that would require changing the Urban Growth Boundary and annexing the land into the city. Of those 78 acres, Port Blakely would only be able to develop 36 acres, the rest of which would be left as permanent open space and park land.

Port Blakely would be allowed to build an additional 1.1 million square feet of commercial space and 550 new residential homes.

Central Park, where improvements to make the fields all weather have been under debate in the council for months, would receive $3 million in improvements, most likely in the form of two new lighted, all-weather turf recreational fields.

Another issue under debate in the city has been a human services campus. In the new agreement, Port Blakely would sell 3.2 acres of land, across the street from Fire Station 73 for only 60 percent of the value — approximately $1.5 million — to be used for affordable housing and a human services campus.

Port Blakely would build 50 housing units in the Highlands that would be sold at 80 percent of median income.

The city would give a piece of its surplus property, known as “parcel D,” to Port Blakely. This area of land is near Station 73, but farther back from the road and currently only has trees on it, said Keith Niven, program manager of the Major Development Review Team.

The land use restrictions in the Highlands would be modified to allow for gas stations in the Highlands. Previously the city did not allow a gas station in the Highlands because officials believed it could pose a risk to the Issaquah aquifer. However, city offiicals now state that industry standards and improvements in spill containment indicate a gas station would not pose a significant risk. In addition, city officials say that they now know more about the geology under the Highlands. Previously it was thought that the area was a high infiltration area. However the Camp Creek slide in 2004 showed that fluids didn’t filter down but rather to the side, city officials say.

Port Blakely would now also officially be relieved of its part in an agreement regarding the Southeast Bypass, although the council voted to end that project earlier this year.

History of Park Pointe

The Park Pointe development has struggled along for more than a decade. In 1994, the area was included in the Urban Growth Boundary. The following year it became a Potential Annexation Area in the City’s Comprehensive Plan. In 1996, the area was annexed into the city. In 2000, the city adopted the urban village’s vision, but in 2001 the city council choose to amend the land and designated the preferred land use as public or private open space. In 2005, the city removed the Urban Village Designation and changed the land use to Low Density Residential only. The development plan really stalled though once the bypass was no longer a sure thing, and despite a brief flurry of interest in 2006, any projects in the area have fallen flat.

What comes next

“… Issaquah is deeply committed to protecting our precious open space and actively planning for our urban areas,” Mayor Frisinger said in a press release. “We have the opportunity now to be smart about how we manage growth.”

At the City Council meeting on Monday, Mayor Frisinger presented the new proposal. She recommended that an ad hoc committee be formed, including Council President Maureen McCarry, Deputy President Fred Butler and Councilman John Traeger, who served as the Development Commission chair for the committee that looked at the Park Pointe project in 2006. Simultaneously the city will begin the SEPA review process and will be reviewed by the city’s Urban Village Development Commission.

All the studies will be completed by the end of November.

The council unanimously approved the motion to send the proposal to the ad hoc committee, to come back to the full council on Dec. 1.

To enact all the changes, amendments will have to be made to the two-part agreement between Port Blakely and the city, as well as the three-part agreement enacted between the city, King County and Port Blakely. This agreement dates back to when Port Blakely first began work in the area in the 1980s. At that time, the area was still in King County, but was slated to be annexed into the city.

Multiple changes to the two- and three-party amendments have taken place over the years. This will be the fifth amendment to the two-party agreement. Earlier amendments have included the Mitchell-Hill Transfer of Developement Rights, adding the Park and Ride parcel to Issaquah Highlands and removing Block 9 from Issaquah Highlands last year so the city could pursue the zHome project and the YWCA Issaquah Village Project.

“This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Issaquah to forever protect one of its last significant pieces of open space,” Frisinger said. “We are fortunate to have such great community partners who are open to working together for a common goal: responsibly planning for Issaquah’s future.”

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