The City of Issaquah is holding all the aces in the land sale deal in the Issaquah Highlands, and if it plays its cards right the big winner will be the people who live and work here.
According to Major Development Review Team Project Manager Keith Niven, there are a number of parties interested in the various parcels which make up the 35 acres, previously owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), that was gifted to the city as part of Issaquah Highlands/Park Pointe Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Agreement.
The city’s goal is to earn enough from selling the 35 acres, now divided into four parcels, to buy 101 acres at Park Pointe on Tiger Mountain, as well as to build about $3 million in infrastructure and measures to mitigate development of the WSDOT land.
But with demand for the land now breeding competition between potential developers, the city is in a position to make some demands on what it will need to sign a deal.
Niven told The Reporter today at least three other parties, all residential developers, had joined Bellevue College in expressing an interest in the largest of the four parcels.
“Some of them are single-unit type deals, others are multi-family residences,” he said.
Last month Bellevue College announced plans to build a satellite campus on the 19.4 acre section, which is understood to be worth about $5.2 million.
There are also a number of residential developers interested in two of the remaining three parcels. The fourth parcel, just one third of an acre, is not on the table at this stage.
“I’ve got a lot of people interested in everything,” Niven said. “Although people may think that Bellevue College is a slam dunk, and it may well be a slam dunk, we’ve got to make some decisions about what we want to see there.”
Niven was now in the process of putting together a Request for Proposal (RFP) document which would outline the criteria by which the city would chose the development it wanted. The RFP would include the city’s wish list for community amenities and preferred development, which could include the provision of trails, public open space, adherence to build green standards, or provision of affordable housing.
“The city will select its preferred buyer based on this criteria,” Niven said, agreeing that competition for the sites had put the city in a strong position and that the challenge now was to “invite creativity” to ensure it leveraged the opportunity to provide community benefit.
Niven did not rule out that extra consideration would be given to the highest bidder, but said cash would only win out if the city felt it was the best way to provide the community amenities it wanted.
“(Chair of the Major Planning and Growth Committee, Councilor) Maureen McCarry has been clear that it should be something that benefits the community,” Niven said.
The RFP document will be drafted by mid-October, before doing the rounds of the various committees and going before the council.
Originally the city had divided the 35 acre section into three parcels, of about 20, 5 and 4 acres. However, after hearing concerns the division ignored critical areas and overlapped creek buffers a new division was drawn, reducing slightly the size of the three existing parcels and creating a small fourth parcel.
Niven said the city was holding this fourth parcel, just .34 acres, in reserve for the time being, and that if additional money was needed to provide the necessary mitigation measures and infrastructure the parcel could be sold.
Niven said the parcel could alternatively be given to Habitat for Humanity for the construction of low-income housing, similar to the units now being completed in the Highlands.
“Because we feel that would be a good thing for the community,” he said.