Concern over vacant properties prompts Issaquah land use amendments

Issaquah Planning Policy Commissioners unanimously endorsed proposed changes to the Land Use Code at their Aug. 19 meeting.

Issaquah Planning Policy Commissioners (PPC) unanimously endorsed proposed changes to the Land Use Code at their Aug. 19 meeting. The amendments effect vacant commercial properties throughout the city, which have dramatically increased with the economic slowdown.

Last year, the city council became concerned with the visual appearance of unoccupied businesses and requested that the administration explore ways to address the issue. After researching the issue, the administration drafted four amendments that City Planner Jason Rogers presented to the commission on Thursday:

The first amendment was to Issaquah Municipal Code (IMC) 18.02.230, which defines the terms used in the Land Use Code. Currently, there is no definition of word uninhabited. There is only the definition of vacant, which means “A lot, parcel, or site that does not contain a structure.” The administration proposes adding a definition of uninhabited that states “A lot, parcel, or site that contains a structure but is otherwise unoccupied by residents or businesses, or other persons.”

The next amendment would be adding IMC 18.07.245, entitled Vacant or Uninhabited Commercial Property. This section establishes standards “to reduce visual blight, aid in emergency access and fire safety, guard against the creation of rodent and pest harborage, and reduce the impact on the natural environment from noxious weeds.”

It accomplishes these goals by requiring that property owners screen vehicles stored on the site, provide proper security and maintenance, remove garbage, trash and noxious or destructive plants, and keep weeds and all other plants at a height of 24 inches or less.

The final two proposed amendments are under IMC 18.12, the Landscaping and Tree Preservation Code. First, the administration proposed defining a weed as “Thistles, grasses (such as Bermuda Grass) or other plants that are a nuisance, hazard, tend to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants, or cause injury to people, animals or a desired flower, garden plant or lawn cover.”

Lastly, the proposal suggested amending IMC 18.12.110 to clarify the requirements of fencing outdoor storage areas.

After Rogers completed his presentation, the commissioners opened the public hearing portion to allow people to express opinions and ask questions. The only resident who chose to speak was Connie Marsh, who stated her concern that the city doesn’t have to follow the new regulations.

“I like your definition of weeds and the 24 inches, but I don’t really like the city not having to…adhere to the same standards,” she said.

Commissioner Sajal Sahay agreed that the city should have to meet the same requirements as business owners and suggested that wording be added to the amendment.

Rogers responded by saying that there is existing code to address that issue. “I’m not saying we do the best we can all the time, but we try very hard to maintain our properties,” he added.

Once the discussion concluded, the commissioners seemed satisfied with the explanations and approved the amendments without changes. Now the amendments will be drafted into an agenda bill that will go to the city council sometime in September.