Council approves Central Issaquah Pioneer Program

Also: Issaquah Police Department integrates body-worn cameras.

The Issaquah City Council held its general meeting on March 18, in which the council discussed three agenda bill items covering the development of the Central Issaquah Pioneer Program and its associated affordable housing levels; setting dates for a public hearing and vote on integrating the Pioneer Program into the Multi-Family Tax Exemption program; and the inclusion of a Light Rail Planning Guide.

The council also approved the implementation of a police body worn cameras program and policies, alongside approving a climate planning grant aimed toward climate planning initiatives and the city’s comprehensive plan.

Central Issaquah Pioneer Program

After a debate between council members, the council approved the Central Issaquah Pioneer Program on a 5-2 vote, with council members Lindsey Walsh, Barbara de Michele, Victoria Hunt, Russell Joe and Zach Hall approving the ordinance and Chris Reh and Tola Marts opposing.

The Pioneer Program is a project designed within the Central Issaquah Plan — approved in 2012 — and aims to increase residential development, which has failed to occur in central Issaquah, according to the bill.

With the help of A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH), the city designed the program to include a portion of permanent affordable housing units within the projects.

According to the bill, the Pioneer Program will include 100-400 units within one or two projects.

Reh, who opposed the Pioneer Program, said Issaquah residents he speaks to underscore the need for increased accessible and affordable housing. However, he said the driver of this program is built on increased market-rate housing and population.

Walsh pointed out that while the project is not centered on affordable housing, “it is additional housing, and one of the ways that you get additional lower-cost housing is by building more housing.”

Walsh used the Atlas Apartments — built in 2017 — as an example. She said this market-rate apartment caused local developers with older housing stock, such as Rowley Properties, to lower rental prices and provide more incentives for people to move in.

Councilmember Joe said the project, which could build up to 400 units with a potential of 40 affordable units, is another notch in reaching 3,500 new units by 2044, a growth target settled on by King County and the City of Issaquah.

In the same bill, the council needed to determine the required level of affordable housing within the Pioneer Program project(s).

Despite the administration’s recommendation for the project to mandate 8% of housing units at 60% area median income (AMI), an amendment was added to the bill, providing two options instead of one: the initial proposal and another option of 10% of housing units at 80% AMI.

During the audience comments, real estate developers and other development groups backed the multi-option approach, believing it would draw in a range of developers.

Hall agreed with these statements and said offering two options will provide valuable information when the council decides whether to amend the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) program to include the Central Issaquah Pioneer Program.

The MFTE program, also used for projects like the High Street Collection development, offers tax exemptions to property owners in exchange for providing income-restricted and rent-restricted units. The program promotes and maintains mixed-income housing in urban centers and affordable housing.

Hunt agreed with the administration’s recommendation. She said people in Issaquah making 60% AMI salaries are currently the most cost-burdened residents.

“We could add optionality, but we can’t really reduce optionality,” she added.

After tackling both options, council members approved the multi-option plan on a 4-3 vote, with council members Zach Hall, Russell Joe, Chris Reh and Barbara de Michele approving and Victoria Hunt, Lindsey Walsh and Tola Marts opposing the amendment to the ordinance.

After a 6-1 vote with Marts opposing, the council scheduled a public hearing date to discuss including the Central Issaquah Pioneer Program into the MFTE program on April 15, followed by a council vote on May 6.

Light rail

The council unanimously approved the Light Rail Planning Guide, crafted by the City of Issaquah and the Nelson-Nygaard consultant team.

According to the bill, the guide will continually update and outline the best practices, key considerations and next steps for the Issaquah light rail station to connect to the South Kirkland-Issaquah Link, projected to finish in 2041 or 2044.

The guideline will include information such as an assessment of how Bellevue, Federal Way, Lynnwood and Redmond navigated planning and construction with Sound Transit; Issaquah resident light-rail surveys; and the feasibility research concerning station and parking lot location.

“We have the ability to use a bully pulpit to say ‘This is what we think makes sense,’” said the Issaquah City Administrator Wally Bobkiewicz. “One of the reasons we’re here five years sooner than probably any other community in the region would be … is to get a jump on it and to say, ‘here’s what the thinking is, here’s the data behind it,’ and so Sound Transit doesn’t have to do a whole lot of thinking.”

Body worn cameras program

At the meeting, the council authorized the implementation of the Body Worn Cameras (BWC) program, which began on March 19, after finalizing negotiations between the City of Issaquah and the Issaquah Police Officers’ Association.

The terms of the finalized BWC policy require two department-wide training days following the implementation of the program.

The agreed BWC policy also requires a base wage increase of 1.0% for police officers, sergeants and commanders — calculating to roughly $30,000 for 2024, according to the bill.

“This amount is expected to be offset by salary savings from existing police officer vacancies,” according to the bill.