It was standing room only at a Feb. 3 Issaquah Highlands Town Hall meeting as Port Blakely Communities reviewed the latest plans for development in the Highlands, addressed homeowner concerns, and introduced the company’s new president.
More than 100 people listened as Judd Kirk, resuming his role as principal company spokesperson for Port Blakely in the Highlands, outlined events over the past 12 years of developing the community, and their immediate challenges ahead. Seated to his left was new Port Blakely Communities President René Ancinas, Leasing Vice President Genni Reilly, and Legal and Public Affairs Director Chris Hysom. Residents followed the Port Blakely presentation with a number of questions, many expressing disappointment that the master developer had not kept them up-to-date on development plans for the retail town center area near the intersection of Highlands Drive Northeast and NE Park Drive.
“Back when we were just starting out, it used to a lot easier to communicate,” said Kirk, referring to the large number of homeowners and renters in the Highlands, currently about 2,600.
Using a large map and timeline, Kirk tried to explain to the attentive audience how plans for a long-promised shopping center and supermarket failed. Included in that audience were City of Issaquah Councilmember Maureen McCarry and city planner Keith Niven.
The stalled Microsoft office project, delays in building the Sunset Way freeway interchange, and the current recession were the main reasons given for the disruption.
Port Blakely portrayed the situation as turning the corner, with hundreds of construction workers currently building the new Swedish Medical Center. The Reporter has learned negotiations are currently underway with Safeway, Inc. for a mid-sized supermarket there.
“What makes sense is to do bite-size chunks,” Ancinas said. “There are real opportunities for companies who have a platform for a lot of retail development.”
Port Blakely is also working on partnering with a new developer to assist in the commercial areas.
In response, residents spent the better part of an hour peppering the panel with a wide variety of questions about the retail hole.
Resident Nora Featherstone asked about the now-defunct plans for development of a “Lifestyle Center” type of shopping mall in the town center.
“We came here with hopes of seeing that built here,” she said.
Homeowner Mark Rosewater said he was disappointed that a supermarket grocery store was never built, but didn’t place all the blame on the developer. But he wanted more certainty in future planning announcements.
“It’s always hypothetical,” he said. “I think the community has been getting frustrated.”
Others took a more proactive stance, including resident Darcy Holder, who asked what could be done by residents to attract retailers to the area.
“What ownership can we take to make sure we get the type of retail we want?” she asked.
Other concerns focused on public amenities, including a municipal skate board park, swimming pool, or a mountain bike course, as suggested by resident Tom Cowan.
“It’s still on the radar,” Ancinas said.
The City of Issaquah considered putting a municipal swimming pool in the Highlands during their 2009 Aquatic Feasibility study. When presented with a list of options that included renovating the Julius Boehm pool or building a new pool in the Highlands, the Parks Board recommended the city do both.
According to a public survey done at the time, the most popular option was to have two pools.
Issaquah Director of Parks and Recreation Anne McGill said due to the poor economy, plans to take action on the study were unlikely.
“I think right now we’re on hold for the future,” she said.