Issaquah council approves wireless capacity antennas and affordable housing zoning

Improved cell phone data bandwidth and increased affordable housing units will be coming to Issaquah.

Improved cell phone data bandwidth and increased affordable housing units will be coming to the city of Issaquah after the City Council approved ordinances that would allow code changes for each project.

At their meeting on May 7, the council heard a staff presentation on proposed code changes to the wireless communication facilities that would allow wireless carriers to install smaller antennas on various poles around the city, which would boost network capacity for citizens using mobile data. The antennas, referred to as small cells, are not intended to improve coverage, but will improve the capacity of data that can be used.

Keith Niven, director of Economic Development and Development Services, said the city’s current code was written regarding much larger cell towers known as macro cells. The proposed ordinance would allow service providers such as T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T to submit permits to install their small cells on city poles.

The code is very specific, Niven said, with certain limitations surrounding the implementation of the small cells. Municipal poles, decorative poles and poles on Front Street are prohibited, among other restrictions.

Discussion at the meeting centered around the height of the small cell additions and what the total height of the poles around the city would be if installed. Most of the poles in the city range from 32 to 42 feet in height, Niven said, and according to the carriers heights between 50 to 60 feet would be most effective.

The ordinance was originally proposed to limit the maximum height of the small cell extensions to 55 feet. Service providers requested the height limitation be 60 feet because at 55 feet many of the options for poles in the city would be off-limits. Niven said the height was determined to reduce the visual impact for residents of the city.

After some discussion on visibility, tree cover, and location, Councilmember Tola Marts proposed an amendment to the ordinance to increase the height limit to 60 feet, stating that most of the trees in Issaquah are significantly taller than the proposed height restriction and moving it up to 60 feet would not fundamentally change the impact of the poles.

The amendment was passed in a 4-3 vote with Councilmembers Victoria Hunt, Bill Ramos and Stacy Goodman voting against. With the amendment in place, the ordinance itself was approved unanimously by the council.

The council also approved an ordinance regarding inclusionary zoning in central Issaquah that would increase the amount of affordable housing units available in future developments.

In 2017, the council adopted a Housing Strategy Work Plan that outlined how the city will influence the current and future housing stock. The ordinance proposed at the May 7 meeting amended city code to help increase developer-provided affordable housing. The inclusionary zoning changes offer developers density bonuses in exchange for more affordable housing units, Niven said.

The code increases the requirement for affordable housing in the Urban Core zoning district, Vertical Mixed Use Overlay in the Urban Core, and Mixed Use zoning district. The code also increases the base floor area ratio and base height of buildings in those districts as well.

“The delta of affordable housing units we would get versus the existing code was close to 300 (units),” Niven said.

The zoning will require 15 percent of the units to be offered at 70 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or a developer could choose to build fewer units at a lower AMI.

Right now, the city of Issaquah is under moratorium, but once that is lifted the next housing projects in those zoning areas will abide by the amended code.