Issaquah ends highlands development agreement and approves regulation review in 2019

In order to end the development agreements for the Issaquah Highlands and Talus areas, the Issaquah City Council discussed replacement regulations at the March 19 meeting.

The council voted to end the development agreement with Issaquah Highlands and put the replacement regulations into effect. The Talus agreement and regulations were sent back to the Planning Commission to reconsider zoning for a parcel that had been damaged by a landslide in 2015.

Keith Niven, director of development services and economic development at the city, explained that the regulations put in place in the agreement must be replaced once the contract ends. The Issaquah Highlands agreement was 20-years -old and Talus was 15-years-old, he said, and they had both reached their endpoint.

“When you take away one set of rules you have to put another set back,” he said.

The replacement regulations mimic the rules in the development agreement as much as they could, Niven said, but there were a few differences that drove discussion from both the council and the public.

“There area a couple areas where we were proposing something different, that caused some concern for some of the unbuilt properties,” he said.

One of the changed elements that drew attention was structured parking, a parking area in an outdoor, covered structure. Using parking structures instead of a flat parking lot, referred to as surface parking, is much more expensive for developers.

The other area of concern was the concept of introducing Floor Area Ratio (FAR), which Nevin described as a “minimum density” for the properties.

In preparation for the end of the agreements, the city held meeting where citizens could voice their opinions on the new regulations. Meetings were held in January, and the feedback then went to the Council’s Land and Shore Committee in February and March before returning to Council on the 19th.

“We had a number of public meetings and committee meetings there was lots of opportunity for people to raise issues that people might have, the FAR and structured parking were really the two big ones,” Nevin said.

The council adopted replacement regulations for Issaquah Highlands with FAR and structured parking.

The Talus ordinance was sent back to the planning policy commission and will return to the council to debate replacement regulations once the zoning issues have been resolved, Nevin said. While there is a geotechnical effort to stabilize the land after the 2015 landslide, the land may not be as developable as it used to be. The planning policy commission will take another look at the parcel a decide on the appropriate zoning use. The council specified that the ordinance should return no later than July 16, 2018.

At the meeting Issaquah’s Land Development Manager Lucy Sloman told councilmember Bill Ramos that the regulations are permanent but that the ordinance states that the administration will return to the topic in 2019 to offer more opportunities for citizens to have input on the regulations and offer feedback for what they want to see.

“If you adopt them this evening they would be permanent,” she said. “But the ordinance makes a commitment that the administration will follow through in 2019 with a visioning process in the community to determine if there are properties, certain elements, certain regulations, change of use that the community feels, while distinct from the way we closed out development agreement, would be more appropriate in building out the rest of the development.”

Sloman said the motivation of the city to commit to reevaluating the regulations were to “have a more focused conversation on the specific elements that may be of concern or where there is a desire to shift the vision of the community.”

The council members were all very supportive of the commitment to return to review the regulations in the next year. Mayor Mary Lou Pauly said that the city recognizes that every party, from land owners to residents, are invested in the upcoming review next year.

“I think the administration is well aware not only just the property owners who have not yet developed their sites but also the community’s strong and vocal requests to do this, that this is happening in 2019,” she said.

The ordinance to end the Issaquah Highlands development agreement and implement the replacement regulations was passed in a 4-2 vote with council members Scott Winterstein and Bill Ramos voting against.

The Talus ordinance was sent back to the planning policy commission in a 4-3 vote with Mayor Pauly voting as a tiebreaker.