The beginning of 2018 will bring an end to the devleopment moratorium in every area of town but Central Issaquah.
At the Dec. 18 meeting, the Issaquah City Council voted unanimously to lift the citywide moratorium on certain development in all areas of the city except for the designated Central Issaquah area.
The moratorium in Central Issaquah was extended six months as per state law, though Economic Development and Development Services Director Keith Niven said that it could be lifted earlier if the moratorium work items are finished early.
At the time of the meeting, the moratorium had been in effect for 468 days, having been extended from its original six months in February and August of this year.
The council enacted the moratorium as an emergency ordinance at the beginning of September 2016. Council members stated that a pause in development was needed because construction was not following the standards set by the Central Issaquah Plan in 2012 — namely architectural fit with the community, urban design, vertical mixed use, parking, affordable housing and district vision.
Since then, the administration has been studying and defining these six work items. All categories are currently completed apart from affordable housing, scheduled to come back to council in January 2018, and district vision, which is scheduled to be finished in April 2018.
Since district vision relates specifically to Central Issaquah, city staff recommended lifting the moratorium throughout the rest of the city.
Council President Stacy Goodman made a motion to send the current district visions back to the Planning Policy Commission for further review. She said that the comments she had heard “unanimously” from residents at the most recent Council Land and Shore Committee meeting was that the moratorium was not ready to be lifted.
“It feels like we kind of rushed to get it done … trying to get it done clearly when it’s not done,” she said, but noted that “it’s headed in the right direction.”
Niven said that “unlike most of the other moratorium items, this one [district visions] has no edges.”
“We could really talk about the vision for Central Issaquah forever … the reality is, trying to put edges on this box is really hard,” Niven said.
“I want them not to feel rushed. I want them to have time to cross the ‘Ts’ and dot the ‘Is,’” Deputy Council President Mary Lou Pauly said of the Planning Policy Commission.
“We’re in over a year, I’m not gonna shortchange at the finish line … We’ve gotta do it right. We’ve gotta finish what we started,” Councilmember Bill Ramos said.
Councilmember Tola Marts said that the council “just can’t” extend the citywide moratorium even longer.
“This will be a good faith attempt, we will see what we get,” Marts said. “I want to move forward, I want to respect the staff recommendation and then we will see how things work.”
Several residents told the council that the moratorium was not ready to be lifted because city staff had not adequately addressed every aspect of Central Issaquah’s vision.
“I think it’s absolutely essential it’s extended and we get it right … We’ve got to set the stage for the next 20 years,” Ken Konigsmark said, explaining that the Central Issaquah Plan needed “more refinement.”
Jenny Bingham said that “there shouldn’t be any more building at all until we have a [traffic plan] with the state.”
“I’ve been here for 48 years, so I’ve seen a lot of change,” Bingham said.” The last 20 years is not pretty and the next 20 years — if we keep up with the way we are now, it’s not going to be pretty.”
“I think the wrong question is, ‘Should the moratorium be lifted?’ I think the right question is, ‘What needs to be done before we get to that point?’” Steve Pereira said.
Lindsey Walsh, who sits on the Planning Policy Commission, said that the limited moratorium is good because it “gives the developers and the businesses some options,” but that the real problem was with the Issaquah Municipal Code. She suggested bringing in a consultant to look at the code and “back up all of the work items.”
“I don’t think [the work items go] far enough. I think we need to look at the code … [so] we’re actually going to have things in code that says, ‘Developers have to follow that.’”
Former gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, who was at the meeting representing Upland Development Company in Seattle, told the council that limiting the moratorium to just the central area was “exactly the right thing to do.”
Two local business representatives asked for the entire moratorium to be lifted as soon as possible on behalf of Issaquah businesses.
Nathan Bosseler, CEO of Issaquah tech company CASTUS, said that CASTUS was currently in the process of building new work space that could be halted due to the moratorium.
“There are a lot of businesses calling from across the state … As these new businesses evolve, we need a place to grow,” Bosseler said. He suggested lifting the moratorium for local business owners.
Issaquah Chamber of Commerce Director Kathy McCorry asked the council to find a way to help ”local businesses get back to business while this process continues.”