Last week’s announcement that Bellevue College has plans to build a new campus in the Issaquah Highlands is welcome news for master developer Port Blakely, which has watched the economic downturn scuttle a number of commercial expansion plans for the new community.
Port Blakely Senior Adviser in the Highlands, Judd Kirk, told The Reporter last week the company’s vision for the area always included some kind of tertiary educational facility.
“An urban village should have a wide range of services and resources within the community, including employment opportunities,” Kirk said. “Institutions such as Swedish Hospital and Bellevue College are great additions. They not only provide services, but also create local jobs and bring customers for other retailers.”
Bellevue College is interested in acquiring a 20-acre parcel of land south of Grand Ridge Elementary. The parcel, currently outside the Urban Growth Boundary that defines the Issaquah Highlands, is part of the Park Pointe/Issaquah Highlands Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) deal, and was originally owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
Under that TDR deal, the land, currently part of an undeveloped 78-acre section owned by Port Blakely, will be gifted to the City of Issaquah in return for an increase in density allocation in Issaquah Highlands. The City of Issaquah will use the proceeds from the sale of less than half of the 78-acre section to buy 101 acres of land on Tiger Mountain, to be preserved as open space for perpetuity.
Bellevue College, which will continue to operate its main campus in Bellevue, will now complete a period of due diligence in which it will conduct a comprehensive review of the property to ascertain if it is appropriate to accommodate the long-term needs of the college.
City of Issaquah Major Development Review Team Project Manager Keith Niven told The Reporter recently that in order to fulfill its goal of purchasing Park Pointe, it would need to earn about $9.1 million from the sale of 35 acres of the 78-acre parcel. The remaining 43 acres is being preserved as open space.
Park Pointe is on the table for $6.1 million. The remaining $3 million would enable the City of Issaquah to mitigate some of the impacts of the development of the 35 acres — provide stormwater retention facilities, provide infrastructure, and encourage low impact development.
The 20-acre parcel that Bellevue College is interested in is the largest of the three developable sections. Dividing $9.1 million by 35 gives a per acre price of about $260,000, or $5.2 million for the 20-acre parcel. Neither Bellevue College nor the City of Issaquah confirmed this amount.
Though the land deal is a matter for Bellevue College and the City of Issaquah, Kirk said he was eager for his company to be involved with plans for the site, to ensure that any facility built there is appropriate for the Issaquah Highlands.
“We look forward to learning more about Bellevue College’s proposal to understand the specific plan, including its expected impacts,” Kirk said. “I hope the city, Port Blakely and the community will engage with Bellevue College, to reach the potential of a tremendous addition to the community. There’s a great deal of new investment and construction activity underway in the community to expand and enhance the mix of new services and BCC would add to this mix.”
In a statement last week, Bellevue College President Jean Floten said the land would be purchased with “funds we have saved for this purpose for over a decade,” adding “there is no state appropriation for this acquisition, and any site development wouldn’t occur for a couple of years.”
“Our main campus is reaching the limit of how much we can expand our classroom space,” Floten wrote in her statement. “If we don’t take action now, we could easily end up boxed in by our own property boundaries, not to mention the growing traffic congestion all around us.”
“This also is the best time for ten years, at least, to acquire land at a good price and in an excellent location,” she wrote.
The Issaquah City Council gave their approval for the Park Pointe/Highlands TDR deal at their Aug. 16 meeting, the unanimous vote paving the way for expressions of interest in the 35 acre section which will soon be owned by the city. It is understood the two smaller sections, to the west of the 20-acre section, will be developed as residential units.