Rowley development agreement process creeps ahead of Central Issaquah Plan

Issaquah developer Rowley Properties is eager to get moving on revelopment plans involving nearly 90 acres of commercial land and offices south of Interstate 90/SR 900 junction.

Issaquah City Council took additional time during an April 5 meeting to discuss and approve a process to create a development agreement between the City of Issaquah and Rowley, for two parcels of land it owns south of Gilman Boulevard Northwest surrounding State Route 900, Hyla Crossing and Rowley Center.

The two areas have been designated part of Central Issaquah, a 915 acre swath of land covering most of the valley floor north of Holly Street and east of Newport Way. This are is considered to be the economic engine of the city, with around 70 percent of Issaquah’s jobs are currently located there.

In order to spur the redevelopment of the area, city leaders are reviewing the area’s zoning and building standards in an ongoing project known as the Central Issaquah Plan (CIP), with the goal of updating standards there in 2011. The CIP standards will eventually govern what Rowley is able to do with the land.

“When the time comes to build, our development focus will be on strategies of sustainability,” said Rowley Properties spokesperson Kristi Tripple. “We are hoping tonight will be a starting point that enables us all to move forward with further research, content development and testing, and a public process that Rowley will pay for under a repayment agreement with the city.”

Under a proposed repayment agreement, once the development agreement for Central Issaquah is complete, Rowley will repay the city in full for the expense of the current planning process, including attorney’s fees, professional services, and time spent by city staff on preparing a variety of technical documents and public outreach, up to a cap of $750,000. That amount was based on the city’s past experiences with other major development agreements such as Talus and Issaquah Highlands

Rowley and the city envision the area as a mixed-use development of residential and commercial uses, with a much higher density than presently allowed. The area is currently zoned “Intensive Commercial”.

Late last year, Mayor Ava Frisinger appointed a panel of community leaders and property owners to a CIP Task Force to craft suggestions on what limits and standards to put on development in the Central Issaquah area. The group plans to offer their recommendations to the city this fall.

However Issaquah Councilmember Tola Marts is concerned that creating a development agreement with Rowley at this time, while the CIP process is still ongoing, might put the developer out in front of the city’s vision for the area.

“This is a big part of Central Issaquah,” Marts said. “Will (the Rowley agreement) stay consistent with the Central Issaquah Plan?”

Hinthorne replied that working on a development agreement now with Rowley was an opportunity to test design standard proposals in a parallel process that could be applied throughout Central Issaquah under the revised CIP.

“This would give us a real-life test” of the plans, Hinthorne said.

An economic analysis conducted for the CIP Task Force last year identified the two Rowley properties as part of an area that had the highest potential for redevelopment.

A final agreement for the properties can only be approved by the city council as an ordinance or resolution after a public hearing.

It is expected the city’s planning department and major development review team will present a proposed Development Agreement early next year, and final adoption, if authorized, could take place as early as mid-2011.