Parks, trails, gas station in land swap

November 11, 2008

By Jon Savelle

If recent discussions are a reliable guide, Issaquah might be in line for new hiking and mountain biking trails — and a new gas station.

The discussions, between the City Council’s Major Development Ad Hoc Committee and Port Blakely Communities, concern the implementation of a proposed land swap that would protect Tiger Mountain forest while opening land for development in the Highlands.

This deal includes converting some rural King County land, owned by the state Department of Transportation, to urban land in Issaquah and allowing Port Blakely to develop it as part of the Highlands. The remainder would stay in a natural state.

It is a complex deal that changes by the week as ideas are refined and issues worked out. Much of that happens at meetings of the Ad Hoc committee, which met again Nov. 10 to discuss parks and development issues.

As currently conceived, improvements to sports fields in Central Park could be accompanied by a new hiking trail linking the future High Streets retail center to residential areas above Central Park. Another trail, envisioned as a beginner-level mountain-bike course, could swing through forested land to the south of the hiking trail.

All of this is very preliminary and subject to change. As noted by City Councilman David Kappler, the first step is to develop a detailed land use plan and a capital improvement plan. With those in hand, things like trails can be pursued via grant funding.

Under the proposed land swap, in which Port Blakely buys the Park Pointe property on Tiger Mountain and deeds it to the city, the developer receives in return not just developable land but higher density as well. This means some buildings, notably on the Microsoft property just south of the transit center garage, could go as high as 10 stories.

The deal also includes making room for a human services “campus,” or center, as part of a parking structure for a new theater; it allows construction of a gas station in the area; and it calls for another 50 units of affordable housing.

Until now, gas stations were prohibited in the highlands because of fears that fuel spills could contaminate the underlying aquifer. But current construction standards have virtually eliminated that risk, according to city and Port Blakely officials.

During a recent Press tour of the highlands, Port Blakely CEO Judd Kirk said the most likely location for a gas station is on the south side of the transit center, on Northeast High Street. It is not a done deal, but from a traffic standpoint that location makes the best sense, he said.

The additional units of affordable housing aren’t a done deal either, but they are part of the proposed package and are intended for the state Department of Transportation “expansion parcel” that Port Blakely would be allowed to develop. Port Blakely President Alan Boeker said discussions are ongoing concerning the exact number that could be constructed.

The next meeting of the Major Development Ad Hoc Committee is set for Nov. 24, followed by a presentation on its progress to the Committee of the Whole Council Nov. 25. Both are open to the public.

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