Issaquah is fifth-fastest growing city in the state
August 11, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Population is 26,890
Issaquah residents, meet your new neighbors — all 15,678 of them.
Issaquah grew 139 percent since the start of the decade, adding residents through annexations and the influx of families into the hillside urban villages, Talus and Issaquah Highlands.
Figures released recently by the state Office of Financial Management show the city’s April 2009 population at 26,890. In April 2000, Issaquah was home to 11,212 people. State officials use the population data to determine how dollars will be allotted to municipalities.
The ensuing population explosion made the city the fifth fastest growing in Washington. State figures showed Issaquah trailing four smaller cities on the list of fastest-growing cities. Snoqualmie — the fastest growing — ballooned by 8,099 residents during the first year of the decade to 9,730 people today.
“We have more than surpassed our 20-year growth expectation,” city Major Development Review Team Program Manager Keith Niven said.
Issaquah is the 38th largest city in the state; the city ranked 61st in 2000. Seattle, with 602,000 residents, remains Washington’s largest city.
Niven started at his post in 1998, just before the most recent population boom. On his first day on the job, some of the first families were settling in the highlands. Today, the community is home to nearly 7,000 people.
Niven said construction of the urban villages allowed Issaquah to offer more housing options. The villages, especially the highlands, were designed to incorporate space for residential and commercial development.
“I think it’s important for a strong city to offer a variety of housing, a variety of neighborhoods,” Niven said.
Issaquah added 6,210 residents through annexations alone since April 2000.
City Senior Planner Debi Kirac described the 2006 annexation of South Cove as significant. The measure extended city boundaries to include about 3,700 people. South Cove voters overwhelmingly approved the annexation in November 2005.
Providence Point voters approved joining Issaquah in 2002. City boundaries encompassed the retirement community and about 1,200 residents Jan. 1, 2003.
Officials said further annexations are unlikely in the near future. Klahanie voters rejected annexation by Issaquah in 2005.
Mayor Ava Frisinger said city staffers knew the city would grow and planned for infrastructure and services to keep pace.
“We planned far enough in advance so that we knew we were going to need, for example, X number of people in the police department,” she said.
City spokeswoman Autumn Monahan said many residents of annexed areas thought of themselves as Issaquah residents before they lived inside the city limits.
Frisinger sounded a similar note. After all, residents had Issaquah addresses, headed inside city boundaries to run errands and work, and served on city boards and commissions, she said.
Growth slowed dramatically since the housing construction boom of the early part of the decade. Officials said the Issaquah slowdown was in part by design. Planners and elected officials knew the urban villages would eventually be completed. Though hundreds of homes have been built in both places, some land for housing units remains available in Talus and the highlands.
Monahan credited city officials and planners with directing new development toward the urban villages.
“As a community, we knew growth was coming and through the urban villages, we could do it in a smart way,” she said.
Growth has posed challenges in the urban villages as well. Highlands developer Port Blakely Communities has worked for years to attract retailers and more commercial development to the community, with mixed results.
Niven said factors beyond the control of developers and city planners often have a large impact on growth. He used the example of a piece of land in Talus designated for office space. The real estate market and amount of available office space on the Eastside will determine when and whether the site is developed.
“We could sit here for the next 15 years and see the office parcel go undeveloped,” he said.
Niven credits city officials and staffers for reaching out to residents of the urban villages. He noted how some communities dissolve into factitious growth debates between new and longtime residents.
“I think Issaquah tried to make the highlands and Talus feel like part of the community,” he said.
Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or email@example.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.