Park Pointe goes to auction Friday

November 3, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

The proposed Park Pointe development would be built on 67 acres near Issaquah High School, but the project is in limbo as the land heads to auction Nov. 6. Source: city of Issaquah

The proposed Park Pointe development would be built on 67 acres near Issaquah High School, but the project is in limbo as the land heads to auction Nov. 6. Source: city of Issaquah

City planners detailed last week how the long-planned Park Pointe project could impact Tiger Mountain views, wetlands and wildlife. But the information could be useless because the land where Park Pointe would be built heads to auction Nov. 6.

The project developer, Wellington Park Pointe LLC, failed to make payments on a loan from Regal Financial Bank and in June defaulted on nearly $12 million owed. Developers envisioned hundreds of homes on 67 forested acres on the west slope of Tiger Mountain, behind Issaquah High School.

City planners released the long-awaited environmental impact statement for the project last week. The timing carries a particular irony: The final environmental impact statement for Park Pointe was released Oct. 30 — a week before the land heads to auction.

Meanwhile, city officials hope to smooth the way toward a development-rights transfer to keep the Park Pointe site undeveloped. The transfer of development rights between the Park Pointe developer and Issaquah Highlands developer Port Blakely Communities would leave Park Pointe undeveloped; additional houses would be built in the highlands instead.

Major Development Review Team Manager Keith Niven said city officials still want the development-rights deal to materialize. He said city officials entered discussions with developers to gauge interest in the Park Pointe site and a transfer of the development rights.The development-rights proposal is not new. Mayor Ava Frisinger proposed the swap last September to preserve Park Pointe — a plan hailed as “visionary” by then-King County Executive Ron Sims, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and local environmentalists in a newspaper op-ed piece.

Conservation groups also expressed interest in buying Park Pointe or a portion of the site in the past, but the cost was prohibitive.

Even the city’s main planning document calls for Park Pointe to remain undeveloped. Conditions attached to development include the preservation of open space and efforts to encourage public transportation for residents.

Plans presented by the developer show Park Pointe with 251 units or 344 units. Under the first option, 251 residential units — 121 single-family attached units and 130 multifamily units — would be built on 14 acres of the lower slope. The larger option would include 59 single-family detached, 145 single-family attached and 140 multifamily units.

The developer had indicated a preference for the smaller option. However, if a deal were not reached to preserve the upper portion of the property, developers would request the ability to develop the entire site.

Ron Slater, a Wellington vice president based in Calgary, Alberta, could not be reached for comment.

Officials decided in 2004 to change the land-use designation of the Park Pointe site from urban village — a setting similar to the Issaquah Highlands and Talus — to low-density residential. The switch allowed the city to limit density and prohibit commercial buildings. Officials made the change to prevent development in sensitive areas, such as steep slopes and areas critical to the Lower Issaquah Valley Aquifer, a source of city drinking water.

How to handle storm water runoff at Park Pointe was a key issue addressed in the final environmental impact statement.

City Environmental Planner Peter Rosen said the additional storm water work in the report was driven by input from residents. Planners received comments from 30 people after the draft was released in January.

Consultants hired by the developer said storm water on the site would be slowed, stored and then reintroduced into the ground to recharge the aquifer.

Development would avoid wetlands at the Park Pointe site, and a majority of the tree canopy would be undisturbed, regardless of the development option chosen by the builder, the report states.

The transportation portion of the environmental report would need to be revised if Park Pointe sits idle for years, Rosen said.

“If it sat for a long time and didn’t go through permitting, and nothing was done, it’s very likely they would have to do a new transportation analysis,” he continued.

Rosen joined the city in early 2000, and Park Pointe was one of the first projects to reach his desk. He described the release of the final Park Pointe environmental report as a relief, but said the lengthy process was not unusual.

“Every jurisdiction has some properties that may be difficult because of critical areas,” Rosen said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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