Developer: Park Pointe could break ground in 2011

December 22, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

The developer behind Park Pointe said ground could be broken for the embattled Tiger Mountain residential project as early as a year after it emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy hearings. But city officials, accustomed to long delays related to Park Pointe, described the timeline as ambitious.Wellington Park Pointe LLC Vice President Ron Slater said the company would be ready to break ground on the Tiger Mountain subdivision 12 to 18 months after emerging from Chapter 11.

Slater spoke during a Dec. 8 hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Seattle. He described the challenges Park Pointe has faced since the project was proposed in the mid-1990s — everything from concerns about traffic to a zoning switch at the development site.

The initial meeting between Slater and a trustee assigned to the case provided a glimpse of the project timeline. Slater said the project could be ready to break ground in 2011.

Despite the development scenario described by Slater, city officials said the process to break ground on Park Pointe could stretch up to three years.

“There are all of these steps before you turn a shovel of dirt,” city Major Development Review Team Manager Keith Niven said.

First, Wellington needs to complete the journey through bankruptcy. If the company still owns the Park Pointe parcel, a development agreement between the landowner and the city could take up to two years to draft. The permitting process could consume another year, and the time before city officials issued a grading permit to allow crews to clear trees and move earth could add another three months.

“Optimally, you can do a development agreement in a year, but we haven’t seen anyone do it in under two,” Niven said.

Wellington — based in Calgary, Alberta — filed for bankruptcy protection Nov. 2 as the company worked to restructure a loan from Seattle-based Regal Financial Bank. The developer failed to make payments on a loan and in June defaulted on nearly $12 million.

Wellington is a subsidiary of Triple 5 Worldwide, a multinational real-estate development outfit with Las Vegas and Edmonton, Alberta, offices.

The bankruptcy renewed attention on the long-planned project more than a year after city officials proposed a complex development-rights swap to preserve the Park Pointe property. The proposed deal and environmental reports related to the project also drew attention from city residents.

Officials decided in 2004 to change the Park Pointe land-use designation 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.

“They took away the urban village from us and we had to redo our plans to the current type plan we have now,” Slater said.

A City Council decision last year to cancel the planned Southeast Bypass across Tiger Mountain marked another setback for Park Pointe. The long-planned roadway — misidentified by Slater at the hearing as “the Northwest Bypass” — would have served the development.

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 spread across the lower slope and a higher bench on the mountainside.

Meanwhile, city officials hope to facilitate a development-rights transfer to keep Park Pointe undeveloped. The transfer of development rights between the Park Pointe developer and highlands developer Port Blakely Communities would leave Park Pointe untouched; additional houses would be built near the highlands instead. The swap would require the county to extend the urban growth boundary to allow development.

Karen Wolf, the county manager of strategic planning and policy, described the effort to preserve Park Pointe as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“The county is very supportive of the city in their efforts to add Park Pointe to the open space network,” Wolf said.

But the process could be lengthy, she said, because the transfer includes several players.

Slater said the property was valued at $29 million; he said the appraisal was completed “probably within the last two years.”

The final environmental report was released Oct. 30, a week ahead of a scheduled foreclosure auction. Wellington entered Chapter 11 days later.

Consultants hired by the developer prepared the definitive environmental impact statement to address concerns about storm water runoff from Park Pointe, and answer questions about whether vehicles would clog roads near the development.

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

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