Chastened Port Blakely promises better communication

February 9, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Port Blakely Communities executives admitted missteps and pledged last week to communicate better and more often with Issaquah Highlands residents.

The highlands developer called a town hall meeting Feb. 3. Longtime highlands residents said developers offered little new information about plans.

“They owned up to the things they could have done better in the past and made pledges to open up the dialogue in the future,” highlands resident and former City Council candidate Nathan Perea said. “I think we are lucky to have a developer who cares enough to take these steps.”

Neighborhood residents quizzed executives at the meeting about still-unrealized plans to bring more retail options to the neighborhood. About 120 people filled Blakely Hall for the event.

Residents asked for more updates about efforts by Port Blakely to attract businesses to the highlands. The company now plans to engage residents through social media Web sites, like Facebook and Twitter, and more frequent communitywide meetings.

Port Blakely officials also plan efforts to tamp down rumors and update residents about proposals — even when the developer has little progress to report.

“It’s frustrating to see it the way it is now, because it appears to be stalled,” René Ancinas, president and chief operating officer of Port Blakely Communities parent Port Blakely Companies, said during the meeting. “We have some news to report, and we have some updates, but the bottom line is: In the current economy, with everything going the way it’s going, everybody has suffered.”

Judd Kirk — a member of the original Port Blakely team behind the highlands — said the company lost close contact with homeowners as the neighborhood ballooned from a few hundred residents in the late 1990s to more than 7,000 today.

“In retrospect, we were so busy and had our heads down trying to figure out how in the world do we stabilize and get this going, I don’t think we did as good as we should have on engaging, because it takes time and money,” he said in a pre-meeting interview.

Despite sharp words from residents in the weeks leading up to the meeting, participants kept the tone cordial at Blakely Hall.

Resident Jeremy Kuno said Port Blakely executives “got lobbed a lot of softball questions.

“People don’t want to be one Negative Nelly or the one person who stands out in the crowd and says, ‘I don’t like what you’ve done,’” Kuno said.

Residents also raised questions about a gas station — billed by Port Blakely as a high-tech energy station — and a storage facility near the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride.

The projects raised ire among residents who said a gas station and storage units will be a poor fit for the community. Executives defended the projects, and said residents want fuel and storage in the neighborhood.

Teresa and Tony Cowan credited the developer for hosting the meeting, but called on Port Blakely to focus on other community-building projects — like a farmers market — until the economy stabilizes.

“I don’t want to see Port Blakely go under trying to keep this afloat,” Teresa Cowan said.

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

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