City works to preserve Tiger Mountain land

May 11, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The long process to preserve the Park Pointe property inched forward last week, as the City Council agreed to initiate the complicated steps to preserve the Tiger Mountain land and, in exchange, allow more residences in the Issaquah Highlands.

Mayor Ava Frisinger proposed the transfer of development rights in September 2008. The recent bankruptcy of the developer behind Park Pointe and subsequent foreclosure on the property by a Seattle bank presented city leaders with the latest opportunity to complete the exchange.

If city officials and landowners can pull off the proposed transfer of development rights, about 140 forested acres will be preserved — 102 acres at the Park Pointe site near Issaquah High School and another 43 acres adjacent to the highlands.

Before the land can be set aside for conservation, however, officials must sign off on separate bills to initiate the transfer of development rights and amend the agreement with highlands developer Port Blakely Communities to address the undeveloped land near the hillside community. The amendment seeks to allow Port Blakely to build 500 additional residential units in a proposed highlands town center.

City Council members referred the dual measures to the Council Major Planning & Growth Committee. Members will discuss the legislation May 24.

“So, what we’ve done is try to develop a scenario that might work in a few different ways that could ultimately lead us to preserving 140-plus acres of open space that the community would see as being a benefit,” Keith Niven, program manager for the city Major Development Review Team, told council members May 3.

Port Blakely owns 78 acres near Central Park in the highlands. Under the existing zoning, the company could develop the unincorporated King County land as five-acre residential properties or for institutional uses, like a church or a school. Instead, Port Blakely offered some of the land for preservation, or as part of the transfer of development rights.

“What’s happening here is that Port Blakely has received some land that’s outside the urban growth boundary,” Niven said. “They really are not interested in developing it as rural residential, which is what they could do with it, or as institution, so they’ve offered it up as either open space or as a transfer of development rights receiving site in exchange for some additional residential units for their project.”

The terms proposed in the transfer-of-development-rights legislation call for about half of the land — 35 acres — to be rezoned from rural to urban density. The remaining land would be preserved.

Because the land sits outside the urban growth boundary, the King County Council must sign off on any zoning changes.

King County planners continue to work on a plan to nudge the urban growth boundary outward in order to accommodate the proposed zoning changes. Meanwhile, city planners also took steps to incorporate the change into the Comprehensive Plan, the key growth blueprint for Issaquah. City Council members must adopt any changes to the municipal growth plan.

City Planning Director Mark Hinthorne said the city plans to then annex the land, if Port Blakely petitions the city to do so. The city annexed several smaller areas in the 1980s and early ’90s through the petition method.

Plans call for the transfer of development rights to return for a council decision in December, and for the separate agreement with Port Blakely to wrap in October. Hinthorne said the annexation petition process could take about three months to complete.

Port Blakely Senior Vice President Judd Kirk said the measure to preserve 43 acres near the highlands — either outright or as part of the transfer of development rights — makes sense for both the developer and the environment.

Kirk said the additional residential units should make the long-planned town center a more vibrant place, besides increasing the uses and density of the area.

“It makes sense to add more density in the town center,” he added.

The amendment aims to place more residences near businesses, the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride and the Swedish Medical Center campus that’s under construction. The city, meanwhile, receives undeveloped land for preservation.

Kirk said Port Blakely plans to engage highlands and city residents in a process independent from the outreach planned by the city.

Before the bankruptcy announcement, Issaquah and Port Blakely officials toiled for years to complete the Park Pointe transfer of development rights.

The former Park Pointe landowner, developer Wellington Park Pointe LLC, proposed up to 344 homes on the land. The project raised concerns about storm water runoff from the mountain, increased traffic on city streets near the site and spoiled Tiger Mountain vistas.

The developer defaulted on a loan from a Seattle bank last June, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November. Regal Financial Bank foreclosed on the Park Pointe property in March.

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

Get involved
Council Major Planning & Growth Committee
Agenda: Park Pointe transfer-of-development-rights legislation
5 p.m. May 24
Eagle Room, City Hall
130 E. Sunset Way
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