Issaquah eyed as a regional growth center

May 18, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Designation could attract funds for mass transit

Leaders hope to attract dollars for transportation and mass transit to Issaquah by pitching a slice of the city as a regional hub for residences and jobs.

The effort will focus on the 915-acre commercial area spread along Interstate 90 and state Route 900. Planners hope the process will dovetail with the Central Issaquah Plan, a yearlong effort to chart redevelopment in the commercial core.

The long-term growth blueprint for the Puget Sound region calls for areas designated as regional growth centers. The designation helps officials plan regional transportation infrastructure and determine the best sites for economic development. The centers also receive higher priority for state and federal funding in order to connect the regional hubs.

The initial step calls for city planners to determine if Issaquah meets the growth center criteria laid out by the Puget Sound Regional Council — the planning authority for King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The agency distributes about $160 million per year in federal funding for transportation projects.

City Planning Director Mark Hinthorne said the Central Issaquah Plan effort fits well with the growth center designation. The task force drafting the plan should deliver a report to city leaders by September.

“Why not get the designation and therefore be in a position to compete for funding?” Hinthorne said.

City Council Major Planning & Growth Committee members endorsed the proposal late last month.

The criteria require the center to accommodate businesses and residences, incorporate features for mass transit and bicyclists. The standards also call for a compact footprint and smaller blocks meant to be easier for pedestrians to navigate.

Officials had already envisioned mixed-use buildings and pedestrian-friendly features for the Central Issaquah Area.

Hinthorne said the initial phase could take about a year for city planners to complete. City Council members will then decide whether the plan should proceed. If city leaders OK the decision, the county Growth Management Planning Council — a group of elected officials from King County, area cities and agencies — takes up the proposal. The process culminates with a formal application to the Puget Sound Regional Council. The agency then evaluates the proposal and decides whether Issaquah should receive a designation.

Rick Olson, director of government relations and communications for the Puget Sound Regional Council, said Issaquah already fits many of the criteria established for growth centers.

Designated Eastside growth centers include downtown Bellevue, Overlake, Redmond and Renton. Other centers exist in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett. The region includes 26 in all.

Leaders reaffirmed a commitment to growth centers as part of the Vision 2040 plan for long-term growth. Planners envision the centers as population-dense areas with residential and commercial buildings linked by mass transit.

Planners adopted Vision 2040 in April 2008. The plan took three years to develop, and included input from elected officials, government agencies and Puget Sound-area residents.

Issaquah planners first proposed the growth center concept for the city almost 20 years ago. Officials considered the designation in 1992 as part of the local ratification process for proposed countywide planning policies. The growth center discussion relaunched in 1995 as city officials prepared the Comprehensive Plan, or long-term growth blueprint.

The council decided against a growth center designation in the 1990s, but re-examined the proposal in 2003 and 2004. Hinthorne said elected officials abandoned the discussion then because the focus on planning remained on suburban growth. Nowadays, officials talk more about redeveloping parts of the city into small-scale urban settings.

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

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