Park Pointe development swap raises questions

July 27, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah Highlands would absorb density

Issaquah Highlands residents raised questions last week about a proposed deal to preserve Tiger Mountain land near Issaquah High School and, in turn, allow more residences to be built in the highlands.

The city and highlands developer Port Blakely Communities hosted a July 28 open house about the proposed transfer of development rights — a long-running effort to keep the forested Park Pointe site undeveloped.

The open house — hosted at Blakely Hall by highlands visionary Judd Kirk and Keith Niven, city Major Development Review Team program manager — covered familiar territory.

The transfer aims to prohibit development on about 140 forested acres — 102 acres at Park Pointe and another 43 acres adjacent to the highlands. The deal aims to allow 500 additional residences in the highlands. The city hopes to complete the swap by December.

Niven said the city needed a partner to pull off the deal because the city lacks the money — about $6 million — needed to acquire Park Pointe.

The highlands plan has raised questions among neighborhood residents concerned about more residences in the community even as commercial development has flagged.

During the open house, Kirk fielded the usual questions about slow-to-materialize retail development in the neighborhood. Residents also questioned how additional highlands dwellers might impact traffic on neighborhood streets.

Beyond the development-rights swap, the plan requires the developer to spend about $500,000 for transportation upgrades in the neighborhood, and build a highlands mountain biking course.

Port Blakely owns 78 acres in unincorporated King County near Central Park. Under existing zoning, Port Blakely can develop the land as five-acre residential properties, or for education or religious facilities. The transfer deal calls for Port Blakely to preserve some of the land.

“There is a need for religious facilities here,” Kirk said at the open house. “I think educational would be a benefit.”

Though the city has focused on preserving Park Pointe for years, officials could choose another option if the transfer of development rights proposal collapses.

In a less likely scenario, the city could target several parcels on Cougar Mountain near Talus for preservation. But the Cougar Mountain option has not progressed much beyond a suggestion.

In the mid-1990s, the former Park Pointe developer envisioned the community as a hillside urban village similar to the highlands or Talus. But city officials did not warm to the idea, and changed the zoning for the area from urban village to residential.

The project struggled for years amid public outcry about possible consequences to the environment and surrounding neighborhoods.

The developer, Wellington Park Pointe LLC, collapsed into bankruptcy late last year, and a Seattle bank foreclosed on Park Pointe in March.

Niven said the bank, Regal Financial Bank, made a “handshake agreement” not to sell the property as the city and Port Blakely work on the proposed transfer of development rights.

The open house attracted about 20 residents, plus City Council members Tola Marts and Maureen McCarry. They serve on the council committee overseeing the Park Pointe project.

The city, Port Blakely and King County must complete several complicated measures in order for the process to succeed. The county, for instance, has to nudge the urban growth boundary outward to accommodate the highlands change. Meanwhile, city planners must update the long-term growth blueprint to accommodate the transfer.

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

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