Preservation plan inches ahead, despite outcry from highlands residents

August 17, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 10 a.m. Aug. 17, 2010

Despite opposition from Issaquah Highlands residents, City Council members decided Monday night to take steps to add more residences to the community and breathe life into the moribund effort to bring businesses to the hillside neighborhood.

City leaders intend to allow up to 550 more residences in the highlands in order to preserve 102 forested acres on Tiger Mountain near Issaquah High School. The deal, a complicated transfer of development rights, aims to preserve about 140 forested acres — the Park Pointe land and another 43 acres adjacent to the highlands.

The council OK’d the measures in a unanimous decision after members offered a forceful defense of the plan to preserve Park Pointe.

Port Blakely Communities, the developer responsible for the highlands, owns 78 acres in unincorporated King County near Central Park. The proposed transfer calls for Port Blakely to preserve 43 acres and open the remaining 35 acres to construction. The city then intends to annex the 35-acre parcel.

“This is about crafting a very complicated piece of machinery to try to benefit all these neighborhoods, all these parts of the city,” Councilman Joshua Schaer said.

But the proposal has galvanized highlands residents. Fliers encouraging highlands residents to attend appeared on the neighborhood’s communal mailboxes in the days before the council meeting.

Homeowners packed City Hall South to raise concerns about clearing additional land for residences, increased traffic congestion and, especially, potential strains on overcrowded Grand Ridge Elementary School.

“I know it’s nice to save some trees on the other side of town, but my kids’ education is vastly more important than that,” highlands resident Matt Barry said during the 90-minute hearing.

Before the council could decide on amendments to the documents outlining development in the highlands, members listened to statements from 20 people — most of them, like Barry, neighborhood residents opposed to the changes.

Overcrowding concerns

Tina Becker, another highlands resident and the parent of a Grand Ridge student, said the school could not handle additional children.

“The playground, for lack of a better example, is like ‘Lord of the Flies,’” she said.

Some highlands residents, like Mary O’Cleary, said the city faced a difficult choice in the opportunity to preserve Tiger Mountain or limit growth in the highlands. But she urged the city to find another solution, and put council members on notice for the 2011 and 2013 elections.

“I’m going to be watching and we’re all going to be watching to see how the votes go,” O’Cleary said.

Councilman Mark Mullet, the only highlands resident on the seven-member council, faced a difficult choice. Mullet — proprietor of Zeeks Pizza and a forthcoming Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in the urban village — said customers, friends, neighbors and even his wife disagreed with his decision to support the amendments.

Mullet said Issaquah School District estimates for future Grand Ridge enrollment assuaged concerns he had about the proposal.

“I feel, if in 2013, that I have been wrong, and that if something were to have happened that were to have really damaged that school, then I think I would be responsible,” he said, referring to the year he is due to face voters.

Council President John Traeger thanked highlands residents for offering input — and recalled the days before the city approved construction of the neighborhood.

“The highlands has always been controversial, from the very beginning,” Traeger said. “If you thought it was a full house tonight, you should have been here when we decided to build the highlands in the first place.”

Port Blakely executive Judd Kirk, a longtime member of the highlands team, said additional residences should help to attract more businesses to the community.

“We’re not losing the vision,” he said. “We would not, for 500 units, do something like this.”

Incentives for business

Kirk and other Port Blakely executives hope updated parking and signage rules approved by the council Monday help make the highlands more attractive to potential tenants.

Under the updated rules, developers can create “interim” parking lots in the neighborhood until 2018. The lots require less landscaping. The city has limited the number of “interim” spaces to 725.

“That number came about based on our understanding of what was needed to get the theater to move forward,” city Major Development Review Team Program Manager Keith Niven said.

The “interim” spaces must be gone or transformed to meet stricter standards by 2020.

Parking has been a stumbling block to building a Regal Cinema since Port Blakely and the chain announced the plan last August.

The rule change also loosened some sign restrictions for highlands businesses. The updated agreement allows for larger letters, sign kiosks and additional signs for businesses facing multiple streets, plazas or other public spaces.

The council referenced the untold hours spent on the rule changes and the transfer of development rights since Mayor Ava Frisinger proposed the plan in late 2008.

Councilwoman Maureen McCarry said Council Major Planning & Growth Committee members spent 75 minutes combing and scouring the amendments at a meeting last week.

City officials and staffers have spent years trying to discourage development at the forested Park Pointe site.

In the mid-1990s, the former Park Pointe developer intended to build a hillside urban village similar to the highlands or Talus. The proposal folded amid public outcry about possible consequences to the environment and surrounding neighborhoods.

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

“There’s nobody here tonight from Park Pointe. Why?” Schaer said. “Because nobody lives there. And if this progresses the way that the city administration wants it to, there will never be anyone coming here to this City Council from Park Pointe and speaking to us about their community, because there won’t be one.”

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7 Responses to “Preservation plan inches ahead, despite outcry from highlands residents”

  1. Jeremy on August 17th, 2010 2:32 pm

    This is an absolute outrage that the City Council, especially Mark Mullet a Highlands resident would support this. Schools will become more overcrowded, more traffic will be a fact of life, everyone in Issaquah will have their home values drop as supply goes up by about 18% in the immediate neighborhood leading to a decrease of household net worth, retail is still non existent and will continue to be so and so on and so forth.

    Save some trees but let PB continue to dictate the terms of the Highlands development. CC, you should be ashamed.

  2. Angela on August 17th, 2010 3:34 pm

    I think I’ll go out for pizza tonight.

  3. Jeremy on August 17th, 2010 6:44 pm

    Better not be to Zeek’s. I am protesting them now and will take my business elsewhere.

  4. Kev on August 17th, 2010 9:29 pm

    I would rather see that YWCA plan demolished than this. The YWCA will turn this neighborhood into a ghetto. Where were the residents when the YWCA plan evolved? Talk about house prices and school space! Have you seen another YWCA? Single moms with troubled kids that will smoke and bring drugs to school. More burglary, more thefts, more gunshots, in a word – this place will turn into a ghetto place.

    The residents have simple choices. Vote the Board members out. Fire Port Blakely. Sue the highlands association or council. Port Blakely needs the money. They need to charge residents more money in the name of BS. How many times have they raised highlands dues (currently at 500 for 6 months and one of the highest in the county) and charged extra fees?

  5. Dan Stone on August 18th, 2010 10:49 am

    Well said Jeremy.

    The fact is our community showed up in overwhelming force to communicate a clear message to the city council. That message was “Do not allow these additional homes to be build.” The pressure these homes will put on our school, roads and green space will be far more damaging than beneficial to the community in the long run. The city council simply ignored the people they serve and the majority opinion of the community.

    We spoke from the heart. We did not speak in the vernacular or use the developer jargon that Judd Kirk or Kieth Niven used. Our flyers encouraging the community to get involved and were removed within 24 hours. The city council and Port Blakely ignored the majority opinion and stiffed our efforts to get involved.

    This is a sad day in Issaquah.

    Does anyone know of a good realtor?

  6. Highlands Resident on August 20th, 2010 9:17 pm

    Keven, Dan, Jeremy…

    If you were a business owner and interested in doing business in Issaquah Highlands, would you be happy or outraged with the potential for new residences and the business these residences could bring? PBR already had the ability to add ~300+ residents before this TDR was approved.

  7. Jeremy on September 2nd, 2010 11:32 pm

    @Highlands Resident

    As a business owner, ~550 homes is not going to sway me one way or the other. Sure, I like more customers, but ~550 homes is not that significant. As a business owner and resident, I get to objectively evaluate both sides and I still come out on the side of not wanting this to happen.

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