Issaquah receives $100,000 grant to study potential land swap

October 5, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah has received $100,000 to study how to protect land in the Issaquah Creek watershed and, at the same time, add density in the urban core.

The city plans to use the grant to conduct environmental and market analyses to create a transfer-of-development-rights receiving site in part of a 915-acre commercial core along Interstate 90.

Under such a transfer, a landowner sells development rights from properties in low-density areas to parties interested in building denser development in another area.

The state Department of Commerce and the Puget Sound Regional Council announced Sept. 15 more than $1 million in grants to 10 cities for transfer of development rights projects.

The dollars come from a federal Environmental Protection Agency program to support regional planning in the Puget Sound watershed.

“With these funds, cities will be creating a market for developers to increase the value of their projects while protecting land that is important for farming, forestry and watershed protection,” Department of Commerce Director Rogers Weed said in a statement. “Tools like TDR are market-driven, and encourage private investment in growing communities and land conservation.”

Issaquah planners intend to update a pact between the city and King County to create the receiving site. The area under consideration is part of the Central Issaquah Subarea, the commercial zone straddling the interstate.

City Planning Director Mark Hinthorne said the transfer-of-development-rights proposal fits into a broader effort to envision redevelopment on the land.

Mayor Ava Frisinger appointed a task force last year to chart redevelopment in the area. The panel should deliver recommendations next month.

Moreover, the city has a record of using the transfer-of-development-rights process to conserve open space. Hinthorne said past experiences helped make Issaquah a more attractive candidate for the grant dollars.

“We’ve done already what they’re encouraging other jurisdictions to do,” he said.

The best-known example is the long-running push to preserve Park Pointe on Tiger Mountain and, in exchange, allow increased density in the Issaquah Highlands. City Council members approved key measures last month to allow the swap.

Issaquah and King County officials also used the process in March 2000 to transfer development rights from Mitchell Hill to the highlands and preserve 313 forested acres.

The city and county OK’d a pact in 2005 to allow for development rights to be sent from private land in the Issaquah Creek watershed to sites inside the city.

City Senior Planner Debi Kirac said the grant money should allow the city to update the agreement. The grant is due to become available to the city in December, and must be used by December 2012.

Hinthorne and Kirac said the city plans to hire a consultant to complete the environmental analysis required as part of the process.

Cities in the area served by the Puget Sound Regional Council — the planning authority for King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties — received the money. No other Eastside city received a grant.

“We’re excited to see these cities conserve important land as they focus growth in urban places,” Bob Drewel, Puget Sound Regional Council executive director, said in a statement.

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

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