King County approves boundary change critical to Park Pointe preservation

November 2, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Park Pointe transfer of development rights

King County has adjusted the area for urban growth in the Issaquah Highlands, as part of the long-running effort to preserve about 140 forested acres.

In a unanimous decision, King County Council members added 35 acres near Central Park to the urban area open to dense development. The council adopted the change to the countywide growth blueprint, or Comprehensive Plan, Oct. 18.

The decision is part of a push led by Issaquah officials to preserve 102 acres at the Park Pointe site on Tiger Mountain, plus a rural parcel adjacent to the highlands.

The deal, a complicated transfer of development rights, aims to set aside about 140 acres — the Park Pointe land near Issaquah High School and another 43 acres adjacent to the highlands.

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 — the land addressed in the Comprehensive Plan change — to construction.

Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger said the boundary decision represented a milestone in the effort to preserve Park Pointe and add density to the highlands.

“It was very, very important that it be done,” she said. “Otherwise, the ability to have the whole TDR transaction take place would have been in jeopardy.”

The change opens the door for urban construction on the land. Before the update, development had been limited to larger lots for residences or for institutional uses, such as a church or a school.

The city is a step closer to enlisting developers for the 35 acres open to construction.

“What we’re going to do will be to look for qualifications,” Frisinger said. “We know that there are already people who are interested. Bellevue College is the primary one.”

The college announced plans in late August to consider the site for a possible campus.

City Major Development Review Team Program Manager Keith Niven, the point man on the transfer of development rights project, said the Comprehensive Plan update should boost prospects for construction on the highlands site.

In order to nudge the process ahead, the county included a provision in the update. If the transfer of development rights has not progressed by 2012, the growth boundary is due to revert to the former line.

“We were very concerned about any movement of the urban growth boundary before a deal had actually concluded, so we made sure that there were provisions in there,” County Councilman Larry Phillips said. “The proposal could only go forward if there was actually a substantial gain with regard to open space in and around the Issaquah Highlands and to be part of the view-shed for the Issaquah Alps.”

The blueprint can be amended every year to address technical updates and include revisions, as long as the changes do not require substantive policy changes. The county conducts a complete review of the Comprehensive Plan every four years. The next full update is scheduled for 2012.

Phillips, chairman of the council committee responsible for the Comprehensive Plan, called the decision a “win-win for Issaquah and King County.”

“We’ve had a very long and successful relationship with the city of Issaquah on a number of issues, both in terms of open space and the TDR program,” he continued. “This is just an example of the county and the city working very well together.”

Issaquah City Council members endorsed key agreements in August to enact the transfer of development rights, despite criticism from highlands residents concerned about added density.

The city launched the effort to preserve Park Pointe through a transfer of development rights in 2008, but the project stalled amid financial problems for the landowner.

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

“We had hoped to have it wrapped up sooner, but absent buyers, it was pretty difficult to wrap it up,” Frisinger said.

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.

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

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