Park Pointe preservation reaches ‘historic’ milestone
December 28, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Leaders build framework to save Tiger Mountain land, build Bellevue College campus
In a series of decisions a councilman described as a “historic moment,” City Council members assembled the framework Dec. 20 to preserve more than 100 Tiger Mountain acres and attract a Bellevue College campus to Issaquah.
The council OK’d agreements related to the long-running effort to preserve 102 forested acres on Tiger Mountain and, through a complicated transfer of development rights, open land in the Issaquah Highlands to Bellevue College and homebuilders for construction.
“This is really a historic moment for the city,” Council President John Traeger said before the unanimous decisions.
The city has toiled for years to preserve Park Pointe, the mountainside site near Issaquah High School.
Under the transfer-of-development-rights agreement, the land is to be protected and dense construction is to be allowed on 35 highlands acres instead. In addition, a forested 43-acre site in the highlands is to be preserved.
Port Blakely Communities, the builder responsible for the highlands, owns the highlands acreage included in the deal. The parcel has been dubbed Issaquah Pointe.
The agreements the council OK’d Dec. 20 included a decision to annex the Issaquah Pointe parcel.
“Extraordinary. Historic. Miracle,” Councilman Fred Butler said. “I’ve been on the council for almost 12 years, and I’ve never heard those kind of adjectives to describe an action that the council has taken.”
The effort earned endorsements from disparate groups, the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce and the Issaquah Alps Trails Club.
“These parcels are really critical connectors between the mountains for wildlife,” Issaquah Alps Trails Club President Williams said. “They’re critical for protecting water quality, and your well systems and drainage. They’re critical in protecting air quality for all of us to breathe.”
Connie Marsh, a citizen activist and a close observer of the long Park Pointe process, called the consensus “a freaking miracle.”
“We’re in the room with the chamber and the environmental community going, ‘Wow! Isn’t this great?’” she said. “When is the last time you’ve seen that? Have I ever seen that — when they weren’t really just pretending, of course? They mean it this time, because it’s an amazing thing.”
Catalyst for the economy
Former Councilman David Kappler described the effort to assemble Park Pointe-related agreements as “a real sausage-making process, but the sausage is ending up tasting pretty darn good at the end.”
The decisions came less than a month after the council selected Bellevue College and local homebuilders to purchase land, and build a college campus and up to 100 residences on the 35-acre highlands site. The sales should generate dollars for Port Blakely to purchase Park Pointe.
“Bellevue College is very excited for the opportunity to come to the Issaquah Highlands,” Bellevue College Trustee Vicki Orrico said during the Dec. 20 meeting. “We look forward to working with our partners at the city and Port Blakely in putting the finishing touches on this transaction.”
Skip Rowley, a longtime Issaquah developer, said the addition of a college campus could help fuel the local economy.
“It’s something that we, as businesspeople in our community and those of us that live here, have wanted for a long, long time,” he said.
Rowley and other community leaders urged city officials to attract a college campus to Issaquah in a 2005 city-commissioned economic vitality report.
Mayor Ava Frisinger said the addition of a Bellevue College campus could reshape Issaquah for the better.
“It opens up more educational possibilities within our community, and is a good thing for our economy in terms of attracting businesses here,” she said after the meeting. “It very well could be a catalyst for economic development within Issaquah Highlands.”
Council hails ‘old school’ effort
The mayor said the next step in the process to preserve the Tiger Mountain land appeared to be secure.
“It’s never done until it’s done, but it’s very, very close to done,” Frisinger said after the meeting. “I don’t anticipate any problems.”
The city aims to complete the transfer and the process to preserve the land early next year.
The agreements adopted Dec. 20 marked another milestone in the long-running effort to preserve Park Pointe. The often-arduous process has progressed in recent months, as the City Council and King County Council OK’d agreements crucial to the project.
“It’s a back-to-the-future moment,” Traeger said. “In the age of quarterly returns, blogs and tweets, this thing went old school: two years-plus of patience and effort and a lot of hard work.”
City Major Development Review Team Manager Keith Niven logged countless hours to push the proposal past the finish line. Former City Administrator Leon Kos, a behind-the-scenes architect, also lobbied to preserve Park Pointe.
The recession cooled a superheated real estate market and, as a result, the price for Park Pointe dipped from $18.9 million in early 2009 to about $6 million in late 2010.
“I hate to say this, but the down economy helped an awful lot,” Butler said.
The landmark decision came as a valedictory for Councilwoman Maureen McCarry, another key figure in the effort to preserve Park Pointe. In a final act as a councilwoman, she seconded a motion to adopt a key agreement.
McCarry suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and resigned at the end of the meeting.
The city launched the effort to preserve Park Pointe through a transfer-of-development-rights agreement in 2008, but the project stalled amid financial problems for the former landowner.
Regal Financial Bank in Seattle foreclosed on Park Pointe in March, months after the former landowner, Wellington Park Pointe LLC, declared bankruptcy in late 2009.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.