Issaquah preserves Tiger Mountain forest in historic milestone
March 24, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Park Pointe protection occurs after yearslong effort to stop proposed construction
NEW — 6:45 p.m. March 24, 2011
The long-running saga to preserve Park Pointe — a slice of Tiger Mountain forest near Issaquah High School — ended Thursday afternoon, after more than a decade of public and behind-the-scenes negotiations to halt construction on hundreds of houses proposed for the land.
The historic conservation effort is part of a complicated transfer of development rights. Under the agreement, city leaders steered construction from Park Pointe to the Issaquah Highlands instead, and, as a result, preserved more than 140 acres in the process.
City planners and officials shepherded the transfer-of-development-rights agreement through the arduous process after Mayor Ava Frisinger outlined the landmark opportunity to preserve Park Pointe in late 2008.
In the years since, city leaders and other partners continued to pursue the project until the recession scuttled the developer pushing for the project.
Since a Seattle bank received the land from the defunct developer last March, the preservation effort lurched into gear. Issaquah and King County officials adopted a series of agreements late last year to advance the process.
Finally, in another historic but little-noticed decision Monday, the City Council approved a final set of agreements to complete the process and preserve Park Pointe.
“I think that this will transform the community in a very, very positive way,” Frisinger said cheerfully from home Thursday, minutes after the deal closed. “It has the three elements of sustainability. It has the environment, the environmental protection and preservation. It has a huge social element. It has economic vitality benefits as well.”
Under the agreement, the city preserves 101 acres at Park Pointe, plus another 43 acres near Central Park in the highlands.
The other key component of the agreement allows construction on 35 acres adjacent to the highlands site. Bellevue College and local homebuilders plan to add a satellite campus and up to 500 residences on the 35-acre parcel.
(Bellevue College could break ground on the highlands campus within the next several years.)
In order to serve the additional construction in the highlands, the agreement outlines about $2 million in transportation upgrades, including a traffic signal along Northeast Park Drive at 15th Avenue Northeast, a road running parallel to Northeast Park Drive from Central Park to 15th Avenue Northeast, and completion of a missing link of Northeast Discovery Drive near Seventh Avenue Northeast.
The package also includes recreation improvements: a trail network west of Central Park, paved parking and a restroom facility at the park, and assistance from highlands builder Port Blakely Communities in creating and funding a mountain bike skills course near the park.
The multipronged effort to preserve Park Pointe dominated politics and government in Issaquah for more than a decade.
In perhaps the most dramatic decision attached to the process, the council decided in March 2008 to cancel the planned Southeast Bypass — a Tiger Mountain road link meant to serve Park Pointe and alleviate traffic congestion.
The last plans presented by the developer, Wellington Park Pointe, proposed 251 units or 344 units for Park Pointe. The required environmental studies for the proposed neighborhood raised questions about traffic congestion near Park Pointe and runoff from the mountainside.
Since Wellington Park Pointe proposed the project in the mid-1990s, opponents maintained Park Pointe could harm the environment, clog nearby streets and mar the Tiger Mountain panorama.
The builder collapsed into bankruptcy in late 2009, and a Seattle bank foreclosed on Park Pointe last March.
In the same period, the recession caused the price for Park Pointe to dip from $18.9 million in early 2009 to about $6 million in late 2010 — a critical boost for the deal.
“To a degree, an unexpected outcome of the down economy was that this become purchasable,” Frisinger said. “For years, people tried to figure out how this might be accomplished, and even with all of the efforts of the Cascade Land Conservancy and others who put together ways of purchasing land, it just was too expensive.”
Representatives from the city and the state Department of Natural Resources also conducted discussions about options for jointly managing the Park Pointe property, as the transfer of development rights neared completion.
Frisinger praised the county, Port Blakely and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for participating in the long process. The mayor said city officials plan to discuss future goals for the preserved land soon — after some celebrating, of course.
“I don’t think I have any Champagne in my house,” Frisinger said. “But I was about to look for a bottle of something that would be a good substitute.”