Issaquah growth center proposal raises questions

May 3, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The nascent proposal to add almost 5,000 residential units to the business district in a pedestrian- and transit-friendly hub received a skeptical reception from city planning commissioners last week.

The city is considering a proposal to add a regional growth center in a bid to attract dollars for transportation and mass transit to Issaquah. The initial plans outline such a hub in 915-acre Central Issaquah, the commercial area spread along Interstate 90 and state Route 900.

The long-term blueprint for the Puget Sound region calls for areas designated as regional growth centers. The designation helps officials plan regional transportation infrastructure and determine the best sites for economic development.

The centers also receive higher priority for state and federal funding in order to connect the regional hubs — a crucial selling point.

Still, Planning Policy Commission members raised questions about a proposal to create a regional growth center and add up to 4,650 residential units in a dense neighborhood.

“I think the biggest question is, do we want to do this?” Commissioner Joan Probala asked during the April 28 meeting. “Because when we decide that we want to do it, you’re looking at changing the rest of the areas to some extent, and you’re going to encourage building to happen there” in the targeted area.

Central Issaquah Area Task Force members offered support for the center concept last year. The task force examined long-term redevelopment in the business district.

Despite the support from the task force, “I’m not comfortable with the prospect of adding 4,000 or 5,000 additional units,” Commissioner Raymond Extract said.

The initial step in the process called for city planners to determine if Issaquah meets the growth center criteria laid out by the Puget Sound Regional Council — the planning authority for King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Designated Eastside growth centers include downtown Bellevue, Overlake, Redmond and Renton. Other centers exist in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett. The region includes 27 centers for residences and jobs in all.

City Planning Director Mark Hinthorne outlined potential centers ranging from 268 to 687 acres in the business district. Guidelines call for the centers to include mixed-use buildings and mass transit options for residents and workers.

The business district includes acres of strip malls, low-rise office buildings, automotive service centers and self-storage units.

“If you focus them in the core of Central Issaquah, and provided it’s centered in your investment there, then you can start to change the character of the suburban, strip-mall neighborhood and start to really create an urban center that encourages that kind of redevelopment,” he said.

If the redevelopment is dispersed throughout the business district, the impact of a growth center could be diluted.

Hinthorne said city planners intend to address the concerns raised by Planning Policy Commission members about the proposal.

“We’ll continue to explore and answer some of the questions you asked tonight, and provide some more information on that to help you and the public and the council make that decision,” he said.

City Council members decided against a growth center designation in the 1990s, but re-examined the proposal in 2003 and 2004. In the earlier discussions, elected officials abandoned the idea because the focus on planning remained on suburban-style construction, especially in the Issaquah Highlands and Talus. Nowadays, officials talk more about redeveloping the business-district into a small-scale urban setting.

“A lot of communities that are like Issaquah and have been developed to a great degree over the last 100 years, there’s probably not going to be a lot of opportunity for new subdivisions,” Hinthorne said. “There may be an opportunity to buy an older house and tear it down and build a new one, but I think the era of new single-family subdivisions in Issaquah is probably over, except for very few parcels.”

What is a regional growth center?

Cities in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties — under the umbrella of the Puget Sound Regional Council — can create regional growth centers for housing and jobs, or industry.

The area includes 27 regional growth centers identified for housing and employment growth, as well as for regional transportation funding. Issaquah is considering such a hub for the business district.

  • Auburn
  • Downtown Bellevue
  • Bothell
  • Bremerton
  • Burien
  • Everett
  • Federal Way
  • Kent
  • Kirkland
  • Lakewood
  • Lynnwood
  • Overlake
  • Downtown Puyallup
  • Puyallup, South Hill
  • Redmond
  • Renton
  • SeaTac
  • Downtown Seattle
  • Seattle, First Hill and Capitol Hill
  • Seattle, Northgate
  • Seattle, South Lake Union
  • Seattle, University Community
  • Seattle, Uptown Queen Anne
  • Silverdale
  • Downtown Tacoma
  • Tacoma Mall
  • Tukwila

Planners also designate regional manufacturing and industrial centers as locations for increased employment. The region includes eight such industrial hubs.

  • Ballard/Interbay
  • Duwamish
  • Kent
  • North Tukwila
  • Frederickson
  • Port of Tacoma
  • Paine Field/Boeing Everett
  • South Kitsap Industrial Area
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