City Council sells highlands land to Bellevue homebuilder

May 24, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

City Council members agreed May 16 to sell Issaquah Highlands land — a scrap measuring 16,000 square feet — to a homebuilder and set aside dollars from the sale to improve municipal parks.

The city stands to receive $191,496 for the parcel near the planned 15th Avenue Northeast extension and Northeast College Drive construction.

Bellevue-based developer Polygon Northwest is building the Forest Ridge at Issaquah Highlands neighborhood near the site and intends to add the parcel to the community.

The homebuilder could create three lots for single-family detached homes on the site.

“As a new member to the Issaquah Highlands community, we want to do what’s in the best interest of the community, and we feel that this fits that goal,” Ben Rutkowski, development project manager for Polygon Northwest, told council members.

The council agreed in a unanimous decision to sell the land, but members raised questions about how to use dollars from the sale, as well as road access to possible homes on the site.

Keith Niven, city Major Development Review Team program manager, said the city created the site after carving up a larger parcel.

“We’re subdividing that piece of property with public roads,” he said.

Plans call for 15th Avenue to run north to south and for College Drive to run east to west along the property. Plans call for College Drive to snake for about a half-mile behind Grand Ridge Elementary School and link to the existing street grid at Central Park. The road is meant to provide access to a planned Bellevue College campus, hence the name.

Councilman Fred Butler asked about potential uses for the land if the city decided to retain ownership.

“Because this is less than a half an acre, it limits probably the potential of what it could be used for,” Niven said.

Such options could include a pea patch or community garden, a pocket park or a park for small dogs.

Councilman Mark Mullet called for funds from the sale to be set aside for highlands parks rather than the city’s general fund — the account used to fund police and fire services, community development and planning, parks and recreation, and municipal government. The councilman, a highlands resident, added the parks language to the sale agreement.

“I feel that between the options of retaining it as open space or a future park facility, I think that would clearly be of more benefit to the highlands residents than selling the land off,” Mullet said. “I think the way you offset that is by saying, ‘Well, we’re selling it off so that we can improve some of the other parks space that you currently have that you’re telling us you want improved.’”

Councilwoman Eileen Barber opposed Mullet’s amendment in a 5-1 decision to apply proceeds from the sale to highlands parks.

“If we want to earmark these for parks dollars, that would be fine, but I think it should be whatever is needed in the city as far as parks, as opposed to specifically for this one project,” she said.

The council also split on a proposal to ban driveway access to College Drive from the home lots. The members’ 3-3 tie required a rare tiebreaking vote from Mayor Ava Frisinger to scrap the proposal. (Councilwoman Stacy Goodman did not attend the meeting.)

“I think that it is quite evident from the discussion that has taken place this evening that the council prefers that there not be access off College Drive, and seems to prefer the configuration with access coming off onto 15th,” Frisinger said.

Connie Marsh, a citizen activist and Issaquah Environmental Council president, questioned why the city decided to sell land for suburban development amid discussions to create a more urban character in some areas of the city.

“When we were talking 15 years ago about the Issaquah Highlands, it sounds almost identical to what we’re saying about the Central Issaquah Plan, yet we’re building suburban again,” she said. “It’s not worth my tax dollars to sell off city property for more suburban.”

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