Construction to start on downtown Issaquah parks

April 17, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Timeline remains uncertain due to lack of funding

The downtown parks along Issaquah Creek — 15.5 acres referred to as the crown jewel in the municipal parks system — can soon start a long transformation into undulating paths, picnic areas and more.

In a March 19 decision, City Council members approved the overarching design outline, or master site plan, for the interconnected Tollë Anderson, Cybil-Madeline and Issaquah Creek parks. The action laid the groundwork for construction to start on the site by late summer, though the effort to complete the parks could stretch for years.

City parks planners still need to acquire municipal permits for the initial construction phase. Meanwhile, architects at The Berger Partnership, a Seattle firm, continue to fine-tune the design for the parks.

The city allocated $1.6 million for the initial phase — not enough to complete the ambitious plan for the site but enough to launch the process. City officials said estimating a price for completing the entire project is difficult, due to possible design changes in the years ahead.

Timeline

The effort to transform former farmsteads into a downtown parks complex is a long process encompassing more than 15 years, but the process is steadily shifting from concept to reality. Some highlights in the process include:

  • November 2006: Issaquah voters overwhelmingly approve a bond measure to help fund the parks.
  • May 2010: City officials select The Berger Partnership, a Seattle firm, as the architect for the project.
  • August 2010: The city Parks & Recreation Department starts a series of open houses to gather ideas for the parks.
  • November 2010: The Berger Partnership unveils a design meant to highlight the parks’ existing features.
  • July 2011: The city Planning Policy Commission rezones the park sites from open space to parkland.
  • August 2011: The city Planning Department received the application for the parks’ design plan.
  • March 2012: City Council members approve the overarching design for the parks.
  • Summer 2012: Construction starts on Phase 1 — paths, a picnic shelter, restrooms, community garden and infrastructure.
  • 2013 or 2014: Issaquah Creek habitat restoration is expected to occur in Phase 2.

The ambitious plan from the architects is meant to change the oft-overlooked site along Rainier Boulevard North near the Darigold plant into a downtown destination. Inside the parks’ boundaries, the Issaquah Creek main stem meets the East Fork.

“This just didn’t pop up overnight,” Councilwoman Eileen Barber said before the unanimous decision. “It’s been in the works — and many residents desire to have this come together as a community park — for 20 years now.”

The effort is the largest parks project since the city built Squak Valley Park South in 2008 and the most ambitious plan since officials agreed to a framework for Tibbetts Valley Park more than 20 years ago.

Hurdles remain after construction starts

Still, hurdles remain before the bold plan for the downtown parks can evolve from concept to concrete.

Plans call for Phase 1 to include paths, a picnic shelter, restroom facility, community garden, and irrigation lines and other infrastructure. Phase 2 is dedicated to creek restoration projects.

The more expensive features, such as a horseshoe-shaped pedestrian bridge across Issaquah Creek, do not enter the plan until a later construction phase.

“This is a final vision,” Councilman Paul Winterstein said, gesturing to the concept design displayed for council members. “It’s going to come in phases, and it won’t look like this until the end.”

The city is in the early stages to plan a park bond to help fund later phases. Grants from state and regional entities form another important source of dollars for the project.

Crews plan to raze the barn in Tollë Anderson Park — the former Anderson Farm — during Phase 1, though the plan is to reclaim beams and other elements, if possible. The city Parks & Recreation Department already removed light fixtures from the barn for possible reuse.

“Whatever we can salvage from the barn and incorporate into the picnic shelter, we’re going to try our hardest to do that,” city Parks Planner Margaret Macleod said in a separate interview.

The former farmhouse on nearby creekside land is another issue for the planning team. Macleod said the farmhouse is in poor condition and needs additional study to determine if the building should be restored or razed.

The farmhouse sits close to the creek — and the location presents another potential complication.

“We do have to move it one way or another, because it’s in the buffer zone for the restoration,” Macleod said.

The parks site also includes the former Ek Farmhouse. Early plans call for the city to maintain both farmhouses until later construction phases.

The projects included in the initial phase represent only a fraction of a bold plan unveiled in November 2010. In addition to the pedestrian bridge, The Berger Partnership envisioned serpentine rock barriers, manmade knolls, open meadows and boulders for climbing.

“More than any other project I’ve ever worked on, as we’ve developed this design, we actually lightened our hand on the landscape at every chance we touched this project, because it’s just such an exceptional site,” architect Guy Michaelsen said Feb. 1 as the Development Commission studied the project.

“It’s great the way it is,” he added. “It’s like a park now, and we just need to really kind of open it up and invite people in.”

Funding is major factor for future

The long-term plan for the site includes a proposal to relocate the aging parks maintenance facility from a creekside site and include the land in the downtown parks.

Lean municipal budgets could further extend the undefined timeline to complete the changes outlined for the parks. Even a multimillion dollar park bond could not fund the entire complex, because city officials usually split bond dollars among numerous projects.

“Funding is the real driver for phasing,” city Senior Planner Christopher Wright said at the Development Commission meeting. “In this case, we couldn’t necessarily set the dates of when these different phases will take place, but we did focus on, basically, the order in which these phases should take place and what should be done before what.”

Despite uncertainties about future funding for the parks, planners hailed the March 19 council decision as a milestone.

“It provides a vision for how that park will be developed all through the future,” Macleod said.

In a discussion before the decision, council members predicted the parks as a popular destination in the future.

“Yes, there will be open space through which to wander; shelters, benches, walls and play areas that will draw people, but the water’s edge will be the apex experience — the ultimate destination,” Winterstein said.

The plan to ease access to Issaquah Creek from downtown Issaquah captured council members’ imaginations.

“If people could just wriggle their toes in the sand right at the edge of the creek, it might help people connect a bit more to the creek and to the priorities that we have for maintaining it,” Council President Tola Marts said.

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

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