City Council could delay part of Central Issaquah Plan

December 12, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 10 a.m. Dec. 12, 2012

City leaders recommended Tuesday to delay the implementation of important development rules in a long-term plan to transform the business district from strip malls and parking lots to a dense urban hub.

In the last public meeting for the proposed Central Issaquah Plan before the document reaches the City Council for consideration, a council committee called for more time to refine and review the design and development standards outlined in the 30-year blueprint for redevelopment.

The design and development standards set rules for buildings, community spaces, landscaping, signage and more.

Overall, Council Land & Shore Committee members forwarded to the full council the four pieces of legislation to enact the Central Issaquah Plan. The full council is scheduled to consider the legislation and listen to public input Dec. 17.

But the committee — Councilwoman Stacy Goodman, Councilman Fred Butler and Council President Tola Marts — recommended for the full council to postpone a decision on the design and development standards until April 1.

Because the city cannot implement the Central Issaquah Plan until the council signs off on each component, implementation is likely to shift from January to April.

The long-term Central Issaquah Plan is meant to guide redevelopment from shopping centers and low-rise office buildings to a taller neighborhood meant for businesses and residences. The business district along Interstate 90 encompasses about 1,000 acres — including retail destinations, such as Pickering Place, and the Meadows and Issaquah Commons shopping centers.

The committee split on whether pursue a regional growth center designation for the business district.

Criteria set by the regional planning authority require such a center to accommodate businesses and residences, incorporate features for mass transit, pedestrians and bicyclists. The standards also call for a compact footprint and smaller blocks meant to entice pedestrians.

The regional growth centers receive higher priority for state and federal funding in order to connect the regional hubs, but transportation funding is increasingly scarce due to the fragile economy and the belt-tightening political climates in Olympia and Washington, D.C.

In Issaquah, planners envision 7,750 residential units for a regional growth center in the business district — up from about 750 nowadays — and growth from 13,000 jobs in the area to 19,225 jobs.

Leaders at the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce and Forterra, a Seattle-based conservation group, support the regional growth center designation.

But the city Planning Policy Commission, a growth advisory group comprised of residents, balked at the proposal. Though the commission recommended for the council to adopt the Central Issaquah Plan, members questioned the need to include a regional center designation.

Goodman, Council Land & Shore Committee chairwoman, said city leaders should reach out to King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit and the Puget Sound Regional Council — the planning authority for King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties — to discuss the possibility before proceeding.

“I just don’t see the harm in having some of those conversations before we make that decision,” she said.

Marts supported the proposal, but noted concerns he raised in the past about a regional growth center designation.

“I’m not super-stoked about just saying, ‘Well, we should move this along because we don’t really have to decide right now,'” he said.

But Marts also said a regional growth center in Issaquah could lead to more housing for workers — a goal in the Central Issaquah Plan.

Trish Heinonen, city long-range planning manager and the Central Issaquah Plan point person, said the Puget Sound Regional Council and other agencies could answer questions during the yearlong application process to become a regional growth center.

“This isn’t like an arranged marriage,” she said. “Do we think we want to try for this? Do we think we want to apply?”

Connie Marsh, Issaquah Environmental Council president, a business owner along Northwest Gilman Boulevard and a former council candidate, said the regional growth center designation creates a difficult-to-reach goal in a short timeframe.

“I think you’re creating a plan for 80 years,” she said. “I would be far more comfortable, and I think the community would be, scaling back to something that we actually think we could get in 20 to 30 years. I think the amount that we’re looking at right now is way further than that.”

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