City Council approves pact to transform gravel quarry to urban village

December 25, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

The gravel quarry carved into the hillside below the Issaquah Highlands is poised to transform into businesses and homes in the next 30 years, after the City Council approved a landmark development agreement to reshape the area.

The landowner and quarry operator, Issaquah-based Lakeside Industries Inc., proposed the pact last year for about 120 acres on both sides of Highlands Drive Northeast. The council approved the development agreement Dec. 17, despite concerns about building height, traffic congestion and contamination in the Lower Issaquah Valley Aquifer, a key drinking water source for the city.

“There was a lot of push and pull, a lot of compromise, and I think it’s an agreement that both is good for my family and is also good for the city of Issaquah, and that we will live to see a development on this site that enhances the city,” Lakeside Industries CEO Tim Lee said before the unanimous council decision.

The city blueprint for long-term growth, or Comprehensive Plan, calls for mineral resource land to undergo “adequate reclamation and enhancement of the site” once quarrying or mining activities conclude.

The deal between the city and Lakeside Industries is similar to the agreements underpinning development in the highlands and Talus urban villages, and Rowley Properties land along state Route 900.

Developers can build hundreds of homes, plus businesses, roads and other infrastructure, and parks and trails on the existing gravel quarry and other land nearby.

The area farthest from the highlands and closest to Interstate 90 is expected to continue as industrial land for the foreseeable future, but construction could start on land near the highlands as early as next year.

Councilman Mark Mullet said the timeline offers the city a chance to study — and correct — possible impacts related to development.

“This is the beauty of this whole arrangement,” he said. “We get a great length of time to really study to make sure it works.”

Former Councilman David Kappler, Issaquah Alps Trails Club president, said the long-term agreement could carry benefits for the site.

“The more they know what they can do with the site over the long term, the more efficient they’ll operate the site,” he told the council.

Still, concerns about building height and the potential for aquifer contamination dominated the discussion before the council decision.

“I consider myself an environmentalist — I love the lake, the animals that eat all of my flowers, the fish, the native plants. I know they’re all connected, but let me be clear — clean, safe drinking water is the top of my environmental pyramid,” Issaquah resident Denise Smith told the council.

Kappler also cautioned the council about the aquifer contamination, and noted the expense of purchasing water from the regional Cascade Water Alliance.

“If we have to go into any kind of treatment of that water, or have to switch and buy more from CWA through there, it’s going to be extremely expensive for residents in the city and residents on the plateau,” Kappler said.

City Economic Development Manager Keith Niven said the agreement contains safeguards to prevent contamination.

“The idea here is that we’re not just going to put a bunch of storm water in the ground and walk away,” he said. “There will be monitoring. There will be pretreatment. There will be a lot of source controls in Lakeside, similar to Issaquah Highlands.”

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