Issaquah City Council revisits central plan design, development standards
February 26, 2013
By Christina Corrales-Toy
The Issaquah City Council moved one step closer to reaching a consensus concerning the Central Issaquah Plan’s development and design standards at a Feb. 20 work session to identify and discuss any remaining issues with the standards.
In December, the council adopted the Central Issaquah Plan, a long-term vision for the city that would transform it into a dense urban core complete with 125-foot tall buildings.
The council delayed adoption of the development and design standards at the time, preferring instead to put them through a more thorough review process.
The development and design standards consist of rules for buildings, community spaces, landscaping, signage and more. It is the only piece of Central Issaquah Plan legislation that has yet to be approved.
At the three-hour meeting, city staff members provided answers to questions submitted by council members, covering a variety of topics, including how the standards could require housing and what the standards can do to streamline permit review processes.
The council also heard public comments throughout the meeting as they methodically went through each topic.
Through their discussions, council members identified key policy issues that remained, and if consensus could not be reached, referred the issue to the council’s Land and Shore Committee or the Utilities, Technology and Environment Committee.
One lingering issue was the amount of permit review required for buildings smaller than 4,000 square feet. Staff suggested incorporating a level zero review for buildings below that threshold, meaning it would not require public notice. That would streamline the permit review for smaller projects.
The current development and design standards provide the opportunity to bump a project to a higher level of review, requiring it to undergo more scrutiny, provided it meets a certain set of criteria.
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A proposal may be bumped if it appears to present significant impacts to a critical area or its nature elicits community concern, under the current standards.
“You have to really make sure you can bump it up if it’s going to be inappropriate or a problem,” David Kappler, Issaquah Alps Trails Club president and a former councilman, said at the meeting.
The council agreed with the notion and decided to refer the issue to the Land and Shore Committee to further explore the criteria that will allow for a higher level of review.
Another issue that elicited a bit of discussion was the standards’ impervious surface requirements. An impervious surface is one that does not allow water to flow freely through its material. Sidewalks, parking lots, roads and material generally made of asphalt are all examples of impervious surfaces.
The standards would enforce a maximum of anywhere from 80 percent to 95 percent impervious surface on a site depending on a project’s land-use designation, though staff members suggested amending that section to give them the flexibility to increase that number.
That concerned some council members, especially Councilman Tola Marts, who did not want to see an area completely devoid of greenery.
“There’s still something to me about having a block that is all impervious,” he said. “It still strikes me as odd.”
The council sent the issue back to the Land and Shore Committee, which will discuss giving staff members a certain amount of flexibility in adjusting the standards, but instituting a cap, avoiding an area with 100 percent impervious surface.
The city is expected to release an updated draft of the development and design standards March 5. The document will be posted on the city’s website, www.issaquahwa.gov, and distributed to council members.
The council’s Land and Shore Committee will then discuss the standards, and any outstanding issues assigned to the committee, at its March 12 meeting. The discussion will continue at the committee’s April 9 meeting, where it will finalize a recommendation to present to the full council.
The final iteration of the development and design standards is expected to come before the City Council at its April 15 meeting, when it must vote on whether or not to adopt the standards.