Approved standards could mean 10-story buildings

April 23, 2013

By Peter Clark

The vision established in the Central Issaquah Plan last year officially took the first steps toward realization April 15 as the City Council approved design and development standards for future development.

The many standards passed include key provisions, such as reduced minimum parking requirements, new community space stipulations and a focus on density that allows buildings up to 125 feet in certain areas. The document has 17 chapters of comprehensive rules and regulations.

“This is a big deal,” Economic Development Director Keith Niven said. “In December, the council passed the Central Issaquah Plan, which was the vision. This is the implementation piece. This is how you make it happen. This allows developers to submit applications and pursue redevelopment based on the new standards.”

Since Mayor Ava Frisinger founded a task force in 2009 to prepare a plan of specific development standards for the growing city, hundreds of hours have been spent by the Development Services and the Land & Shore Committee in revising building criteria, designating planning zones and hearing public opinion.

“The purpose of these standards and guidelines is to transform central Issaquah into a pedestrian-oriented and more livable environment,” the passed agenda bill read. “These standards and guidelines promote the construction of buildings that will have an appealing and visually engaging public realm in order to encourage social interaction, outdoor activity and a pedestrian orientation, and encourage redevelopment of central Issaquah to a more sustainable, compact, mixed-use area.”

Most importantly, it allows the process of central Issaquah redevelopment to begin now that standards have been declared.

Niven identified that their owners have put Heritage Square and Gilman Square, both on Gilman Boulevard, for sale. With the solidification of the new standards, he said the department does not know what to expect with developer or owner reaction.

“We don’t have a lot of developers waiting in the wings. We don’t know yet,” he said. “This changes the rules for redevelopment, but some of those that are happy and content will remain there for some time.”

Council Land & Shore Committee Chairwoman Stacy Goodman explained that while the work has taken a long time, she is pleased with the result.

“I’m satisfied with them,” she said of the standards. “But, the important thing to remember is that these are only the first steps to implementing the Central Issaquah Plan.”

Goodman approached the decision understanding that a number of revisions were made to the standards, but that a time had to come when implementation had to happen.

“We worked on this really hard with thousands of hours and I would not have supported this had I not been satisfied with the product,” she said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s time for this to be road tested, really. It’s the first implementation piece, with numerous ones to come.”

Both Goodman and Niven stressed that both the plan and the standards are merely the beginning of a long, at least 30-year plan for the city. Many things will need adjusting or correction, depending on how Issaquah grows.

“The reality is there are a lot of interconnected pieces that still need to be worked through,” Niven said.

The vote to approve the standards was not unanimous. Passing with a vote of 6-1, Councilman Joshua Schaer was the sole dissenter.

“It was actually a very difficult decision whether I would support it or not,” Schaer said. “I agreed with most of the standards. There were a number of issues I thought needed more consideration. Folks I spoke to in the community expressed concerns about future growth in Issaquah.”

Schaer voted for the Central Issaquah Plan last year, of which the design standards were meant to be a part. He had specific questions about whether the vote before him was in line with that identity, but said he still appreciated the efforts it took to get there.

“I did not want to denigrate any of the work anyone has done,” he said. “I do not feel like my colleagues were wrong. I just think some issues needed to be voiced.”

For the time being, the city will work with developers and landowners within the new framework.


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2 Responses to “Approved standards could mean 10-story buildings”

  1. Smoley on April 24th, 2013 11:01 pm

    Ten-story buildings? Yeah, that’s going to look really nice. How is this going to improve the quality of life for Issaquah’s current residents? Answer: it won’t. It will very likely make things worse, and probably much worse.

    It’s decisions such as this that makes one wonder how long will it be before Olde Town will be mowed down and “redeveloped” to fit within the city council’s grand vision of an urban village? I mean why have all those single-family turn of the century homes with backyards downtown, when you could build a high rise in its place? Build, baby, build!

    I think our city council must have a severe case of “Bellevue Envy”.

  2. bryan weinstein on April 26th, 2013 8:12 am

    issaquah is a historical town, and soon the idea of small town issaquah will be history; who should judge if growth was ever the best choice our leaders made?

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