June 18, 2013
By Peter Clark
Building Department keeps up with Highlands expansion
Buildings bloom quickly in the Issaquah Highlands now.
A change in the seasons has seen a frenzy of construction as multiple projects leap to be completed in the fast-developing area of the city.
With 16 projects in various stages of completion, Project Oversight Manager Christopher Wright said that the next few years would see a large jump in available housing units and square footage: 1,183 additional housing units and 1,186,000 square feet of retail space is planned to sprout up in the planned community.
“I think what this comes down to is that we’re coming out of the recession,” Wright said of the flood of permits that have entered the city’s Building Department recently. “A year, a year and a half ago, we would not have expected this many coming in. It’s pretty surprising.”
The most noticeable development in recent weeks has been construction of Grand Ridge Plaza, which has caused a number of traffic diversions and delays along Highlands Drive Northeast and Ninth Avenue Northeast. The 327,000-square-foot retail space has been mostly sold under the direction of Regency Centers. Among the many retailers, it will house a Safeway grocery store, a Dick’s sporting goods store and a Regal Cinemas.
Wright said that the biggest changes recently have been the developers’ push for a quicker process through the city.
“The kind of unique thing is just the urgency of it all,” he said. “Everyone wants on the fast track.”
He said that it might be a push to be the first to market. With the strengthening of the economy, he said it could be expected that prices on materials would rise, and developers want to get started before that happens.
In anticipation, the department has made a number of changes to reduce bureaucracy and time for developer applications. It is more clearly defining construction standards and applying them across the board.
“We’re streamlining the process,” Wright said, which added to the difficulty that the department faces. “We’re dealing with a different process at the same time as this inundation of applications.”
He said that streamlined approach to a more manageable development process would become the norm in Issaquah’s future. With the passage of the Central Issaquah Plan and funneled comprehensive design standards at its core, Wright said that redevelopment in central Issaquah would follow much the same path.
“The CIP is more similar to how things were in the highlands,” he said, speaking of the different districts and architectural approval. “It used to be more traditional zoning. Now, everything is negotiable and up for debate.”
The big additions to the area include the realization of an Issaquah branch of Bellevue College. With an expected 300,000 to 400,000 square feet listed in the active projects list, Wright said that the institution is moving forward.
“We expect them to submit a site development permit in the next month or so,” he said.
Also, Wright said that there would be a large concentration of medical office buildings that will move in around Swedish/Issaquah in the coming years.
The city has been sensitive to the traffic changes that have occurred and the increase that the retail centers will add. City communications manager Autumn Monahan said that there has been a concerted level of outreach to assist drivers in the area. Signage along the roads, reader boards and website updates are all a part of the city’s plan to keep citizens informed.
Additionally, construction and completed traffic was planned in the area’s conception.
“The roads in the highlands were made to accommodate development,” Monahan said. “The level of service for the streets in Grand Ridge Plaza is the same as the standards elsewhere in the city of Issaquah. The streets will become busier as the area develops, but this traffic was included in the roadway network design.”
Traffic updates can be found at issaquahwa.gov/trafficalerts.
“There’s no end in sight,” Wright said about the increase in development permits.