Committee questions Polygon development cooperation

December 31, 2013

By Peter Clark

Many questions surround discussions about a huge Issaquah Highlands development that city officials hope will bring a high-tech college campus to the parcel.

Economic Development Director Keith Niven introduced a draft development agreement between Issaquah and Polygon Northwest to the City Council Land and Shore Committee at its Dec. 10 meeting. The committee voted to recommend to the full council that the administration proceed with negotiating a new development agreement, but did not reach the decision unanimously.

Microsoft sold its 63-acre Issaquah Highlands property to Polygon Northwest in October.

Having received 256 buildable housing units from Microsoft in the land-purchase deal, the new development agreement would give Polygon 100 more in exchange for working with the city to use half of the land for something other than residential.

“We’ve just been waiting for an office campus to happen there for a decade,” Niven said, describing Polygon’s willingness to cooperate with the city. “They were willing to work with us to have a new development agreement for the property. They’re willing to do this as a partner to the city.”

The committee met the introduction of the draft with mild suspicion.

“The business person in me says that doesn’t make any sense,” Councilman Paul Winterstein said about Polygon’s willingness to create a new development agreement with the city. “Why would they do that? I guess what I’m saying is what’s the benefit to them just to get 365?”

But Council President and Mayor-elect Fred Butler said he was enthused by the possibility of working with the developer.

“I like the idea of a new development agreement,” he said. “I do know they want to get something under way next year, and that provides a little bit of leverage perhaps. This provides an opportunity to forge a public/private partnership, which could be beneficial to everyone.”

He cited the recent agreement between the city and Swedish Hospital, including their willingness to assist public transit, as an example.

Butler also said he wanted an opportunity to maintain the aesthetic of the highlands.

“Sixty-three acres with 365 housing units, I can’t imagine what that would look like,” he said. “It would be pretty ugly.”

Niven said Polygon has an active interest in building quickly and keeping the city’s favor.

“They’re wanting to actually be moving a plat through next year with the hope that they can be in the ground by the end of next summer,” Niven said. “They don’t want the city to be disappointed in them for building out the whole property as residential.”

Winterstein had more worries about what the traffic system would look like with the addition of 365 more housing units, let alone with the addition of more commercial or office space. He abstained from voting on the recommendation until he had more information from the developer.

The committee voted 2-0, with Winterstein’s abstention, to recommend the full council approve the administration.

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