Business owners have concerns about Gilman redevelopment
March 4, 2014
By Peter Clark
Plans to redevelop Seventh Avenue Northwest and Northwest Gilman Boulevard are not making everyone happy.
Darlene Cohen has owned the antique mall Gilman Galleries, which sits on the property, for five years. She spoke proudly of the work she has put into the business in order to make it successful.
“We built it back up to keep the business going,” Cohen said. “It wasn’t easy.”
However, developer Lennar Multifamily Investors plans to raze buildings on the property and construct three five-story residential buildings in their place. They have applied for a site development permit, which the city is reviewing.
The dissolution of the property and the designs for the residential buildings do not sit well with Cohen.
“We’ve got a problem here,” she said. “I would hate to have them bulldoze it with my dealers here. Issaquah doesn’t have the retail space to offer.”
Cohen said building owner Bill Bain renewed her lease in December for another three-year term. She did not know what redevelopment on the property would mean for her legal agreement to stay, but said her lawyer was aware of the situation.
Kay Johnson has been a vendor at Gilman Galleries for 10 years and has issues with how the city has handled the redevelopment process.
“As a tenant, we haven’t been given timely updates,” she said. “The city needs to be more transparent and take the citizens’ opinions.”
Johnson made it clear, and Cohen agreed, that they understood redevelopment was imminent and even wanted.
“We are not anti-development,” Johnson said. “We do not think we’ve been properly brought into this process. We’d really like proactive notice.”
One of their largest complaints is the pure residential nature of the redevelopment. Cohen said it takes away valuable retail space in the city.
“If this is going to be redeveloped, I’d like to see some mixed use here and some retail here,” she said.
Cohen said she would have warmly greeted a redevelopment of the area that would have included retail space in which Gilman Galleries could continue.
She sees lack of retail space as an Issaquah-wide problem. In preliminarily searching for a possible business move, she said she has had no luck finding affordable locations.
“This is the tomorrow of Issaquah,” Cohen said. “Do we want it to look like this?”
City Project Oversight Manager Christopher Wright said the city has done everything properly so far.
“Since the application first came in, it’s been on our website,” he said. “And we are required to and did send out a notice of application on Jan. 31. The thing to remember is the notice went out to property owners, so tenants wouldn’t necessarily get it.”
Should the project move past the application phase, he said the Development Commission would take it up and hold a pair of public meetings.
“We’re really trying to get as much public comment as we can,” Wright said.
The city held a shoreline public meeting March 4 (after The Press’ deadline) to hear concerns about proximity to the creek and had not set dates for the Development Commission’s public input.
Lennar Multifamily Investors Development Director Tom Bartholomew said the developer aimed to add to the surrounding retail by providing easy access for the residents of the 343 proposed units.
“We view the neighborhood as horizontally mixed and that we are adding a significant number of citizens to that mix,” he said.
Accessibility will remain one of the most important aspects of the property.
“We picked this site because it’s so walkable,” Bartholomew said. “We’re putting all of our common areas on the shared-use trail.”
He said the developer did not find mixed-use buildings in its best interest, but instead wanted to enhance surrounding retail with more foot traffic from nearby residents.
Above everything else, Cohen does not think the community attraction of retail like Gilman Galleries can be understated.
“We have women who meet at the mall and spend the whole day here,” Cohen said. “People slam their hands on the counter and say, ‘You can’t leave the area.’”
She said the antique mall houses the wares of approximately 100 dealers and all of them want to stay.
“The people feel like it’s already done and not feeling like they have a say in it,” Cohen said. “There isn’t a dealer in here that doesn’t want Gilman Galleries to continue.”
Johnson asked the city to let citizens get involved.
“We’re just looking for balance,” she said. “It feels like it’s really been us reacting rather than us being a part of the process.”
Cohen wants to maintain Issaquah as a destination city.
“We have hundreds of small businesses just evaporating,” Cohen said. “I love that there are people who come over the pass because we have character here, and I think that needs to be kept.”