In landmark decision, buildings up to 150 feet in business district OK’d

December 27, 2011

Rowley Properties could someday build tall buildings on 78 acres in the business district, as shown in the rendering above. Contributed

Rowley Properties plans to redevelop land in decades ahead

Tall buildings could someday punctuate the skyline in the modest business district along state Route 900, after city leaders created a framework Dec. 19 to transform acre upon acre blanketed in storage units, low-slung office buildings and automotive service centers into a dense neighborhood for shops and homes.

In a landmark decision, City Council members approved a 30-year agreement between the city and longtime Issaquah developer Rowley Properties to overhaul almost 80 acres in the coming decades. The council agreed to allow buildings up to 150 feet tall and mixed-use development on up to 4.4 million square feet in Hyla Crossing and Rowley Center — parcels along Interstate 90 and state Route 900.

The landowner, in turn, is required to pay for transportation upgrades, affordable housing construction, Tibbetts Creek restoration efforts and storm-water system improvements.

Leaders said the potential for change in Hyla Crossing and Rowley Center offers a rare opportunity to reshape Issaquah as the city readjusts after a decadelong population boom.

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In major development decision, city OKs buildings up to 150 feet in business district

December 22, 2011

NEW — 9:30 p.m. Dec. 22, 2011

Tall buildings could someday punctuate the skyline in the modest business district along state Route 900, after city leaders created a framework Monday to transform acre upon acre blanketed in storage units, low-slung office buildings and automotive service centers into a dense neighborhood for shops and homes.

In a landmark decision, City Council members approved a 30-year agreement between the city and longtime Issaquah developer Rowley Properties to overhaul almost 80 acres in the coming decades. The council agreed to allow buildings up to 150 feet tall and mixed-use development on up to 4.4 million square feet in Hyla Crossing and Rowley Center — parcels along Interstate 90 and state Route 900.

The landowner, in turn, is required to pay for transportation upgrades, affordable housing construction, Tibbetts Creek restoration efforts and storm-water system improvements.

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Issaquah Highlands pedestrian bridge is meant to smooth access

December 13, 2011

The pedestrian bridge across Highlands Drive Northeast is lifted into place the early morning of Dec. 8 after arriving on site the day before in pieces on flatbed trucks from Florida. Contributed

The route is easier for pedestrians to cross a major thoroughfare after crews completed a pedestrian bridge across Highlands Drive Northeast on a moonlit morning last week.

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City leaders announce up to 20 employee layoffs

December 6, 2011

The city plans to start employee layoffs in February, as officials launch a wide-ranging reorganization at City Hall.

Under a reorganization plan prepared by Seattle consultant Moss Adams, the city could shed as many as 20 employees to retool the Public Works Engineering and Planning departments. Meanwhile, the city could hire additional administrative staffers to shift paperwork and other clerical duties from high-level managers.

“Layoffs are never easy,” City Administrator Bob Harrison said. “Some of it is part of the economy and some of it is just dealing with the new realities of what today is.”

The municipal workforce includes about 200 employees. Officials plan to offer severance packages to employees in the affected departments next month.

The plan also recommends a more muscular economic development effort from the city. Harrison announced the initial step Nov. 29 — a plan to promote Keith Niven, the longtime Major Development Review Team manager, to economic development director. Leaders intend to hire economic development managers to complete the team.

The recommendations, from a report released last month, called for Mayor Ava Frisinger and other leaders to restructure development and planning functions.

“Times have changed, as we know,” Moss Adams’ Tom Krippaehne said in a presentation to City Council members Nov. 29. “They’re changing in the city of Issaquah and they’re changing in the development functions. It’s a good time to take a look at how to update your business model.”

Harrison also announced a plan to promote Sheldon Lynne, the longtime No. 2 official in Public Works Engineering, to director. (Longtime Public Works Engineering Director Bob Brock retired early last month.)

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Developer requests $3 million from city for Issaquah Highlands retail center

November 22, 2011

In order to complete a long-planned business district in the Issaquah Highlands — and transform 14 acres into a cinema, shops, restaurants and more than 1,700 parking stalls — the developer behind the project said about $3 million in city funds is needed.

The developer, Florida-based Regency Centers, said the highlands project needs the dollars to complete roadwork and other infrastructure.

Regency and highlands developer Port Blakely Communities announced a deal in July to sell the land for a retail center, but before Regency completes the deal, company planners asked city leaders to commit public dollars to the project.

City officials said the retail complex could generate about $1 million in sales tax revenue each year.

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Developer requests city funding to complete Issaquah Highlands retail center

November 17, 2011

NEW — 9 p.m. Nov. 17, 2011

In order to build more stores in the Issaquah Highlands — and transform 14 acres into a cinema, shops, restaurants and more than 1,700 parking stalls — the developer behind the project said about $3 million in city funds is needed.

The developer, Regency Centers, said the highlands project needs the dollars to complete roadwork and other infrastructure.

Florida-based Regency Centers and highlands developer Port Blakely Communities announced a deal in July to sell the land for a retail center, but before Regency Centers completes the deal, company planners asked city leaders to commit public dollars to the project.

Port Blakely is also expected to contribute about $1 million to the project after shifting dollars from other commitments, such as a planned bus route expansion to the highlands.

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Issaquah quarry site is considered for homes, businesses

November 8, 2011

The hillside quarry below the Issaquah Highlands, plus land adjacent to the highlands, could someday transform into businesses and homes, if the city and landowner approve a long-term agreement to redevelop the site.

The landowner and quarry operator, Lakeside Industries Inc., proposed a development agreement for the 80-acre site.

The site — a quarry, a hillside and land on the plateau adjacent to the highlands — is zoned for mineral resources. The agreement under consideration could change the zoning to urban village — the same zoning for the highlands and Talus.

“We envision redevelopment that follows the patterns we are seeing in the highlands,” Lakeside Industries CEO Tim Lee said in a letter to City Administrator Bob Harrison. “Specifically, we foresee mixed uses and moderate density in a walkable community.”

City Council members sent the proposal to a committee Nov. 7 for further discussion.

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Bellevue College construction in Issaquah could start next year

October 25, 2011

City, college partner to plan Issaquah campus

Bellevue College could start construction on a campus in the Issaquah Highlands as early as next year, college and city officials announced, as the project gains momentum despite budget cuts and a dismal forecast from Olympia.

The college purchased about 20 acres last year in a complicated transfer of development rights designed to preserve Tiger Mountain forestland from construction and open additional highlands land to builders.

“In a time when a lot of the news in our part of world is very depressing, in terms of budget cuts and things, this is something we can look forward to,” Laura Saunders, Bellevue College interim president, said in a presentation to City Council members Sept. 27. “This is a way of building to the future.”

Throughout the summer, crews built and paved a road to access the planned campus.

Keith Niven, city Major Development Review Team program manager, said the timetable for construction is a surprise.

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Council allows Issaquah Highlands gas station despite concerns

October 11, 2011

Opponents raise questions about groundwater contamination

City Council members, eager to attract more retail options to the Issaquah Highlands, decided a gas station can open in the neighborhood, but only if groceries accompany the fill-ups.

The council agreed in a 7-0 decision Oct. 3 to change the agreement between the city and highlands developer Port Blakely Communities to allow a gas station in the community. Concerns about possible groundwater contamination led city officials to ban gas stations in the highlands before construction on the neighborhood started in the mid-1990s.

Safeway outlined plans for a gas station to accompany a proposed highlands store, and city officials and gas station proponents said the rule change is a crucial step to attract the grocery chain. The gas station is proposed for a funnel-shaped lot between Ninth Avenue Northeast and Highlands Drive Northeast, next to a future Safeway.

The debate before the council decision exposed a split among highlands residents eager for more amenities in the community, and residents from elsewhere concerned about potential groundwater contamination from gas station leaks.

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Safeway proposes highlands store, council OKs gas station

October 5, 2011

Safeway planners proposed a modern Issaquah Highlands store (above) in a permit application to the city. Contributed

NEW — 4 p.m. Oct. 5, 2011

The plan to open a grocery store in the Issaquah Highlands — a still-unmet target from early goals for the community — reached a milestone Monday, as Safeway submitted a proposal for a store in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, City Council members adjusted longstanding development rules Monday to allow a gas station in the highlands — a critical factor in Safeway’s proposal to build the store.

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