Council hears about Central Issaquah Plan

April 15, 2014

By Ari Cetron

Before it agrees to support it, the Sammamish City Council wanted to hear about Issaquah’s plan to develop more than 1,000 acres straddling Interstate 90.

Sammamish is agreeing to support the Central Issaquah Plan, which is Issaquah’s bid to be named a regional growth center as part of a deal to expedite the transfer of the Klahanie annexation area from Issaquah to Sammamish (See story Page 1).

The regional growth center designation would allow the area to receive priority status when applying for some grants.

The plan has seen some resistance from Sammamish council members in the past who feared, among other things, traffic impacts on I-90.

Councilman Don Gerend, previously a vocal opponent of the plan, said seeing the presentation relieved some angst he’d had when he first heard about it, and he wished he’d heard the presentation some years ago.

In broad terms, the plan calls for the redevelopment of a bit more than 1,000 acres – about 800 of which can be developed – on either side of I-90 as it passes through Issaquah over the next 30 years.

The area now consists of the strip malls along Gilman Boulevard and low-slung office parks surrounded by moats of surface parking.

The area now is about 75 percent parking lots, said Trish Heinonen, long range planning manager for the city of Issaquah.

“It really is all cars. It’s all vehicles and we wanted to change that – we had to change that,” she said.

Right now, there are only 750 residences in the area, with about 6.3 million square feet of commercial space. The plan would create a dense, walkable area with about 7,250 net new housing units, bringing the total to 8,000. There would also be a net increase of 6.2 million square feet of commercial space, bringing the total to 12.5 million square feet.

At the core, buildings could reach as high as 125 feet – likely 10-11 stories, but maybe 12 if an architect is clever enough, Heinonen said.

In addition, the plan calls for better incorporating green spaces into the area. Rather than a few small, scattered parks, there could be a better designed network of green spaces connected by trails.

The proposal, which took six years to develop, is designed to allow Issaquah to meet its mandated growth targets without disrupting existing neighborhoods or hurting the environment, Heinonen said.

Another goal of the plan is to try and re-balance the jobs-to-housing ratio, which now stands at about 17 jobs per resident, Heinonen said.

By increasing the available housing relative to the commercial space, it will allow more people to live closer to their workplace. That, in turn, could reduce traffic on surrounding roads.

Gerend was skeptical that traffic reduction would actually happen along I-90 as promised. He noted that while there may be a 17-to-1 ratio in the central area, the citywide ratio is more balanced, meaning that adding more people might not have such a profound effect on I-90 traffic.

Heinonen said Issaquah had little choice since it needed to create space for some new development to meet the mandated growth targets. She said another option – increasing the number of jobs without increasing the amount of housing – was briefly considered, but would have been a disaster for traffic.

 

Small road could mean big relief

One aspect of the plan which the Sammamish council praised was to widen a stretch of East Lake Sammamish Parkway south of 56th Street. The parkway is four lanes in that direction, then narrows to two before widening again to four lanes just before the I-90 on-ramp.

Issaquah is about 60 percent complete with designing that stretch of road, said Gary Costa, Issaquah’s transportation manager.

The project will likely provide some relief to Sammamish and Klahanie-area commuters trying to reach I-90, Costa said, and he hopes Issaquah will begin construction on it in 2015.

Sammamish City Manager Ben Yazici said he will coordinate with Issaquah on the plan so Sammamish does not begin simultaneous projects of its own on other nearby roads.

Councilwoman Nancy Whitten was concerned about stormwater runoff from the area, which will find its way into Lake Sammamish. She wondered if treating the water will sufficiently protect the lake’s ecosystem.

Yazici noted much of the area consists of parking lots, which don’t treat the water at all before it runs into the lake. He suggested that since any new development will have some kind of treatment option, it is bound to improve the situation.

At least one part of the plan, a project at Seventh Avenue Northwest and Northwest Gilman Boulevard, is already in the early stages of development. Preliminary plans call for three five-story residential buildings with underground parking.

The Sammamish City Council was likely to pass a resolution offering support for the Central Issaquah Plan and its designation as a regional growth center at an April 15 meeting.

Whitten also cautioned her fellow council members that once they pass the resolution, they must be cautious about the plan. She said that in public and at regional board meetings, individual council members must be sure not to say anything negative about the plan, no matter their individual feelings.

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