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Transforming Issaquah

Jan 19, 2012
Transforming Issaquah

by Katherine Howe, Urban Planner, VIA Architecture
Image Credit: VIA Architecture

After working on the Rowley Properties Development Agreement and Planned Action EIS for two years, this project was adopted at the Issaquah City Council in December 2011. At the public meetings over 50 community members testified in favor, many citing the need for Issaquah to grow “differently” and their desire to see vibrant downtown places that are pedestrian friendly and have both everyday services and residential housing. Residents agreed with the overall Vision, that these nearly 80 acres of commercial land adjacent to the Sound Transit Park and Ride, I-90 and SR900 could be improved and transformed into two new mixed-use neighborhoods. The Development Agreement brings with it change, this area may eventually accommodate 4.4 million square feet of space, both in residential and commercial use.

Throughout this process, VIA’s team participated in many local workshops and advisory groups to help figure out how the transformation of a single use, suburban strip might be implemented, as well as the obstacles along the way. Trade-offs discussed included how to achieve economic feasibility for higher density projects, competing desires for new public infrastructure improvements, and opportunities for sustainability initiatives and green building. As a Catalyst Project for the Central Issaquah Sub Area Plan, we partnered directly with the City’s Major Development Review Team to reconsider policies on the City books, many of which were biased towards new green field developments. Re-aligning policies to support incremental infill redevelopment was a challenge and entailed a long negotiation process between the City and the Property Owner – with both sides listening to the other to ensure that the results would not only achieve the public’s goals, but also remain economically feasible.This Agreement is great news for those of us who are focused on land preservation, climate, sustainability, and public health. By consolidating development here, it shifts demand, minimizing the pressure for future development to extend further into the Cascade foothills. The Rowley Agreement supports the creation of a walkable environment, completing the City’s street network, encouraging more transit use, and places a mix of intensive use adjacent to existing investments in public infrastructure. By moving to a multifamily housing building type, Issaquah also benefits by providing housing opportunities for a full spectrum of people in various life stages and income levels.

In the end, the basic framework for the Development Agreement can be reduced to one major goal: Making it easy for future residents, visitors and employees to walk. By concentrating on walking, many of the other desirable urban design treatments fell into place – such as the amount and placement of future parking, the scale and design of buildings, the accessibility of community public spaces, and the type of street network. To achieve this neighborhood incrementally over 30 years, the Agreement included a lot of flexibility, and is perhaps more “hands off” than other New Urbanist Master Plans. Guidelines and performance standards as opposed to prescriptive codes regulate the urban form. This is an important aspect of the Plan, and our client made it clear that without the capacity to be nimble, and react quickly as the market dictates, all this effort wouldn’t result in much redevelopment.

However, to implement an Agreement in this way takes trust, and discretion from both contracted parties. Hopefully what we learn here can also inform future development and Issaquah will continue to include property owners early on, and as equal partners in their discussions of future planning endeavors.

If you missed it, the Rowley Properties agreement was covered by the Issaquah Press, the DJC and the Seattle Times.

VIA’s Matt Roewe completed the initial vision for the 80 Acre Development, while many at the firm were involved supporting the effort, including assisting with the Development Agreement, Planned Action EIS and community outreach.