Living near work? Great idea, in theory
Residents say three Eastside communities are great places to live; there just aren't many jobs nearby.
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Redmond RidgeStart of construction: 1998
Size: 1,383 acres, with about 800 acres of open space and parks
Homes: About 1,500 homes and more than 4,500 residents. Will add 700 homes when Redmond Ridge East is finished. (No completion date has been set.)
Prices: Quadrant does not track resale values. Pricing not set for Redmond Ridge East.
Source: Quadrant Homes
Snoqualmie RidgeStart of construction: 1996; first family moved in 1998
Size: About 2,100 acres, including more than 1,000 acres of parks and open space
Homes: About 2,500 homes and more than 6,000 residents now. With the completion of Phase II expected in 2012, full build out will be up to 4,300 homes.
Prices: Average prices range from $400,000 to $800,000 for new construction for Phase II.
Source: Quadrant Homes
Start of construction: 1997
Size: 2,200 acres with 1,500 acres of open space and parks
Homes: Currently, 2,000 homes are occupied with 4,000 residents. Maximum build out is 3,950 homes.
Prices: Home prices range from $260,000 to $3 million
Source: Port Blakely
On a warm weekday morning, the downtown sidewalks of Snoqualmie Ridge bustle with well-dressed residents. They enter the bank and grocery store. They walk past a nail salon and a corner spa offering discounts on Botox injections.
They grab their a.m. java, jump into cars and head to work.
Marketed as suburbia's answer to sprawl, three master-planned communities on the Eastside were once billed as places where residents could saunter down the street and show up to work a stone's throw from their doorsteps. Nearly a decade later, homes have sprouted like mushrooms, restaurants and salons thrive, and locals gather at coffee shops to catch up on the latest gossip.
But for the most part, urban villages in Issaquah, Redmond and Snoqualmie have yet to provide one missing link — jobs.
Corporate employers have been a critical void.
And without nearby jobs, the traffic woes brought on by more development only continue.
"Having employment anchors in urban villages is often the final piece to be included — and it is the most difficult," said Stephen Filmanowicz, spokesman for the Chicago-based Congress of New Urbanism, which promotes mixed-use neighborhoods as an alternative to sprawl.
Developers blame it largely on the dot-com bust but point to the state's economic upturn as promising.
"We did envision people taking their bikes or walking to work," said Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson, who lives on the Ridge. "We need to create an environment where there is a critical mass of a certain sector, like software or aerospace. Right now, the Ridge doesn't rise to the ideal that most folks thought of."
The developments were pushed during the 1980s and '90s as a return to pedestrian centers of days past. Parks, narrow streets and convenient transit stations were designed to get residents out of their cars. Jobs and retail were supposed to encourage people to work and shop where they live. Essentially, urban villages would deliver what isolated subdivisions hadn't — a sense of community.
In the years since, environmentalists have complained that these often-massive projects have eaten up forests and animal habitat to make way for houses and roads. Longtime residents feel the squeeze as thousands of new commuters jam highways and once-quiet back roads.
While no one specifically tracks how many urban-village dwellers drive to their jobs, transportation data show a jump in the number of cars on the road as more people move there.
From 2003 to 2006, for example, 6,000 more cars traveled on Interstate 90 at the Sunset Interchange where Issaquah Highlands is located, according to figures from the state Department of Transportation. Similar spikes were noted near Snoqualmie and Redmond Ridge.
Redmond Ridge and its companion developments were immersed in litigation for years, in part because the county failed to upgrade Novelty Hill Road, the main link to Redmond. As a result, the mostly rural area was flooded with urban-style traffic jams.
Gene Burrus and his wife, Leah, bought their Snoqualmie Ridge home in 2002. The dramatic Mount Si views sold them, he said, not the "live, work, play" mantra. Burrus makes the 35-minute drive to Microsoft in Redmond every day; his wife commutes to downtown Seattle.
"The Ridge has delivered to some degree," Burrus said, with a new library, grocery store and a Starbucks. "But that dream of a self-contained work environment hasn't come to pass. And I don't think it will."
Some companies commit
Some companies have committed to the master-planned communities.
Philips Oral Healthcare, which produces the Sonicare electronic toothbrush, occupies 275,000 square feet of office and light-manufacturing space in the business park opposite Snoqualmie Ridge. Fourteen Philips employees live on the Ridge and walk to work; the company's CEO, Chris Robins, is among them.
In November, Prime Advisors, a bicoastal insurance investment company, moved its Kirkland headquarters to the Redmond Ridge business park. More recently, officials for Swedish Medical Center announced plans to pursue building a new hospital in the Issaquah Highlands after getting state approval in June.
Still, it's been a slow go. And when jobs do come, they often don't pay enough for workers to afford to live there.
At Snoqualmie Ridge, for instance, only 30 percent of the business park is occupied, with many of the jobs in light manufacturing. Issaquah Highlands — dealt a setback when Microsoft bailed on its plans to expand there — also has no major employer.
Developers say they're not surprised.
It takes years for all the elements of an urban village to jell, said Peter Orser, president of Quadrant Homes, developer of Redmond Ridge and Snoqualmie Ridge.
"I am not panicked. This is an evolution," Orser said.
It's also about supply-and-demand economics, said Mark Rowe, senior real-estate manager at Opus Northwest, which oversees development of the Snoqualmie Ridge business park.
On the one hand, he said, you have the master-planned ideal of creating a place to "live, work and play."
Then there are the economic realities. Real-estate developers build for the companies that want to be there.
"We're responsive to the market in terms of who comes," Rowe said. "Snoqualmie Ridge is a pretty expensive place to live. The majority of jobs don't pay enough to let people buy homes here."
Big plans fell through
When the first homes were built in the late '90s, no one expected real-estate values to skyrocket at such a feverish pace.
Then came the dot-com crash. Jobs were lost and office vacancies jumped. Office space in downtown Seattle and Bellevue tumbled to as little as $13 a square foot, half its previous value, Rowe said. In some cases, big plans to lure corporate employers simply fell through. Take, for instance, the Issaquah Highlands.
Fast growth in the late 1990s prompted Microsoft to look to Issaquah for expansion because Redmond had imposed a moratorium on commercial development. In 1997, Microsoft signed a deal to buy 150 acres in the Highlands to build a campus that would hold as many as 12,000 employees.
Two years ago, Redmond lifted its moratorium, so Microsoft decided to expand its Redmond campus instead.
The company ended up buying just 63 of the 150 acres from Port Blakely and let its options lapse on the remaining land. The 63 acres still sit fallow.
Microsoft's change of plans left the office portion of the urban village in the lurch, said Judd Kirk, Port Blakely developer of Issaquah Highlands.
Concerns about the ability of such projects here and elsewhere to deliver on the jobs promise led the Puget Sound Regional Council — a four-county planning agency — to suggest that counties avoid such developments outside of the urban-growth boundary in the future because of the impacts to surrounding communities.
"The question is, 'Can these communities be fully contained, or is that an oxymoron?' " said Norman Abbott, council director of growth-management planning. "It isn't possible in reality."
But there are signs that a shift is happening. As job growth continues and rental rates in Seattle creep up, companies are looking more at outlying cities, said Tom Bohman, senior director at Cushman & Wakefield, a brokerage firm in Bellevue.
In the Seattle area, "land is more constrained by mountains, hills and zoning, so companies are forced to consider other alternatives," he said.
That means thinking — and looking — beyond Seattle and Bellevue.
A technical glass-making company is headed to the Snoqualmie Ridge business park this year. And Opus officials feel confident enough to construct a speculative office building there.
"We're all disappointed that it didn't happen all at once," said Karen Wolf, senior executive policy adviser for County Executive Ron Sims. "But I think that they [urban villages] are on the right track. We're hoping that the right economic situation will come together for the commercial piece to happen."
It might be another decade or two until all of the parts fall into place, said Quadrant's Orser.
"People expect these things to happen much faster than they do," he said. "But it takes years to let all these ingredients percolate."
Some urban villagers say they never expected to ditch their drives.
Dan Metteer and his wife, Rebekah, moved to Snoqualmie Ridge from Mountlake Terrace in March. He used to drive 45 minutes to his job as a pastor in Issaquah. Since the move, he's slashed his commute to 15 minutes.
It's not ideal, he concedes. "I've always wanted to walk to my job."
But the family got more house for their money in Snoqualmie Ridge, and can walk to restaurants, a grocery store and a coffee shop.
"I have a view out my front window, and for the first time in my life, I'm living in a walkable community," Dan Metteer said. "So far, it's working for us."
Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case
NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.