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Originally published Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 9:02 PM

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Issaquah council OKs plans for slow but dramatic development

Two development plans approved by the Issaquah City Council this week will allow midrise buildings for thousands of new homes and jobs in central Issaquah and at the Lakeside Industries quarry next to Issaquah Highlands.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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It might not happen quickly, but a dramatic transformation is coming to Issaquah.

Under two plans approved by the City Council this week, midrise buildings for new homes and business will be welcomed across hundreds of acres now dominated by strip malls, big-box stores and a gravel quarry.

Together, the Central Issaquah Plan and a development agreement with quarry owner Lakeside Industries could bring more than 9,000 new homes and 19,000 jobs over the next 30 years.

The 10-story buildings that could come to the new downtown core and seven-story buildings to the future Lakeside Hillside Village would be taller than anything yet built in Issaquah, but far more modest than downtown Bellevue's skyscrapers.

As "the culmination of a lot of planning and a lot of visioning that's taken place over the last 20-plus years," the blueprints for redevelopment will save rural land, allow people to walk or bike to work and create a livelier downtown Issaquah, Mayor Ava Frisinger said.

The Lakeside project next to Issaquah Highlands would be the latest in a series of urban villages, which started with the Highlands and Talus, and now house roughly one-third of the city's 32,000 residents.

Rowley Properties and the city signed a development agreement last year for two high-density urban villages south of Interstate 90 near the Highway 900 interchange.

City core

With the council's adoption of the Central Issaquah Plan, Rowley's future Hyla Crossing and Rowley Center become part of a larger urban core where buildings of up to 10 stories will be allowed. Outside the core of 1,100-acre central Issaquah, maximum heights will be five or seven floors.

Those densities could, over time, boost the number of downtown homes from 750 to 7,750, bring nearly 7 million square feet of new retail and office space, and attract 19,225 jobs, city leaders say.

The city's Planning Policy Commission recommended a residential build out closer to the city's current growth target of 5,750 new homes by 2031.

In order to qualify as a "regional growth center" recognized by the Puget Sound Regional Council, the city must provide the capacity for at least 6,900 homes. That designation could help steer future transit dollars to Issaquah, but the City Council decided to take more input before formally requesting that designation.

The council also will take a closer look at new development and design standards in the coming months.

With only one home for every 17 jobs in central Issaquah, more homes must be built in order to shorten commutes to work, Frisinger told the council in a letter.

The council kept its commitment as a Cascade Agenda city to provide urban-growth opportunities that reduce pressure for development of forest and farmland, Frisinger said Wednesday. "Cities, if they are going to grow responsibly, need to grow up rather than out."

Don't look for downtown Issaquah to immediately absorb as many homes as two Issaquah Highlands put together.

"If that happened overnight or even say in five years, it would be a large change. But this is an evolutionary thing that we hope and expect will happen over 30 years," Frisinger said.

The plan also calls for a "green necklace" of parks, stream corridors and tree-lined streets.

Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce CEO Matthew Bott told the council the chamber fully supports the plan, which would "send a strong message to the market" that Issaquah welcomes redevelopment of its valley floor, which he said is now dominated by parking lots.

But Connie Marsh of the Issaquah Environmental Council said the plan calls for an amount of development that's more likely to occur in 80 years than in 30, and she said the city lacks a strategy to pay for improvements needed to support growth.

Hillside village

Although it could take up to 30 years for the Lakeside property to be built out, the company is ready to sell to a developer the now-closed portion of its quarry on the east side of Highlands Drive Northeast, the city's economic-development director, Keith Niven, said.

The rest of the 120-acre Lakeside Hillside Village site is west of Highlands Drive and would be developed as Lakeside Industries finishes mining the land overlooking downtown and the Issaquah Alps.

Preliminary plans envision 1,200 homes, but the final number could top 2,000 if the developer bought enough development rights transferred from protected open space elsewhere.

Maximum building heights are between three and seven stories. The property is currently used to mine material for Lakeside's asphalt operations and a Cadman concrete plant.

The council approved the Lakeside agreement despite concerns raised by a number of citizens and the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District that infiltration of stormwater into the soil could pollute an aquifer that provides drinking water to Issaquah and Sammamish.

Niven said stormwater permits would be subject to regulations at the time of development and runoff would be allowed to seep into the ground only if testing shows it can be done safely.

Stacy Goodman, chair of the City Council's Land and Water Committee, said she was excited about Lakeside's "vision of an Italian hillside. ... We either get an urban village or we get what it looks like now. Although it's a great business, it's not necessarily beautiful. I think it's a great plan."

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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