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City of Issaquah Holds Public Hearing Regarding Its Temporary Moratorium

By Kristin Bentley

Issaquah City Council held a public hearing Tuesday evening in order to allow its residents a response to the six-month temporary moratorium that was suddenly and unexpectedly enacted on September 6. Once the council has voted, and the moratorium is put into full effect, it may be extended for 12 to 18 months.

Public involvement is an important part of the process, said Issaquah Mayor Fred Meyer at Tuesday’s meeting. “We take public comments seriously and factor them in to the decisions we make,” he added.

There is a prevailing belief among the community that growth is outpacing infrastructure

Keith Niven, the development services director for the City of Issaquah, continued on to explain to those in attendance that a temporary moratorium has been put into effect for six months and will prevent new development from city review and permitting. However, he also said that it does not stop vested projects.

Areas that are excluded from the moratorium are essential public facilities such as hospitals, schools and fire stations; city land and capital projects; approved projects that meet 40 percent affordable housing standards; single-family homes; remodels and tenant improvements; and emergency repairs.

“Central Issaquah’s plans are actually divided into ten districts, or neighborhoods,” Niven said. “Part of the discussion that we had with the council on July 11 identified that there were some discrepancies in the divisions in this plan and what is actually being built in the community.”

The areas of concern are items the city has pinpointed that need attention and will require further investigation. They are architectural fit, urban design, vertical mixed use, affordable housing, parking and district visions.

In order to address these concerns, the city plans to hire a consultant to write guidelines for architectural design. “Once those draft guidelines have been put together, we envision some sort of outreach with the development commission and/or the community so that we can talk through what that looks like, and how it would be implemented,” said Niven.

Regarding the concern of urban design, the city plans to take a look at all approved current projects and assess whether any guidelines were missed in order to revise the code requirements. “From there we might draft some additional requirements or guidelines, as necessary,” Niven explained.

Building heights and the current number of available affordable housing are also under review and may result in code amendments. Existing parking requirements are being evaluated as well, in order to look at cost impacts and factors.

Niven says that overall the city is looking to assess its existing visions for new development through avenues such as conducting community and property owner outreach and proposing an update to this planned vision. “What we talked about is either going back and vetting the existing vision for the neighborhoods, or proposing revisions based on either the projects that are coming through or changes in ownership, or maybe how these neighborhoods want to function together as a sub-area,” Niven said. “Those would ultimately go through the planning policy commission as well, and be adopted by the council as well.”

City council has already received comments from the community showing support of the moratorium, some residents have even proposed that it remain in place for a longer period of time. Others have expressed support in expanding infrastructure and question whether the city’s vision is the same as its residents.

Several members of the public also attended Tuesday’s hearing in order to express their concerns. Small landowners expressed their opposition, sharing their personal stories about how they were directly affected by the moratorium and causing them to lose money. Many asked to be granted exceptions. Joshua Schaer, a former councilmember, was among those who showed their support.

“There is a prevailing belief among the community that growth is outpacing infrastructure,” said Schaer. “The tools and the detailed prescriptions that we created in the central area plan are not working. Maybe it’s because there’s not a strong enough incentive to cluster development in that area. After all if a proposal can suddenly emerge for a mega hotel on the steep slope behind Fred Meyer, there are market forces at work which are clearly at odds with the vision.”

“I understand that there are good reasons for wanting to be a bigger growing city,” Schaer added. “There’s more tax revenue, there’s more regional clout, which apparently didn’t do us any good on ST3, and there’s more funding opportunities to pay for the things that we need. But enough is enough.”

Schaer continued on to express that if development in the city continues at its current rate, there will be more to deal with and correct later down the road. He added that it is necessary for the city to take this momentary pause now because the city’s current policies are increasing traffic congestion and decreasing residents’ quality of life. “It has to pause,” he said.

After hearing the public comments, city council unanimously decided to meet in order to consider exceptions to the moratorium, and potentially vote on them, before coming back to continue the discussion with the full council on November 7.