Supporting the New Vision for Central Issaquah

By Skye Schell, Community Engagement Program Manager

The City of Issaquah has created a vision to transform the Central Issaquah area—900  acres of mostly strip malls and parking lots along I-90—into a walkable community with parks and open space and housing affordable to a wide range of residents. Forterra’s Community Engagement Program Manager Skye Schell spoke at the City Council hearing on December 17th. The following is the text of the testimony he delivered. City Council voted to adopt the plan and will decide on the development and design standards by April 2013.

Good evening, mayor and councilmembers. I’m Skye Schell with Forterra (formerly the Cascade Land Conservancy). Thanks for the opportunity to speak tonight. At Forterra, we believe that in order to maintain our quality of life in the PNW we need to both conserve our forests and farmlands and make our cities attractive and affordable, with access to parks and open space and opportunities to walk, bike or use transit to get around.

We’re proud of our strong partnership with Issaquah for many years: from purchasing the East Lake Sammamish Trail, to doing restoration work on Issaquah Creek, to Issaquah joining as one of the first Cascade Agenda Leadership Cities

Skye testifying to the Council.

Over the past few years, we’ve worked to connect community members with the process going on. We’ve held bike rides, a Tour de France party at the Brewhouse, film nights with the city and a series of conversations around town. We’ve enjoyed getting to know many Issaquah residents and have been impressed by their commitment to writing letters, op-eds, talking to their neighbors and coming to Commission and Council meetings.

On a personal level, the Issaquah Alps are one of my favorite places to hike and run. I remember one particularly cold and hungry run at Tiger last year, where I was saved by an excellent burrito from Las Margaritas.

Cities around the country are rediscovering key elements of what makes communities work, things that worked in small towns and Main Streets but that we’ve forgotten over the past few decades. People don’t want long commutes in increasingly congested and anonymous streets. Instead, they want to live where you can walk or ride a bike from your house to school, the grocery, restaurants, shops, parks and the office. Both retiring Baby Boomers and my generation are choosing to live in cities where you can get to know your neighbors and get to know the land around you.

Issaquah is already doing much of this well. Historic downtown Issaquah is a model of a Main Street, with vibrant restaurants that overflow with customers (and save hungry runners). The city is surrounded by hills, with easy access to trails for hiking and mountain biking. The question at hand is how to expand the success of historic downtown and guide future growth in a way that transforms hundreds of acres of parking lots into a real community: new homes affordable to everyone who works in Issaquah, parks and open space, and ways to walk and bike around.

Forterra Trustee Janet Wall testifying.

We’ve followed the Central Issaquah Plan for the last 4-5 years and see it as the opportunity to guide the next chapter of Issaquah’s future in an exciting direction. I especially want to commend the truly amazing work of Joe Forkner and the Central Issaquah Plan Task Force, and Trish Heinonen and Mark Hinthorne for engaging the public throughout a long planning process.

Forterra supports the Plan

  • We support the increase in housing on the valley floor and Issaquah seeking Regional Growth Center designation as a way to increasing opportunities for transportation funding
  • We support environmental protection and innovative green infrastructure that builds on pilot projects like zHomes
  • A density bonus program to both provide affordable housing in the Urban Core and conserve lands that are important to Issaquah.

Overall, we are excited about the potential for the Central Issaquah Plan to transform the valley floor from surface parking and strip malls into a really livable, affordable, enjoyable urban place with great access around the city and to the incredible mountains nearby.

We support your adoption of the Plan. We also support you taking the time you need to ensure that the Development Regulations will realize this vision, and we look forward to working in partnership with your staff on them next year.

Thank you.