Island models for Issaquah

Town Center is source of ideas for Central Issaquah Plan

More than 50 Issaquah residents, council members and various commission members toured the new mixed-use development in downtown Mercer Island and Old Bellevue on Tuesday as part of the ongoing process for Issaquah’s Central Issaquah Plan.

The tour was designed to help officials and community members get ideas for the Central Issaquah Plan, which is meant to bring mixed-use development to about 900 acres in central Issaquah. The goal is to help plan the redevelopment of the area from strip malls to a true town center.

The first stop on Issaquah’s tour was Mercer Island, where the group met with Mercer Island Community Services Director Steve Lancaster. Leading the tour was Mark Hinshaw of LMN Architects, who is a consultant for the Central Issaquah Plan and who also helped with the development of Mercer Island’s downtown.

The group toured several portions of the new development, including the first building that was put in — which was designed, per the city’s request to look more like three different buildings rather than one huge development.

“Having a pioneer is crucial,” Hinshaw said.

Many members of the tour group said they liked the wide sidewalks throughout the development. Mercer Island set the minimum width at 12 feet. The city invested in the road area as its part of the development with new lights, plants, streets and sidewalks.

Lancaster said one thing that the city did learn was to include more incentives for affordable housing. None of the developers took advantage of the incentives offered by the city for building affordable housing. That issue concerned many in the tour group.

Also of concern was a lack of a central gathering area for Mercer Island, which should be available soon as a new pavilion is now being constructed, Lancaster said.

Work on the Issaquah plan began last year with a series of open houses and workshops. Through these meetings, the Planning Department has been able to whittle the proposals down from six to two.

Neighboring Sammamish approved a Town Center Plan as an amendment to its Comprehensive Plan last month. That document calls for mixed use development including up to 600,000 square feet of commercial space, as well as residential and retail spaces. Sammamish officials took similar “field trips” of Mercer Island and other communities when they were in their planning process.

It was then on to Old Bellevue, where the tour was met by Emil King, the strategic planning manager for Bellevue.

Unlike Mercer Island, which started its redevelopment with street work, Bellevue got its development underway with a downtown park. The park serves as a huge central gathering place and is directly across the street from much of the new mixed-use development, including a new Safeway store, which King described as a Whole Foods-style store at Safeway prices. In addition to the new Safeway, several small shops have been built with apartments above.

Overall, the tour was a success, according to Long-Term Planning Director Trish Heinonen.

“I think everyone was thinking what could be in Issaquah,” Heinonen said. “What were good pieces, and what didn’t work.”

“The best part was the diversity of the type of development they have let occur,” Providence Point resident Fred Foster said. “I thought both cities did a great job.”

Foster particularly liked the wide streets of Mercer Island and the park at Bellevue.

It would take a lot of work to bring a change like that to downtown Issaquah, he said.

Kyra Low is a reporter for the Issaquah Reporter, a sister publication of the Mercer Island Reporter.

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