On June 25th, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) designated the Central Issaquah Urban Core as a Regional Growth Center (RGC). Issaquah is the 29th center to receive this designation, which is a major criterion in the distribution of federal transportation funds. Issaquah’s designation follows University Place, in 2014, and South Lake Union in 2007.
The new RGC is about two miles northwest of the historic downtown of Issaquah, centered around the intersection of I-90 and SR-900. It comprises 461 acres within the larger area of the Central Issaquah Plan. The Central Issaquah Plan, approved in 2012, relaxed parking requirements, height and FAR regulations over 1,100 acres of the Issaquah valley floor. Central Issaquah has 89% of the commercially zoned land, 13,000 employees, and many large employers including Costco. Central Issaquah is, however, thinly populated with just 730 residential units, none of which are in the newly designated RGC.
In order to gain RGC status, Issaquah’s application had to demonstrate compatibility with VISION 2040 and a commitment to center planning. The City also had to meet goals for current and future targeted activity within the center. With a significant portion of the Central Issaquah area given over to parkland and the highway, Issaquah was nevertheless able to draw a compact boundary around a smaller area that just met the threshold 18 units per acre (activity units are the sum of employment and population).
Going forward, Issaquah’s goals are more ambitious. Plans envision 16,000 residents and 14,500 added jobs within the Urban Core, radically altering what the city characterizes as a “collection of strip malls, parking lots and office buildings”. This is the bulk of the growth that had been anticipated for the Central Issaquah Plan area, and would comfortably exceed PSRC requirements if met.
The Urban Core will be mostly zoned for mixed use, with heights of up to 125 ft. There is no residential development planned at this time, but a 350 unit multi-family development is under construction at the edge of the Urban Core, and there are also two hotels and a parking structure in the pipeline.
The Issaquah Transit Center is at the southwest corner of the RGC, and about half of the center is within a half mile. The Transit Center is served by four Metro routes and two Sound Transit Express routes. There is, of course, a planned Light Rail alignment to Issaquah in Sound Transit’s Long-Range Plan. The City is beginning work on a transportation master plan this year.
The Urban Core currently has poor street connectivity with large blocks and a highway bisecting the center. To address this, several new streets are planned, as are two additional crossings of I-90. One is an over-crossing at 12th St, the other an urban shared path at Maple St. The city has revised level-of-service standards, concurrency provisions, and impact fees for the entire Central Plan area. The LOS standard pursues a 10% increase in non-motorized transportation modes.
The designation remains provisional while two remaining issues are worked out. The City needs to ensure growth targets for the RGC are consistent with citywide goals. A Parking Management Strategy also needs to be completed. Once those elements are in place, the designation will be certified by the PSRC Executive Board.