Nearly thirty Highlands residents gathered at Blakely Hall this last Monday evening to share thoughts and concerns as well as pose questions about the Shelter Holdings property, part of the land previously owned by Microsoft, 21.5 acres along 9th Ave NE in Issaquah Highlands.
IH resident Chelsea Musick proactively organized this informal meeting after viewing multiple concerned comments on the Issaquah Highlands Facebook page regarding the potential use of the property. She asked Issaquah Highlands resident and President of the Issaquah City Council, Stacy Goodman to attend and answer questions.
Before opening the floor to her fellow community members, Council President Goodman provided a brief summary about the land and project proposed.
As she handed the room over to the community, Goodman expressed her concerns, namely the lack of “work” in the Highlands, a community touted as a place where people can “live, work, and play.”
The nearly ninety-minute session was predominantly dialogue focused on people’s concerns over Shelter Holdings proposed 1,800 additional residencies, the traffic they would produce, and the effects the new residencies would have on the community’s infrastructure.
Questions commenced with resident David Norris, “Essentially, how is the Growth Management Act enforced?”
“Where do we go from here?” inquired another gentleman. “It seems as though Shelter is waiting [the Development Agreement] out. Can we block them?”
Council President Goodman responded, and said several times that evening, that there is currently no need to block Shelter Holdings from constructing the contentious 1,8000 housing units because they are only entitled to build three. (See sidebar details.)
“Just because the land is zoned for commercial use doesn’t mean companies will come,” a resident pushed back.
Tony, another resident, added, “Sure, it would be ideal for Microsoft or Google to open up a campus here. However, it seems unlikely. I’m not sure how we entered this agreement without expecting this.”
Goodman clarified that the city did not enter into an agreement with Shelter Holdings when the company purchased Microsoft’s Highlands property in 2013. “They bought the property knowing exactly what they were entitled to.”
Tony added, stating that while he would prefer a company open a campus on the property, it seems unlikely. “I’m in favor of their [conceptual designs]. I’m willing to give up some space on the roads if it means all of this.”
Numerous attendees iterated their lack of desire for the additional medical offices proposed, alluding to the “many vacant medical offices and even other commercial spaces in Issaquah already.”
Other attendees shared concerns about a lack of affordable and senior housing in the community.
“Will there be or are there plans for affordable housing for the commercial workers?” questioned Elizabeth Maupin, Coordinator of the Issaquah Sammamish Interfaith Coalition. Elizabeth described how difficult it is for retail workers in the community to find affordable housing within a 45-minute drive.
Geoff Walker, Chairman of the Urban Village Development Commission and one of the first to move to Issaquah Highlands, commented referring to the potential 1,800 housing units, “This is not what the community needs or was intended to be.”
He continued, stating that the Highlands has already surpassed the amount of housing units that the original plan intended while simultaneously lacking in commercial options for the community. “I fought to get the commercial we have now. And it came nearly ten years after it was promised!”
When asked to speculate whether the City Council would vote in favor of rezoning the 21.5 area parcel or not, Council President Goodman said that while she had not polled the other council members, she would be surprised if the council supported the current proposal.