A `Rural' Urban Village -- Plan For Development Near Issaquah Heads For Vote
Seattle Times South Bureau
ISSAQUAH - They don't call this ridge north of town "Grand" for nothing. Its wooded slopes and lush ravines ramble across 2,100 acres of some of the most spectacular rural land in King County.
For now, it's sealed off by a metal gate blocking Southeast Black Nugget Road. Many folks who live nearby are sports stars, such as Ken Griffey Jr. or other millionaires - all tucked away in modern new mansions surrounded by high walls and metal gates.
Come tomorrow, though, the Metropolitan King County Council is expected to cast a vote to throw the ridge open to a city-size community that may be a model for the kind of development that will occur in the Puget Sound region in the coming years.
Welcome to Grand Ridge, one of the largest and most controversial projects in King County history. If approved - and it's not a sure thing - it would bring the region's first planned urban village of homes, shops, schools, ballfields, trails, restaurants and corporate offices to the outskirts of Issaquah.
Although the land is zoned for 5-acre lots, Port Blakely Communities has been trying for five years to build an urban village there. When a larger, more controversial version of the project was rejected by the County Council in 1993, Port Blakely was ready to fall back on a plan to build about 300 mansion-size houses on the ridge. Last year, though, County Executive Gary Locke revived the urban village scheme when he convinced Port Blakely to give up
nearly four acres of open space for every acre of developed land.
Unlike the proposed Blakely Ridge and Northridge projects near Redmond, there is now little opposition to Grand Ridge, primarily because of the innovative scheme that requires the developer to turn over nearly 80 percent of the land for parks and open spaces.
"I think this project is kind of a model," said Michelle Stearns, a local member of the American Planning Association which recently gave Grand Ridge an award for the level of complex planning that went on among the county, Issaquah and Port Blakely.
What has people in the planning community abuzz about Grand Ridge is not so much what it is, but what it isn't. It's not the sprawl of subdivided lots, which has characterized suburbia since Levittown, N.Y., popped up on Long Island at the end of World War II.
"It's a high-density urban community in a suburban location," explains Judd Kirk, president of Port Blakely Communities.
Grand Ridge turns suburbia on its ear, said Kirk. He draws a triangle to show what he means: "The way we traditionally have developed in the suburbs is to have homes here, offices here and shops here - all separated from each other . . . What we have (with Grand Rige) is all that together, along with parks and open space."
What has many builders, planners and politicians watching Grand Ridge is the fact that it will be the first urban village built in the Puget Sound area to fit the visions of growth advocated six years ago by Neal Peirce, a widely recognized authority on urban affairs.
In 1989, Peirce wrote a series of reports for The Seattle Times intended to stimulate thinking about how future growth should occur in the region.
One of Peirce's conclusions:
Even a city-centered strategy won't accommodate today's immense growth pressures. There will simply be too many people. So create a series of compact, pedestrian-style villages along the eastern growth corridor of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. But authorize the villages only after making massive new land purchases to safeguard most of that territory for the people's open space, forever.
As noble as that sounds, there are no guarantees the Grand Ridge model will work.
"We're a little ahead of the market," Kirk said. "We're not designing it for 1995. We're designing for 2005 . . ."
The reason Grand Ridge is so important, according to Locke and other regional leaders, is so builders and bankers and homebuyers will be able to see what an urban village is all about. "They'll be able to see it and feel and kick the tires," Kirk said. "Right now they can't."
One of Kirk's fears, though, is that the political and bureaucratic process that has brought Grand Ridge this far may not work for other projects. It may not even work for Grand Ridge.
"We're at the end of our rope," he said. "We're not going to keep putting money into this unless we get the vote."
Although the project initially received praise for its high-density urban design and the amount of open space, some environmentalists say the original 1,400 acres of open space isn't genuine because 241 acres could be used for road or utility rights of way and 75 acres would be for parks and ballfields. Also, King County officials are trying to get a few last-minute items, such as a horse trail and an access road.
The environmentalists are not trying to stop Grand Ridge. They just want to slow it down and make sure they get what they were promised, said Maryanne Tagney-Jones, a local activist.
But Kirk claims that delaying tomorrow's vote to negotiate new amendments would kill the project. It's already a year behind the schedule Locke agreed to in May 1994, and with tight financing and engineering deadlines, Kirk said, the project is in jeopardy.
"We have a great plan," Kirk said. "But if we can't get this plan done now, I don't think any other (project) has a chance."
----------------- GRAND RIDGE FACTS -----------------
-- Up to 3,950 housing units, with 60 percent as townhouses, condominiums or apartments.
-- 10 percent of the housing would be priced at more than $275,000 per unit; 60 percent at $140,000 to $275,000, and 30 percent under $140,000.
-- Up to 2.1 million square feet of commercial space.
-- Up to 425,000 square feet of retail space.
-- Developers would pay about $26 million of $65 million for roads, including a full interchange on I-90, an Issaquah bypass road and a new South Plateau access road. King County and the city of Issaquah would pay the remaining costs.
-- If it is approved by the county tomorrow morning, the Issaquah City Council tomorrow evening would vote on the Grand Ridge plan.
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