Microsoft seeks OK for Issaquah campus
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
A grand experiment is taking shape on Grand Ridge, the bluff just north of Interstate 90 that overlooks Issaquah's traffic-strangled downtown. The laboratory is the Issaquah Highlands urban village, an attempt to bring the workplace closer to the worker.
Already 740 of at least 3,250 housing units in the Highlands are either built, under way or approved. This week, the public can view and comment on the other major component: Microsoft's proposed 152-acre campus on the ridge.
The software behemoth plans 15 office buildings and 14 parking garages, with nearly 3 million square feet of office space — about equivalent to two of Seattle's 76-story Bank of America Towers. Microsoft envisions 12,500 to 15,000 employees working there, according to its application for a planning-level permit for the total campus. That application is in final review stages.
The campus plan that Microsoft officials will show the public on Tuesday has higher density to the north, adjacent to a separate "town center" of shops and amenities. The campus tapers to a more open, parklike setting to the south.
Buildings would be four to five stories and closer to the streets than on other business campuses, to create a pedestrian-friendly feeling, according to a report last month by the city's Major Development Review Team. A grid system of streets would also encourage walking.
Almost all employees would work within one half-mile of the town center, a commercial project unrelated to Microsoft. Parking garages on the campus would all but replace parking lots.
"What's driving this whole thing is getting people off the roads," said Mark Fairhart, the development commission's chairman. "The ultimate success of the project will be determined by how many people both live and work up there.
"Part of the problem that we have is nobody really knows how many people are going to live up there and work up there."
City planners and consultants have recommended that the commission support Microsoft's permit request, but attached 57 conditions. Among them:
• Microsoft must build a bicycle-loop trail concurrently with construction of each portion of the campus.
• Microsoft cannot exceed 8,850 employees on the campus without additional analysis. The original environmental study for the Highlands only gauged the impact of that many employees.
The Urban Village Development Commission is expected to vote in the coming weeks whether to recommend that the City Council grant the permit. The permit would give Microsoft permission to build the entire project, though the company still would have to apply for utility and construction permits.
"The public has said at times, 'Don't give them blanket approval to proceed,' " Fairhart said. Since that arrangement was already in place, he said, the commission members "are all paying very close attention to this, because we may not get another chance to look at the project and make recommendations."
A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company has set no timetable for construction. But Fairhart said he expected work to start this year.
A large, occupied campus may not emerge for a few years. While Microsoft could occupy a fraction of the campus relatively quickly, an agreement restricts the company from using about 1.2 million square feet of office space until completion of the Sunset interchange at I-90. And much of the balance of the office space cannot be occupied until a northern access road is finished.
The Sunset interchange is not expected to be completed until September 2003. Port Blakely Communities, the Highlands developer, is exploring ways to open part of the interchange sooner.
Microsoft also has been expanding its Redmond campus. One building recently opened near Highway 520 at Northeast 40th Street, and finishing touches are being put on another complex off Northeast 40th adjacent to the on-campus conference center.
The company also late last year renegotiated a lease for a cluster of buildings on 148th Avenue Northeast, called Lakeridge Square, that will allow the company to purchase the buildings when the lease expires. Among the divisions housed at Lakeridge Square are the legal department and the advanced-research department.
Chris Solomon can be reached at 206-515-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information in this article, originally published January 13, was corrected January 15. Information about Microsofts proposed Issaquah Highlands campus should have said the citys citizen Urban Village Development Commission votes whether to grant the company a site-development permit, not the City Council. The vote is expected at a meeting tonight or Jan. 22.