Fast Growing Issaquah Plans for More Density – and Sprawl

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A look at many Issaquah Highland developments (Photo by Author)

With their Central Issaquah Plan, zoning updates, and planned communities, in recent years the City of Issaquah has experienced a steady increase in new development, mostly in the form of townhome and apartment housing. In accordance with the city’s zoning map, the development is primarily happening within the Central Issaquah, Newport, Olde Town, Talus, and Issaquah Highlands areas. A handful of other small clusters also have seen or are seeing significant housing development, and Squak Mountain and South Cove are two examples that fit this trend.

Like other rapidly growing areas we’ve reported on in The Urbanist, midrise apartments are a housing type on the rise in Issaquah. However, one major difference between Issaquah and other areas that we have covered is the large number of remaining or recently subdivided large plots. Because of these large plots, a significant number of major townhouse complexes or single family residence neighborhoods are transforming the look and feel of Issaquah. On occasion, an apartment complex will even emerge from the sea of townhouses and single family residences.

As one might expect for the eventual location of the Central Issaquah light rail station, Central Issaquah is the epicenter of growth within the city. In this guided tour of the growth coming to Issaquah, we’ll visit those neighborhoods first. From there, we’ll move on southeast to Olde Town and then to the two flanking planned neighborhoods of Talus and Issaquah Highlands.

The Central Issaquah Plan will create a mixed-use urban center

First passed in 2012, the Central Issaquah Plan (CIP) intends to transform the neighborhoods encompassed in the plan from a collection of strip malls and office buildings into a mixed-use urban center. Over the years, the plan has been updated to respond to the unintended consequence of lost commercial space, a regional growth center designation in 2015, and the 2019 Comprehensive Plan update. The plan intends to place the majority of Issaquah’s housing growth in the designated neighborhoods, although a development moratorium put a freeze on growth between 2016 and 2018 in order to ensure that no commercial square footage was lost in the area as residential growth surged. City planners and leadership wanted preserve the mixed-use vision for the area, and their efforts should bear fruit in coming years.

Additionally, during the development moratorium, other changes were also implemented. In 2017, AJ McGauley reported for The Urbanist on plans to consolidate ten planned districts into four. McGauley also noted that there was going to be further focus on dense mixed-use development. Since then the remaining districts include Western Gateway, Central Issaquah, Eastlake, and Confluence. Most recently, Central Issaquah, Western Gateway, and Confluence have seen the most significant new development and growth. Here’s a rundown on projects throughout the Central Issaquah Plan area that range from planned to completed.

  • Western Gateway/Newport
    • 2450 Newport Way NW – Revel Issaquah (Gateway Senior Housing)
      • A four-story, 146-unit building over a single level of parking.
      • The project completed final inspections in 2019.
    • 2300 Newport Way NW – Milano Issaquah Apartments
      • A proposed 115-unit apartment building.
      • The project is in land use review.
    • 1610 Anthology Ave NW – The Anthology Apartments (Gateway Apartments)
      • A cluster of 16 three-story and two five-story buildings that contain 400-units. 690 parking stalls are provided.
      • The buildings completed final inspections in 2020.
    • 1910-1998 Newport Way/Riva Ln NW – Riva by Conner Homes
      • A nine-building, 36-unit townhome development.
      • The project received their first certificate of occupancy in 2019.
  • Issaquah Valley/Gilman & Pickering
    • 1505 Newport Way NW – Maple Street TOD
      • A proposed project that could feature 175-units of affordable housing, 185-units of market-rate housing, up to 35,000 square feet of ground floor commercial, and a public plaza.
      • The project’s development transaction/financial close is expected to finalize in late 2021, with construction projected for 2022 to 2025.
    • 1040 12th Ave NW – Avalon Issaquah
      • A proposed eight-story with about 420 apartment units building and 540 parking spaces.
      • The project is in preliminary review.
    • Costco Campus Expansion at Lake Drive
      • This project would add an estimated 600,000 square feet office building and a 630,000 square feet parking garage to Costco’s campus.
      • The project is under construction.
    • 1118 7th Ave NW/1036 7th Ave NW/600 NW Locust St – Atlas Apartments A-C
      • A three-building apartment complex. A through C, the buildings have 99 units, 118 units, and 127 units respectively. The buildings are five-stories tall with underground parking for 320 parking stalls.
      • The buildings’ certificate of occupancy and final inspections were completed in 2017.
  • Confluence
    • 995 7th Ave NW – Vale Apartments
      • A six-story, 110-unit apartment building over a level of parking at grade.
      • The project completed final inspections in 2019.
    • 683 NW Locust St – 7th Locust Townhomes
      • A potential 18-unit townhome cluster across three buildings.
      • The project is in preliminary review.
    • 905 Newport Way NW – Inneswood Multifamily
      • A proposed two-building apartment complex. Building one would be a four-story building with 74 flats and 12 townhomes above two floors of parking. Building two would be a three-story, seven-unit apartment building above a floor of parking.
      • This project has been in review since 2014.

Olde Town

Just southeast of and separated by Confluence Park from Central Issaquah is Olde Town, which contains the historic downtown of the city. While historic status does restrict much of the zoning in the neighborhoods, a narrow span of multifamily residential has been allowed to be implemented along E Sunset Way that will allow for some replacement of single family housing with apartments.

Olde Town

  • 333 Rainier Blvd N – Orchard Grove Phase 3
    • This potential project would add a three- to four-story 33-unit senior housing apartment building at the front of the Orchard Grove property.
    • This project is in preliminary review.
  • 355 E Sunset Way – Sunset 7 Apartments
    • A proposed four-story seven-unit apartment building including a single story of garage parking for 14 parking stalls.
    • This project is in building review.

Talus and Issaquah Highlands: two different planned communities

The two newer planned neighborhoods of Issaquah are Talus and Issaquah Highlands. Talus has developed Issaquah’s southwestern corner, while Issaquah Highlands has brought significant housing inventory to the city’s eastern side. Outside of their residential emphasis, the two communities diverge drastically. Talus is nearly an entirely residential district; the new middle school and small cafes are the only other uses there. By contrast, Issaquah Highlands is home to Swedish Hospital and a large commercial area in addition to vast residential development.

Perhaps it has to do with timing, but their transportation environment is also reflective of their differences. Talus’s denser developments mostly happened in the 2000s and before, when there was less transit oriented planning in Issaquah. As a result, even though the neighborhood’s borders are only a mile away from the Issaquah transit center, there is no bus access within Talus.

The situation is a bit different in Issaquah Highlands, where many of the neighborhood’s major multifamily projects were completed in the past ten years. While unimpressive, at least the western half of the Issaquah Highlands has access to King County Metro and Sound Transit buses. The neighborhood also still has many undeveloped sites, making it better situated for future transit oriented development.

  • Talus
    • Talus Middle School
      • An approximately 144,000 square foot educational facility separated into two buildings. It will also include a standalone parking structure, multipurpose athletic field, and an on-site trail that connects with the neighborhood.
      • The project is under construction.
    • 100 Timber Ridge Way NW – Timber Ridge Phase II
      • An addition of an eight-story 145-unit residential apartment over two levels of subgrade parking to the Talus Senior Community. Phase I finished in the late 2000s.
      • The project completed final inspections in 2017 and received its certificate of occupancy in 2016.
    • 7303 Renton-Issaquah Road SE – The Firs at Talus
      • A proposal to subdivide the existing lot for 24 single family townhouses.
      • The project is under review.
  • Issaquah Highlands
    • 580 8th Ave NE/736 8th Ave NE – Discovery West F and A
      • A six-building apartment complex with two large apartment buildings and four smaller buildings. Discover West F is a six-story 81 units apartment building and A is a six-story 120-unit apartment building. Building B has two units, C also has two units, D has eight units, and E doesn’t have residential space.
      • This project completed final inspections in 2016.
    • 7XX NE discovery Dr – HSC Block C6 Office Building
      • A proposal to build a 143,000 square foot office building with 291 parking stalls. It could house Swedish Hospital and Proliance medical facilities and a proposed medical office building. A gym and retail are also proposed.
      • This project is under preliminary review.
    • At NE High St and West Ridge Way NE – Westridge Townhomes
      • A 43-building three-story townhouse complex with 221 units upon completion. Nine will be affordable.
      • The northern half is still under construction, but the southern half completed inspections in 2019.
    • At 5th Ave Ne and NE Ellis Dr – Westridge Condominiums
      • A three-building complex with 39 units between two condominium buildings and a Life Enrichment Options group home.
      • This project is under construction.
    • At Highlands Dr NE and NE Discovery Dr – Brownstones at Issaquah Highlands
      • A 33-building three-story townhouse complex with 176 units.
      • The buildings completed inspections between 2016 and 2017.
    • 1150 10th Ave NE – Alexan Heartwood
      • A seven-story 135-unit apartment building.
      • The building is undergoing inspections.

Other notable areas

If you zoom out from the land use map of Issaquah, you’ll notice that pockets of multifamily housing are scattered throughout the outskirts of the city. In the past five years, a few of these pockets have experienced major housing growth. Most notable are the apartment and townhouse clusters that have popped up in South Cove, Squak Mountain, and an isolated chunk of North Issaquah bordered by Lake Sammamish State Park. Plus, there’s a new High School and Elementary School being constructed in Park Pointe.

Between 2014 and 2016, the 17 buildings of the Alta by the lake condominium complex completed final inspections and received their certificates of occupancy. Located at 4202-4284 214th Pl SE in the northern multifamily pocket of North Issaquah, 80 units are provided between the 17 buildings. The next year, a 42-unit apartment building at 4615 West Sammamish Pkwy SE in South Cove completed inspections.

Currently under construction is an expansion of Kelkari townhomes in Squak Mountain. At 1000 Cabin Creek Lane SW, a total of 18 buildings for 75 units are either under construction or have just completed land use review. Lastly at Providence Point, a 215,000 square foot high school and 73,000 square foot elementary school are underway on 228th Ave SE.

Despite new multifamily development, Issaquah still sprawls

While there are significant multifamily and townhome projects being built, major single-family home development is also still ongoing in Issaquah. The car-dependent Talus development has half a dozen single-family residences currently in the works, as does both Squak Mountain and Providence Point. Plus, despite Issaquah Highlands being a fair example of transit-oriented development, two major single-family projects are underway there too. One of them within the Westridge development will bring whopping 72 single-family residences to the area.

So new development in Issaquah continues to range from a mixed smattering of midrise multifamily buildings to single-family homes. In terms of transportation, some new developments will have fair transit access, while others will be extremely car dependent. This is a product of a transit network that completely misses half of the city’s neighborhoods, leaving many large and dense developments reliant on cars. That comes about from the fact that the city only has two transit corridors overlapping in North Issaquah and Providence Point. It also doesn’t help that several areas of multifamily zones are scattered on the outskirts of the city.

Issaquah’s construction spree has allowed the city to balloon in population. Between the 2010 and 2020 Census, the city’s population nearly grew by a third, or 10,000 people, jumping from 30,434 to 40,051. In the past six years, Issaquah has approved the occupancy and construction of around 2,150 units of townhouse or multifamily housing and another potential around 1,050 units are in the permitting process. If all projects in progress come to fruition, roughly 3,200 units of new housing will have been added to Issaquah between 2015 and their future date of completion.

But here’s the bad news. Easily over 1,000 of those new units have no transit service within a mile radius. Hopefully, by the time light rail makes its way to central Issaquah, there will be some kind of transit service that reaches and connects increasingly dense neighborhoods like Talus, Squak Mountain, and Newport to light rail, but there is no guarantee at this point. However, walkability remains one bright spot in Issaquah. While researching this article, I was able to walk a half marathon across the city without many issues.

Especially due to the development moratorium in Central Issaquah, Issaquah still has plenty of areas zoned for urban density to develop in the future. To ensure this new development maximizes sustainability and accessibility, Issaquah will need the transit connections necessary to support this new multifamily housing. Readers can keep track of active projects in Issaquah at the city’s tracking website. For those who live in Issaquah and/or want the city to be better connected by transit let the city council know. Your feedback matters.

Many thanks to AJ McGualey, who provided the guidance and information to help get this article started.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that depends on donations from readers like you.

Shaun Kuo is a junior editor at The Urbanist and a recent graduate from the UW's Jackson School. He is a Seattle native that has lived in Wallingford, Northgate, and Lake Forest Park. He enjoys exploring the city by bus and foot.

13 Comments
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Mycla Torres

Not one word regarding the horrific traffic in Issaquah, Highway 900 or Issaquah Hobart road. How does the city plan to deal with the increase on the already clogged roads?

Sally

The biggest joke is that we should let the city know because they care and listen I think it’s more like air your grievances or like so it can be said that the community was involved. This “city” and the grandiose plans make me so sad and physically ill. I wonder if sprawl means “o my gosh, they have yards and grass and a little space. Heavens to Betsy.

Gino O

Thank you for the great article! I have been looking for some information on the development happening at Talus as well as the proposed plans and this answered all my questions 👍

Mel Morgan

Thank you for the comprehensive article about the growth that has occurred in Issaquah. Having served on the Issaquah Development Commission for over 25 years and on the Mayor’s Task Force that wrote the Central Issaquah Plan nearly a decade ago, I have had a front row seat to much of the growth. I do have a couple disagreements. First, the title of the article essentially says Issaquah plans for more sprawl, but I don’t see the evidence of this. There have been no recent annexations of growth areas and no plans for any, so where is the sprawl? Second, with 2,150 multi-family units added in the past 6 years, and 1,050 more in the pipeline, in a city of more than 40,000, it does not seem reasonable to call 72 proposed SFR’s a “whopping” number. Thank you and keep up the good work.

Brian N

As a recent transplant from Seattle to Talus “parcel 7”, I’ll say that the Talus community is far from sprawling. There’s a wonderful mix of townhomes, condos, apartments, assisted living, and single family homes all commingling. I’m a five minute walk to two play areas and a seven minute walk to a nice park. Walk 3 min in the other direction from the front door and I’m entering a trail network in Cougar Mountain regional park. This balance of housing density along with proximity to parks and nature should be held up as something that Seattle neighborhoods strive for.

Also, do a little more homework on parcel 9, it’s going to be 60ish townhomes.

Feel free to hop on the 554 bus from downtown Seattle to the Issaquah transit center, it’ll drop you off less than a mile from parcel 7 and I’d be more than happy to provide a tour.

Brian N

I challenge you to add up the number of apartment units, townhomes, and single family homes in the Talus community and compare it to neighborhoods in Seattle – I think you’ll be a little shocked by it’s density.

There are two large grocers less than a 5 min drive away and couple dozen restaurants to choose from at that distance as well. Which is about what was the same travel times when I was living in Madrona.

I get it, a highly connected public transportation system is an important part of your life however, it’s not a necessity for everyone and it surely isn’t the only important factor when evaluating urban planning. For many folks, being less than a mile away from a transit center that gets them to and from work while being a short drive away from the necessities is a great balance. And lets be real, regardless whether you live in Seattle or the ‘burbs, most young families are not walking to grocery stores to pickup their weekly 4-5 bags of food or taking the family to dinner by bus. They walk to parks, to see close-by friends, or just to get out and explore their neighborhoods.

Mycla Torres

Perfectly stated. Thank you!

AJ M

I will disagree with Shaun on calling Squak Mountain ‘sprawl.’ Sure, the neighborhood was sprawl when it was originally developed decades ago, but the development going on now is lowrise infill, not greenfield sprawl. Kelkari is only a mile to Olde Towne and I think is the exact kind of missing middle The Urbanist should advocate for to ‘thicken up’ residential neighborhoods. The topography is tricky, but I don’t see anything objectionable in adding infill housing in an established neighborhood immediately adjacent to a commercial district.

On the other hand, I would call all of Talus ‘sprawl’ as the development requires build-out of public roads. Talus neighborhood is walkable, has a high quality of life, and is denser and more varied than ‘typical’ suburban subdivisions, but it is still a greenfield development with minimal access to jobs.

I agree with Brian – better urban form would likely have minimal impact on mode share of local trips given the demographics and the high quality bike/ped access to parks – but to me what is ultimately damming about Talus (and Squak, to a lesser extent) is that it is functionally a giant cul-de-sac, which makes it incredibly difficult to serve with transit and therefore leaves much to be desired in the mode share for regional trips, in particular commutes. Better bike infrastructure on Talus Dr and 900 would be a major improvement in access to the regional bus network on the valley floor.

AJ M

Buses no, but biking should be fine, especially with ebikes. It’s not any hillier than many Seattle neighborhoods, and it has better sidewalk coverage than much of Seattle.

I don’t see much difference between ‘forested land’ and vacant parcel when the land is within a long established neighborhood, in particular when the neighborhood is immediately adjacent to a giant state park so there is no dearth of green spaces.

Infill development doesn’t need to only happen on existing impermeable surfaces. Vacant land will have trees on it if it is left vacant long enough, but that doesn’t make it a natural area … I don’t think we should be more open to developing a parcel just because someone took the time to mow it the past decade.

Stephen Broache

Funny how new multifamily buildings almost follow a template throughout the Nation. Little difference except in stucco skin color. This is the return of a copied product, like the 1970s 3-story center stair model. ICC and other codes now let wood-framed multistory (with now required sprinklers to become the new model. A noncombustible first floor can now allow covered parking or retail uses. Just Build the wood-framed 4 stories on top.