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ISSAQUAH, WA-Thirty years ago, Washington’s Department of Transportation ended up with 145 surplus acres in Issaquah from the construction of Interstate 90. Though the state has attempted to find a use for the land, it has lain dormant in the WSDOT’s portfolio since.

The department has now placed the timber-covered acreage on the auction block, with a $15-million minimum bid. While it hopes a developer will pony up for the “non-economical remnant,” the city is flashing a caution light. It urges would-be purchasers to be fully informed of the current limitations on development here before stepping into the buyers’ ring.

Under other circumstances, the parcel located less than a minute from an I-90 interchange could be a developer’s dream. Adjacent to Microsoft’s proposed campus in the master planned community of the Issaquah Highlands, the property sits in one of the most highly-valued real estate communities in Puget Sound. The problem? Too many developers got here first, and Issaquah has run out of infrastructure and utilities. The number of water rights and peak evening traffic trips available to new projects are so limited as to effectively preclude any major development at this time.

Bob Brock, director of public works engineering for Issaquah tells GlobeSt that the majority of the property is zoned “urban village” and would require high-density construction. The maximum number of peak, evening commuter trips currently allowable to new projects is three. “That would only allow one or two (residential) units to be developed at a time,” says Brock. And, while a new pipeline is currently under construction to bring an additional supply, water rights are also in the slim-to-none category having been dried up by massive projects such as the Highlands.

Brock says the city became very concerned about how the WSDOT’s was marketing the property online, believing it painted a picture of a property that could be readily developed. “One of our council members had seen the ad, and he was surprised by what he read. We didn’t want someone reading the ad and thinking this (property) was something they could just come in and develop,” says Brock.

To thwart potential problems, the city drafted a letter to the WSDOT, which begins, “The City of Issaquah has reviewed the information listed on the State’s web site for the. . . parcel. Based on this review, we are concerned that the Parcel Information Bulletin may be misleading due to the omission of important information regarding utility availability to, and zoning of, the site. The information on the Web site regarding City utilities and zoning may substantially affect the timing and/or development potential of this property, and hence its value. The City expects to receive inquiries regarding this property, and wants to make sure that any bidder and WSDOT clearly understand the property’s development potential.” The letter continues by outlining a number of problems that could be faced by an erstwhile developer.

GlobeSt.com spoke with Cindy Tremblay, assistant director of property management program of the WSDOT. Does she believe someone will be willing to buy the property in light of the situation in Issaquah? “We’re certainly hoping so. We’d like to see the property get back on the State’s tax role, and we’re sure the taxpayers would like to see that, too,” says Tremblay. “It’s not something we need to be carrying on our books.”

The department has added the City of Issaquah’s letter in its entirety to the online description of the parcel (which can be viewed at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/eesc/realestate/htms/1-17-05002.htm). Brock, who was previously unaware of the addition to the Web site, says he is happy to know the WSDOT has taken the step.

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