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State of the City - 2013

Each year, we set aside this time to step away from our day-to-day work, and reflect on both our accomplishments from the past year, and our goals ahead.

Tonight, I’d like to start with something a little different. We are at a pivotal moment in Issaquah’s history – one that should force us to pause on the broader picture.

The year is 1998.

Our City Hall on Sunset Way doesn’t exist, nor did the current library. FISH is a young organization, and Costco only settled its headquarters here two years ago. King County is purchasing the East Lake Sammamish Trail, and federal officials officially decide to designate the Mountains to Sound greenway as a National Scenic Byway.

Meanwhile, the first residents of Issaquah Highlands – a profoundly innovative master-planned community on Grand Ridge – unpack their moving boxes, settle in to their new homes and start building lasting relationships with their new neighbors.

A community was born, nestled among more than 1,500 acres of now-protected and untouched open space.

I’m sure many of us remember the Highlands project during its initial years. Issaquah embraced smart-growth philosophies that enabled us to accommodate new development, as well as protect our environment and existing neighborhoods.

It was a bold, daring and risky idea. How would this growth REALLY affect the environment, our residents or the local economy?

The answer is, we didn’t know.

Ultimately, the key to our success was this: A clear vision of sustainability, with a flexible plan that could always change based on our community’s needs.

From Pickering Farm to Talus, we’ve seen this process over and over again. It’s what makes Issaquah so special.

While we’ve grown by more than 140 percent since 1998, most would say we still have that small-town feel. Why? Our citizens are heard. We care about each other and our larger community.

Last year, Issaquah’s representatives made a similar, brave decision to plan for the next wave of growth.

The Central Issaquah Plan will now guide the long-term evolution of our commercial core from a collection of strip malls, parking lots and office buildings into a more sustainable urban area that will meet our community’s needs for environmental protection, jobs, housing and rapid transit.

While we don’t know all the answers, I’m confident 30 years from now, Issaquah will be celebrating similar successes. We have the dedicated citizens, businesses, volunteers and public servants to address any challenges along the way.

That’s why, after 15 years of service, I’m confident that by the end of this year, it will be the perfect time for me to retire as mayor.

Since 1998, when I was first sworn in, I pledged to help us become a more sustainable community.

While that vision hasn’t changed after all of these years, our techniques have. We’ve tackled this challenge from all sides – open space preservation, road improvements, public safety, green building and a commitment to human services, to name a few.

Our most recent efforts include creating a dedicated department to economic development, ensuring Issaquah’s strong local economy not only sustains, but grows.

With a focus on enhanced customer service, as well as open, transparent communication, the City recently launched its new-and-improved website, making it easier for online visitors to access City services on their own time.

In addition, I’m extremely proud of the City’s work to help secure $4 million in state funds to improve fish passage near the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.

When completed, this will be one of the largest – and most significant – habitat restoration projects in our region that will take a significant step forward in salmon recovery.

Last year, we also finalized a development agreement with Lakeside Industries that will enable 120 acres of its mining property to become mixed-use development, including new homes, commercial or both.

Nearby, construction is well underway for Grand Ridge Plaza, which will include a new grocery store, 12-screen movie theatre and other retail shops in the Issaquah Highlands.

I’m thrilled our residents will soon have more places to shop, work and play.

While it’s important to celebrate our recent successes, tonight I’d also like to focus on our future challenges to not only maintain, but strengthen our sustainability.

As we’ve heard from both our citizens and business owners, we must work to address traffic congestion in North Issaquah.

Several roads in this area are simply overloaded, which is a problem for residents, shoppers, visitors, employees and deliveries.

One funding option, which the City Council will be considering this year, is to create a Local Improvement District that’s paid for by the nearby property owners. City contributions, along with state and federal grants could also supplement this effort.

As Issaquah continues to grow, we are also growing as a regional player on the Eastside and Pacific Northwest. We’ve taken great first steps to ensure our voice is heard on a larger scale, including hiring a part-time lobbyist to champion our legislative agenda.

During my time as Mayor, I have served on a variety of regional boards and commissions, enabling Issaquah to significantly weigh in on environmental, affordable housing, health and human service issues. I call upon our community leaders to continue this important effort and remain a regional player.

Speaking of regional partners, we’ve started a process to revitalize a true gem for this region – Lake Sammamish State Park.

From wildlife viewing areas to a lodge, our community has plenty of innovative ideas for what the amenity should include. The next steps are to refine and narrow these ideas into an action plan.

In addition, work is underway to study the potential impacts of Issaquah annexing nearly two square miles known as the Klahanie Potential Annexation Area. This area includes the Klahanie master-planned community, which is located northeast of Issaquah, along with 13 other smaller neighborhoods nearby.

Once the study is completed this spring, it’s time that a final decision is made. Clarity is needed for both Issaquah and the residents of the Klahanie PAA.

Meanwhile, our work on the Central Issaquah Plan is just beginning. Once specific development and design standards are adopted, our next goal is to work with developers and property owners to focus on implementation.

As we transition to a new mayor next year, I am confident we have a wonderful, supportive and professional team at City Hall that will continue finding new and innovative ways to provide exceptional customer service to our community.

We’re looking at ways to empower our employees at all levels of the organization, which will only enhance our efficiencies, creativity and overall performance.

Throughout my time as Mayor, I’ve often said that it’s not about the “or” – we must focus on the “and.”

For example, there are solutions to preserving the environment AND accommodating growth. The Issaquah Highlands story reflects this.

We should never view our growing to-do list as a collection of competing interests. The challenge we all have is finding ways for these priorities to succeed together.

As we all know – there’s no ultimate playbook for how to create a successful, sustainable community. But that’s alright.

We have the right vision, people and passion here in Issaquah to continue this hard work, both tomorrow and in the years to come. Thank you.

Mayor Ava MacD. Frisinger (2/4/13)

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Rev. 3/13/13 mew