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(Updated Feb. 1, 2012) Issaquah Highlands Smart Growth near Seattle: Photo Essay

Issaquah Highlands cookie cutter, high density housing with no character, no trees, no yards, no birds, no gardens.

The best examples of master planned corporate smart growth are, ironically, from Seattle Democrats – Issaquah Highlands, and Talus, two seperate master planned Smart Growth developments in Issaquah, a formerly sleepy bedroom community 20 miles east of Seattle against the Cascade foothills.

Photos of these two developments appear all over this blog, including this post.  (Note: If you search “Issaquah Highlands” and “Talus” in the search box, links to posts with photos will appear.)

On You Tube below, former Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Rev. Ron Sims discusses his several hundred acre, master planned, smart growth Issaquah Highlands in Issaquah. “Issaquah Highlands,” was developed by the smart growth division of Port Blakely Communities.  Rev. Ron Sims is a highly principled, admirable public servant, although he  holds controversial pro-smart growth viewpoints. However, can you name any politicians in the Seattle area who are not “true believers” in smart growth?  Before resigning, Sims supervised President Obama’s smart growth projects.

It’s interesting that The Issaquah Highlands are a master planned, corporate project built by Port Blakely, a multi-national timber and construction company.  This is unusual, since it used to be that the Democratic party represented the little guy (including the small local contractor), in the face of large, multi-national corporations, including Republicantimber companies.  This is another example of why Smart Growth is a non-partisan issue, despite many on “the right” who think the that “the left” is behind it (although, there are some examples of this).  Even the very rich, very conservative Seattle suburbs of Normandy Park and Black Diamond have proposed massive smart growth urban renewal plan.

The video tries to market to married yuppies with young children ages 30-45, and seniors ages 55+.  It’s just a marketing video, and nothing more.  Of course, as with most master planned smart growth developments, this one features high traffic, high air pollution, and a lack of privacy, as many homes have no yards or are attached (townhomes).  Ron Sims is interviewed in the video. Overall, writing this post and visiting Issaquah Highlands, were among the most depressing experiences in “smart growth Seattle.”


Inadequate setbacks; homes too close together; no native trees.

Too much street parking on narrow streets, not safe for cyclists or skateboarders. No room to play basketball or football in the street.

Cottage housing with virtually no front yards; unattractive narrow streets clogged with parked cars.

Homes stacked right on top of each other.


More cottages, no privacy. Note the sign “26th Walk NE,” emphasizing the Smart Growth Principle of Walkability.

Another alley of garages, standing 90 degrees from the previous photo of the “cottage walk.”

Another alley of garages that could be backyards.

Typical of smart growth, the new homes are made to look old(er). Not much of a front yard, just ten feet before the sidewalk. And, the ugly towering brick condos (show below) in the background, typical of “mixed-use” neighborhoods (urban renewal districts).

Community park, yet homes surrounding it are choked together.

Berms form the center of many of the roads. These are dangerous, since the driver cannot see pedestrians behind the plants!

Community Gardens, however, why not increase the lot sizes, and eliminate the alleys, to give everyone their own private garden?

The Regional Trail system involves trails through timber that Port Blakely didn’t log, as part of their agreement to build the Smart Growth development. Do not be fooled, these developers always give up something, even for smart growth developments.

Towering condos just a few hundred feet from the cottages shown above. Very heavy traffic on the road below (not shown).

The mixed-use idea with work/live “lofts.” Will these ever sell? Photo of building below.

Work-live lofts at Issaquah Highlands.

Very controversial mixed use, several alcohol vendors within a few hundred feet of high density housing with children. They assume that yuppies and their teens will act responsibly, but this is not the case in the real world.

Mixed use area certified by LEED. I don’t know what that means, however as a designer, anything without native trees, birds, and wildlife and micro-sized yards with backyards turned into driveways, is NOT green.

No privacy between the dwellings. No different than apartment living except it's three times the cost, with a high risk of foreclosure.

Looking downhill over the southwestern part of the development, with the hills south of Issaquah in the distance. Note the WIDE BIKE LANE and parking spots. And, all the homes are the same color; very bland and unappealing.

The firehouse at the end of this dark alley, but most wouldn’t feel safe living anywhere on that corridor either – especially considering that the bars are 20′ behind me!

Love it, or hate it, but this is smart growth; and everyone will stay physically fit. Although lot sizes will inevitably increase due to consumer pressures, one thing that won’t change is the positive emphasis on walkability, bicycles, and community fitness centers. Go ducks!

The Highlands in the snow:

From Issaquah Highlands, overview of unacceptably long commutes to Seattle (left) and Bellevue (right).

Issaquah highlands, community park area at sunset.

Another sunset photo.

How is this any different than living in apartments? The same architecture extends as far as the eye can see – likewise with the next two photos. We have a new species of housing on Planet Earth. Landscape Architects rebuke this sort of cookie cutter architecture.

Looks just like an apartment building, yet it’s sold as a condo?

Again, extending as far as the eye can see. Monotonous with no style whatsoever.

Boring – boring – boring. Note the Seattle skyline above the rooftops in the center of the photo.

View of the upper portion of the Highlands. Views of the Seattle and Bellevue skylines in the far distance.

ENTERING THE HIGHLANDS – Six Lanes Exit I-90 Surrounded by Ugly Towering Walls

The Highlands even has its own expressay: a six lane boulevard leading for a couple of miles from Interstate 90. If you

To get to the ABOVE expressway, you must first drive EAST from Seattle on Interstate 90, through Issaquah. The Development sits on top of the hill (glacial moraine) shown in the distance. It’s not really connected with the rest of Issaquah or with I-90, due to the greenebelts that surround it.

One half mile from I-90, the six lane boulevard begins to enter the ugly towering walls.

Above the six lane boulevard, the walls and smart growth towers at the top.

Issaquah Highlands was cleared of all native trees before construction by Port Blakely Timber.


Ugly, unsightly Smart growth towers –

Smart Growth Towers under construction. No yards, tiny garages.

This community park will be shaded by the tall towers for much of the day.

These tall towers are even worse. Probably the highest towers at Issaquah Highlands, and among the tallest on my web site.

Sign for the towers behind the walls. The residential density must be well over 50dU/acre. Ugh!


However, where’s the Passive Solar? And, how will children playing in the parks amongst the towers (below) adsorb any Vitamin D. Will Rickets (a Vitamin D Deficiency disease) return in America, in Smart Growth Seattle?

Sign for Future high rise YMCA in 2010.

Solar Panel YMCA at Issaquah Highlands. However, where’s the Passive Solar? Since they clearcut all the native trees, isn’t this a perfect place for passive + active solar?

Solar YMCA. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE to read signs.

CLICK TO ENARGE to read text.

Behind the Solar YMCA is this disaster thanks to the clearcutting and other inappropriate construction practices.

Solar YMCA – Inadequate Setback from the street, typical of Smart Growth.

Playground at the YMCA. The buildings will block children from receiving sunlight. Will Rickets return in America, in “smart growth Seattle?”


George “Skip” Rowley Jr. has announced plans to build “smart growth” buildings next to his existing properties (two photos below) in Northwest Issaquah. This will include 4.4 million square feet of commercial and retail space, and 10 story “smart growth residential towers.” Seattle Times article: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2017100680_issaquah27m.html

It’s interesting that Skip Rowley is friends with Kemper Freeman, and they both favor bus rapid transit, yet both oppose light rail (the latter is a “smart growth,” expensive form of transportation). Nevertheless, Skip Rowley favors “smart growth towers.”

Due to Port Blakely building Issaquah Highlands, and the future smart growth from Skip Rowley, Issaquah is no longer a quiet, low-density bedroom community. Unfortunately, local residents have not shown up at City Council meetings to stop major developers from destroying their once peaceful town.

Skip Rowley’s bank and real estate building in Issaquah.

Skip Rowley’s Hilton Hotel.

4 comments on “(Updated Feb. 1, 2012) Issaquah Highlands Smart Growth near Seattle: Photo Essay

  1. Jeff

    Yes, it looks much worse in person than these pictures depict! For the most part the view is obscured by rows of houses. There are severe drainage issues occurring in the newly developed areas cause of the fake hills and plateaus to stop errosion from the massive tree cutting! It’s a disaster waiting to happen with the next severe rain/mud storm washing the homes down into the Issaquah valley below. And who’s going to serve the new hospital, hardly anyone lives there now! The BIG PROLIANCE SURGEON RED BRICK BUILDING is essentially the biggest building besides, the “NO TV WEEK” ad posted in town at the library!

  2. Jeff

    PS AND THE POOR BEARS TERRITORY HAS BEEN LOST! So they face perhaps finding their food at the next local BBQ’s remains!

  3. James

    You fear monger! Funny thing is that this community looks incredibly desirable to me, thanks to your vast page of photos! I appreciate the plug for the community – and I hope many more like it are built. Imagine how much easier it would be to actually talk to your neighbors here and walk (for more exercise!). Awesome to have a watering hole so close by for happy hour, too. The Highlands will look/feel and settle in, as any North Seattle neighborhood in 50 years, when these urban concepts will hopefully be the foundational principles upon which we organize our communities. Wendell Berry would be very proud. I thank god that folks like you are charge of America! Imagine what a dismal land of alienation you would wish upon us all! Shame on you.

  4. Tom Lane

    Remember that Issaquah Highlands and other high density suburban Seattle Smart Growth communities, such as Snoqualmie Ridge, were clearcut by International Timber and Construction Companies, such as Port Blakely Holdings, before their construction.

    Seattle residents would prefer living in communities where native trees are preserved, such as Mirrormont, southeast of Issaquah on SW Tiger Mountain. Seattlites prefer architecturally unique homes built by custom home builders, not cookie cutter homes from International development firms.

    The City of Issaquah serves the financial interests of Port Blakely, and developers such as Skip Rowley, who wants to build 12 story smart growth towers. The City does not serve the residents of its constituents, who prefer the semi-rural, bucolic nature of Issaquah, nestled in the Cascade foothills.

    Clearcutting for Smart Growth, see my post at: http://wp.me/pMHrW-oW

    Mirrormont’s Large Lot Zoning, see my post at: http://wp.me/pMHrW-1fu

    Mirrormont celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, 2012: http://www.mirrormont.org/

    Issaquah Environmental Council Position Paper on Preserving Trees: http://www.issaquahaction.org/Current%20Papers/Trees.htm

    Eyes on Issaquah, and their Central Plan for Smart Growth, with 12 Story Towers Downtown: http://www.eyesonissaquah.org/

    The next time I am in Seattle, I am afraid of what I might discover in Issaquah and at Snoqualmie Ridge.

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This entry was posted on 2010 by in Democrats, Issaquah, Issaquah Highlands, Ron Sims, Seattle, You Tube.


Salt Lake City – Rio Rancho, New Mexico – NO Urban Growth Boundary = AFFORDABLE HOUSING on LARGE LOTS – More Photos Forthcoming

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* NEW * October 8, 2011, Seattle – KEMPER FREEMAN VIDEO – If You Drive, Vote YES on I-1125, Kemper Freeman on TV-W w/ Doug MacDonald

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* HEY SEATTLE * – VOTE YES on Kemper Freeman’s Initiative I-1125 – Protect Your Gas Taxes and Tolls – Stop Illegal East Link I-90 Light Rail – Stop the Destruction of Downtown Bellevue with an Ugly Transit Oriented Development -CLICK HERE –

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* SEATTLE DISPLACEMENT COALITION * – John Fox and Carolee Colter – Defending Lower Income Apartment Residents against Greedy Smart Growth Developers and Seattle Politicians – CLICK HERE for web site & columns –

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