Two new projects are moving through development review that, if approved, will add both more housing and commercial space to the Island’s Town Center. The two are located several blocks apart on 76th Avenue S.E.
2900 76th Avenue S.E.
Leon Cohen, owner of a parcel at the corner of S.E. 24th Street and 76th Avenue S.E., the present location of Freshy’s, is hoping to construct a mixed-use structure on the site if he is able to add a small parcel of land on the corner now owned by the city.
His project, called Twenty Four Eleven, would include commercial uses on the main floors, with 48 residential units on the upper floors. Two below-grade floors would be for parking. The project may include commuter parking that would be financed from funds to be provided by Sound Transit.
The corner parcel is currently owned by the City of Mercer Island and is used as green space. The city acquired the parcel from the Washington State Department of Transportation at the end of the I-90 construction project. According to city materials, it was one of a number of small parcels in the I-90 corridor that the city “acquired” either fee simple, as in this case, or acquired for recreational/green space for maintenance. They were referred to as “turnback properties” and are nearly all encumbered as green space under federal rules.
However, the parcel adjacent to the Cohen property is not encumbered under those rules. According to City Council documents, during discussions last year concerning a possible site for Youth Theatre Northwest, the city sought and received permission from WSDOT to sell the property. WSDOT agreed with two conditions; first that the city conduct an appraisal to determine the fair market value that is approved by both the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, and next, that the proceeds of the sale are sent to WSDOT.
2411 76th Avenue S.E.
Next, 18 new town homes are being planned to perch above the Town Center. The project is located on just over an acre in the 2900 block of 76th Avenue S.E., on the hillside above the Farmers Insurance building. The three-story homes will be constructed in several configurations corresponding to the slope of the hillside. The units will range in size from 1,800 to 2,400 square feet.
Robert Beckes and Kathy Wangen purchased the properties in 2006. The property was put up for sale again in late 2008 for $4.4 million, but did not sell.
Due in part to the rugged topography of the hillside, which drops over 50 feet from top to bottom with a 20 percent grade, the developers are seeking a permit to exceed the maximum height of 36 feet for five of the six buildings in order to fit the buildings onto the steep slope.
Project plans include improvements to a pedestrian trail that connects 76th Avenue S.E. to Bicentennial Park and S.E. 32nd Street and the rest of the Town Center neighborhood, and includes a resident courtyard. According to news reports, the Design Commission and city planners are concerned about the steep grade of the hill, the landscaping plan and stormwater improvements, as some of the challenges that must be met.
Despite these issues, the city expects to issue a SEPA Determination of Non-Significance for the project.
For more information on these and other development projects, go to www.mercergov.org.