News

‘New’ Council, old issues

Pedestrian bridge options to be vetted; no change to sign ordinance

By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Councilmembers have requested that Sound Transit add another Island light rail station design to its cost and feasibility study.

Sound Transit officials attended the Council meeting last Monday to share two alternative designs for a pedestrian bridge to the proposed Mercer Island light rail station.

Using funds already in place to design the Eastside light rail, which was recently voted down by citizens in November, Sound Transit devised a second and third option for the Island’s potential light rail station.

Don Billen, the lead designer of the project, gave a presentation of the new designs. The 210-foot pedestrian bridge over the eastbound lanes of I-90 would replace a proposed entry from S.E. 77th Street.

The additional design was requested by the Council last summer. City leaders said they wanted to connect the Town Center and a proposed civic plaza at 78th Avenue S.E. and the Sunset Highway with the rail station.

“I like options and this is one,” the newly selected mayor, Jim Pearman, said. “This does not mean we’re not committed to anything.”

Signs

With four thumbs down, the City Council decided not to impose sign restrictions in public spaces adjacent to city parks in planning discussions that took place last Monday.

City staff is currently proposing changes to the Island’s development codes, which are expected to be passed at the next scheduled meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 22. Monday is a national holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King.

The proposed restrictions on signs were suggested by Councilmember Dan Grausz in December. At that time, Councilmembers directed the city attorney to investigate the legality of sign restrictions.

The proposed limitations would have prohibited all signs, whether a business sandwich board or political campaign sign, in public spaces near city parks.

For the discussion, Bob Sterbank, the city attorney, issued a memo to the Council that stated the city could legally adopt such an ordinance but that it would be possible, if not likely, to be challenged in the courts.

“Because the law in this arena is less than clear and subject to a great deal of debate, however, a lawsuit challenging the validity of such an amendment is also possible [if not likely],” the memo states.

Sterbank also said at the meeting that lawsuits could cost the city dollars in court costs and damages sought by potential plaintiffs.

Grausz said he wanted the restrictions because signs are permitted in public spaces adjacent to parks year-round as the ordinance reads today.

“Personally, I don’t want to see signs along parks,” Grausz said. “I am for prohibiting signs between parks and curbs, and would also like to include [the intersection of] Merrimount and Island Crest Way. We have lots of rights of way for signs and we don’t need to have them in parks. They are not the place to create visual plight.”

Councilmember Steve Litzow argued against the idea. He said signs become an issue only during political campaign season and they are already banned inside city parks.

“It’s not worth the headache it’s going to cost,” Litzow said, referring to potential lawsuits.

Other code changes being discussed by the Council and suggested by the city planning staff relate to roof-top appurtenances and increasing the allowable square footage of accessory dwelling units on Island properties. Instituting a better formula to determine the permitted heights of Town Center re-developments is also being discussed. The Council is expected vote on the proposed amendments at its next meeting.

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