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Planning Commission says city code allows home gymnasiums

The City of Mercer Island Planning Commission recently upheld a city code that allows an indoor gymnasium to be constructed at this large home near Franklin Landing on Mercer Island, shown here on Nov. 26. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
The City of Mercer Island Planning Commission recently upheld a city code that allows an indoor gymnasium to be constructed at this large home near Franklin Landing on Mercer Island, shown here on Nov. 26.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

A slender majority of three Planning Commissioners unanimously upheld a code interpretation by the city’s Development Services director that allows private recreation areas as part of Island homes.

On Wednesday, Nov. 19, the Planning Commission voted 3-0, with one abstaining, against an Island attorney’s appeal to a code interpretation issued last August. The ruling maintains a position taken by Development Services director Steve Lancaster that permits residential homes on the Island to construct private recreational areas such as indoor gymnasiums, bowling alleys or swimming pools.

Island attorney and Boulevard Place resident Michael Murphy contested Lancaster’s decision, asking the Planning Commission to hear his appeal. Murphy said that he plans to continue fighting the development by appealing the Planning Commission’s decision in superior court.

Municipal law allows citizens to contest such administrative code interpretations. The Planning Commission, a seven-member board of Island citizens, either affirms the interpretation or approves its own. Murphy said that such facilities should not be a part of Island homes because they resemble a facility to be found at a school, but not a home.

“The amenities are consistent with a school gymnasium or commercial sports complex, not a single-family home,” Murphy said.

Murphy, on behalf of a group of Boulevard Place neighbors, argued before the Commissioners why the code interpretation violated city ordinances.

“Is a private recreational area permitted in the code?” Murphy asked. “This is not an ordinary residence. The scale is unlike anything reflected in this neighborhood or on the Island, with few exceptions.”

The group of neighbors was seeking the reversal of Lancaster’s decision because a large home is currently under construction in the area. In July, the homeowner submitted revised plans to build an indoor gymnasium rather than an outdoor basketball court. Plans show the total square footage of the home, if the gym is included, to be about 25,000. Plans also show an auto court of 2,500 square feet, a 6,500-square-foot pool and several patios, walkways and balconies. The proposed 6,300-square-foot gym would be a part of the seven-bedroom home currently under construction on a 1.67-acre lot located in the 4100 block of Boulevard Place. Plans show that the indoor basketball court includes a retractable batting cage and simulation golf room. The decision means that the proposed indoor gym could be approved by the city planners.

Arguing on behalf of the homeowners, Islanders David and Becky Sandwith, attorney Molly Lawrence provided Commissioners with examples from real estate agents and home builders of other similar recreation facilities on the Island.

“You guys have a great ratio of swimming pools and tennis courts. This is not unusual,” Lawrence said of other Island homes with such a facility.

The Planning Commission was short-staffed because several recused themselves due to past business affiliations with companies building the home. Commissioner Adam Cooper, who lives in the neighborhood, abstained from the vote. It took two meetings for the Commission to review the appeal because of the high number of recusals. Commissioner Kristen White was asked to recuse herself, as she disclosed that she had worked with the construction company on a different project in Sammamish when she learned of the builder.

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