City planning staff recently determined that the parts of the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) proposal that are ready to be reviewed — the lease and a city code amendment — can progress with a phased review process, and that potential environmental impacts of the project can be mitigated. Photo courtesy of MICA

City issues decision on environmental impacts of MICA proposal

  • Monday, September 18, 2017 1:56pm
  • News

The city of Mercer Island’s Development Services Group (DSG) released a decision on Sept. 11 regarding its review of the potential environmental impacts of the proposed performing arts facility near Mercerdale Park.

The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review process began in late 2016. On Monday, DSG issued a Determination of Non-Significance with Mitigation for the proposed Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) project.

In a press release, MICA described the decision as a “major milestone.”

“By issuing an MDNS, the city of Mercer Island has affirmed that MICA has demonstrated the ability to mitigate any potential environmental impact during the development and construction of the facility as currently designed,” according to the press release. “This positive determination is a significant accomplishment to celebrate for the arts center project.”

DSG found that there will be some environmental impacts from the project as proposed, but that they can be adequately mitigated through alterations to the proposal. The decision was transmitted to a variety of stakeholders and interested residents who had previously commented on the proposal.

The city opted for a phased review, which “assists agencies and the public to focus on issues that are ready for decision and exclude from consideration issues not yet ripe for a SEPA determination,” according to the decision issued last week.

MICA noted that the SEPA “process required months of collaboration between the city staff and MICA, during which MICA consulted with numerous environmental experts and responded to community feedback.”

Some of the responses to environmental concerns have been extensive. MICA’s architects and designers redesigned the footprint of the building in 2016 to avoid a nearby wetland. Others are yet to be defined, including a plan for parking.

According to the press release, “a significant amount of work remains ahead to secure zoning, permits and other approvals necessary to move the project forward.”

MICA noted that “this may be frustrating for the Island and our supporters,” but that the “passion and commitment to the project remains unwavering.”

“This SEPA determination is the first of a number of city actions needed for the proposed MICA project to continue and is limited to: (1) a proposed zoning code text amendment application to allow a performing arts facility to be located in Mercerdale Park, and that would allow parking for such a facility to be located off-site; and (2) an “agreement to lease” between the city of Mercer Island and MICA,” according to a city news release.

Other land use actions, such as a subdivision, critical area determination and construction permits, will need to be submitted and reviewed as part of the city’s customary review process for large projects. These land use actions will also require their own SEPA environmental review, but the timing has not yet been established.

Concerned Citizens for Mercer Island Parks (CCMIP), an activist group that aims to protect open spaces and opposes Mercerdale Park as the location for MICA, stated that “building an environmentally challenged building in a public park is ‘complex.’”

“By opting for a ‘phased review approach,’ the city’s decision delays the MICA project indefinitely,” the group stated in an email to the Reporter. “The decision speaks for itself.”

The SEPA process was led by MICA board member Bruce Lorig. Lorig, a longtime Island resident and founder of Lorig Associates, has over 40 years of real estate development experience.

“It’s been a long journey for the building team with ups and downs. We stayed transparent throughout and true to the public process,” Lorig stated in the press release.

The city recently announced a schedule for formal review of the requested zoning code text amendment for MICA. The Planning Commission will conduct an initial evaluation at its Oct. 4 meeting, and will hold a public hearing on Oct. 18, after which it will ultimately make a recommendation to the City Council. Both Planning Commission meetings will be held at Mercer Island City Hall beginning at 6 p.m.

The proposed amendments to the P zone rules and regulations would modify Mercer Island City Code (MICC) chapter 19.05 to allow a center for the arts in Mercerdale Park, with primary uses of theatre, lecture hall, classroom, performing studio, visual arts studio, exhibition gallery, gathering and meeting spaces, café and bar, and accessory functions. The amendment would also allow parking for the center for the arts to be located off-site.

For full documentation underlying this SEPA determination, visit the city’s online permitting archive for the MICA proposal at https://mieplan.mercergov.org/public/MICA-SEP16-015_ZTR16-002/.

For more information about the permit process, visit the city’s webpage related to the proposed MICA project at www.mercergov.org/MICA, or contact Senior Planner Robin Proebsting at robin.proebsting@mercergov.org.

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