A site plan drawing shows how the Stroum Jewish Community Center, Herzl-Ner Tamid and the French American School would be reoriented and rebuilt under a master plan proposed by the three groups. They are also requesting a Comprehensive Plan amendment. Contributed image

A site plan drawing shows how the Stroum Jewish Community Center, Herzl-Ner Tamid and the French American School would be reoriented and rebuilt under a master plan proposed by the three groups. They are also requesting a Comprehensive Plan amendment. Contributed image

Properties on East Mercer Way focus of Comprehensive Plan amendment process

Herzl, the SJCC and French American School need code change to start master plan.

The Stroum Jewish Community Center of Greater Seattle, the Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation and the French American School of Puget Sound are working with each other and the city on a plan to transform their facilities in future years.

Herzl and the SJCC have been serving the community from their location on the northeast corner of Mercer Island since about 1970, and the French American School moved to the Island in 1999. They are all currently in the middle of a Comprehensive Plan amendment and master planning process that would potentially involve a land swap among themselves, so they can either build new facilities or expand existing ones to provide additional programming.

Comp Plan

The three nonprofit organization are requesting an amendment to create a new “private community facilities” designation, to “ensure superior site planning and phased development with standards adopted to address pertinent city policies and priorities,” according to their application.

They are interested in working with the city and community to first develop a set of Comprehensive Plan policies and goals, followed by a code amendment and rezone, and then develop a master plan for future development of their properties.

“If you think of this as a three-step process, we’re on step one,” said Interim Director of Development Services Evan Maxim.

Every year, the city of Mercer Island undertakes a process to make targeted amendments to its Comprehensive Plan, the state-required document that all 39 counties and 281 cities and towns use to map out land use planning, anticipated growth (residential and otherwise) and desired improvements.

The SJCC/Herzl/French American School proposal has generated a lot of community interest, particularly among neighbors and those who worked to revise the city’s residential development code last year. The properties, comprising 18 acres, are adjacent to 1-90 to the north, and residential-zoned properties to the south, east and west.

On the properties themselves, there is a mix of zoning designations “that each come with their own set of regulations” as far as height limits, parking requirements and other considerations, Maxim said.

“The properties are currently zoned R-8.4, R-9.6, B, and C-O (Single-family residential, Business and Commercial-Office). Some properties span multiple zones. The development and impacts of the facilities would be better addressed by a new zone specific for community facilities,” according to an April 4 memo to the Planning Commission from Nicole Gaudette, senior planner for the city.

Master Plan

The initial “concept design for potential Jewish community campus” has six phases, though Maxim said that after the amendment and zoning steps are done, the plan may have to change.

“It’s an initial concept by the applicant, and not necessarily what the city would anticipate to happen after we’re done with this process,” he said. “Steps one and two might change how step three looks.”

Documents submitted to the city show that the first phase would be to construct a new Jewish day school at the SJCC, relocating the school from its existing campus in Bellevue, and enhance the SJCC’s early childhood school facilities, along with building an enclosed two-story “winter garden” and a below-grade parking garage.

The second would be to construct a new Herzl-Ner Tamid Synagogue, with a new sanctuary, chapel, social hall, kitchen and parking structure, next to the SJCC, moving it from its current home on the east side of the street. The existing Herzl-Ner Tamid synagogue would be demolished as part of the third phase.

Herzl would maintain ownership of a large waterfront parcel for recreation uses, but would be able to leverage synergies with the SJCC and Jewish Day School by moving closer to them, according to the plans.

The fourth phase would entail the construction of a French American School facility on the current Herzl site, with a high school, a gym and additional administration office to supplement the existing classroom count.

The fifth phase would include construction of new SJCC health and fitness facilities (two gyms, two swimming pools, a large fitness center, locker/changing rooms and cardio studios), along with a parking garage. These would be located on the current French American School site. The old health and fitness facilities would then be demolished.

New SJCC cultural facilities, including a new lobby, commons area and cafe, learning center, social hall/kitchen and meeting rooms, along with a new recreation field, baseball field and expanded parking garage, would be constructed in the sixth phase.

Maxim said that the city would likely hold design charettes and other public meetings during this phase to get community input.

Planning Commission

The Planning Commission is currently studying the proposed amendment, focusing on whether it makes sense for the city to have a land use designation for private community facilities, and if it does, what policies should accompany it, Maxim said.

The city also wants to hear from the community about what types of concerns (traffic, noise, light, etc.) it should consider.

The 2018 Comprehensive Plan amendments include a variety of subjects, not only the SJCC/Herzl/French American School policy discussions but also critical area protections, transportation “level of service” updates, arts and cultural policies and others, according to the city.

A complete, compiled list of all proposed amendments will be posted on the city’s website in early August, and approximate language is available from the July 18 meeting agenda of the Planning Commission, available on the city’s website.

In an effort to expand engagement and reach new stakeholders, the city will be opening up an online public outreach and comment forum in early August, with the intention of employing this new tool in other future arenas. Comments posted on this new site will be visible to the public and the Planning Commission, along with supporting materials such as presentations, video explainers and a Q and A board monitored by staff.

Public Input

The Planning Commission will host a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Aug. 29 and Sept. 5 at City Hall on all the proposed 2018 Comprehensive Plan amendments. Email or written public comment may be submitted at any time during the Planning Commission’s review, until the public hearing is closed (on Sept. 5).

For questions, or to submit comments, email Maxim at evan.maxim@mercergov.org.

The three groups are also encouraging public comment. They have launched a public engagement dialogue, which included community meetings on July 16. Community input is also welcomed at future@sjcc.org.

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