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The potential of yet another multistory residential and mixed-use building in the Town Center brings us up short. There is more? When we consider how much the neighborhood has changed over the last five or six years, it is hard to believe several hundred more apartments will be added in just a few years’ time.
In the case of the latest proposal, ‘Legacy Mercer Island,’ to be built on the lot where the Islander restaurant and True Value Hardware reside, we are struck by the sameness between it and the other buildings that have sprung up here since 2005. All of them, it seems, are much higher than we thought they would be. All are apartments and little else. They are a bit intimidating and rather inaccessible.
The Planning and Design Commissions’ role in reviewing these developments are clear. They enforce the rules and champion the values of city residents.
In the instance of the new Legacy project, the developers must choose between setting aside several units for affordable housing (meaning rents are set at levels where city and school employees could afford to live here rather than commute) or making due with just a four-story building instead of five.
As more people come, there should be new places to shop and gather. They have been slow to come. Services that are close by will encourage people to walk rather than drive. But there will still be a need for parking.
The effort underway by the City Council to reevaluate the building codes for the Town Center should help encourage new businesses to come. But all the players must do their part. Local businesses must come together to discuss parking issues, and building owners must consider if the rents they are charging discourage new tenants. The city must not deny building owners their rights to use their properties as they see fit.
As Islanders, we are torn between keeping the Island knowable and small, versus adding new energy to our Town Center. Our view is that thoughtful development in the Town Center can be a positive change for all involved.