Real public space

Dozens of citizens converged upon the Design Commission meeting regarding the proposal to build the Boys and Girls Club PEAK facility near the high school. Yet less than a handful attended another commission meeting held just two weeks earlier on the Arterra development in the Town Center — a project more than four times the size of PEAK.

The five-story Arterra, to be located at the old Safeway site on 76th Avenue S.E. will be 65 feet high with 161 living units. It will sit across the street from the Aljoya House, another multi-story residential project built to the sidewalk’s edge along 76th Avenue S.E. at S.E. 24th Street. Its exterior boundary to the west will tower over the 40-foot-high Mercer Island Care and Rehabilitation Center.

In exchange for adding an extra chunk of public space, the developer was allowed to raise the height of the structure. The plans given to the city indicated that the project would exceed the public space requirement. However, a closer examination revealed that the calculation counts 850 square feet of space that lies within the driveway up to the parking lot above that serves True Value Hardware and other businesses. The project designers said the driveway, within an easement, will go away when the property it serves sells. Huh?

The Design Commission told the developer to come back with proof the space would become public.

Open space and public access has become a sensitive issue in the face of our rapidly changing Town Center. In the case of the Town Center buildings already completed, open space is scattered among nooks and crannies near parking garages and stairways — only available, it seems, to those who actively seek it out.

The Arterra land is private property. Yet the codes that govern these huge multi-million dollar developments are law. More importantly the intent of the code in the Town Center is to provide, in the words of the developer himself, “A significant public plaza” — not merely square footage of pavement that happens to be handy and “might” become available — even if it is done with pretty pavers.

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