Code for livability

After two years of work by city staff, hours of meetings and discussion, the City Council has passed a set of amendments to the city code regarding commercial and residential construction in the Town Center.

The impetus to amend the building codes came in part from shock over the scale of new development in the Town Center and the apparent speed of the changes. The shock and dismay of some over the new buildings came despite years of planning and public discussion by the city and the Council — all of which were open to the public and reported by this newspaper.

Nevertheless, new development will continue here. In response, the city has worked to revise the code to ensure that any new structures built in the Town Center meet the letter and spirit of both state and city requirements, fit into the culture of Island life and improve the Town Center. In short, create more public benefit from these privately-owned structures.

Now that the code has been approved, what can citizens expect? The changes in the code are designed to make the type of development that comes to the Island in the future contribute to the well being of the residents here — through an enhanced downtown area, creation of more shopping opportunities, open space and pedestrian access. Of the many provisions in the multi-page code, one stands out, Sec. 19.11.0650, entitled Site Features, begins by stating: “All major new construction shall be designed to attract people to the Town Center, including the provision of special site features.”

Beyond making the Town Center a desirable and friendly place, the code amendments clearly aim to do more. The amended city code offers incentives to developers if they set aside some of the apartments or condominiums as affordable housing. It is hoped that the housing will be for people who work on this Island.

Can a small city like Mercer Island accommodate growth and improve livability at the same time? We think so.

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