Supporting policies to make Island sustainable

By Fred Jarrett

Island Forum

Mercer Island has always prided itself on our quality of life and our vigorous defense of the Island's environment. Parks, open space, quality utilities and prudent land use have been central to public and private investment and policy for decades.

Today, a new term has come to our public discussion: Sustainability. A number of Mercer Island residents, many of whom are business owners working in the design, engineering and planning professions and serving on various city commissions, have asked the City Council to support a year-long analysis of sustainability in city decision-making. The idea is to research and debate policies and strategies for City Council adoption during the 2006 annual Comprehensive Plan Amendment process.

This effort, much like the recycling effort many of us helped initiate nearly 30 years ago and is now commonplace, would help us to consider the wisest use of our resources. Some of these approaches include alternative transportation modes, garden maintenance, and home heating and renovation.

In the current legislative session, I co-sponsored HB 1272, which calls for public buildings to be built using high performance, ``green building standards which improve the quality of buildings and reduce lifetime costs.'' It also implements a different regulatory approach based on performance, not proscription, giving architects and contractors multiple options to improve building performance rather than the traditional approach of just requiring particular solutions. It is this type of thinking that we would like incorporated in the policies of the City of Mercer Island.

What does sustainability mean? It is ``development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'' It approaches conservation, environmental well-being and livability in land and resource use in a comprehensive and holistic way.

While sustainability usually finds use in discussion of environmental questions, it actually mirrors the way we teach our children to live: take care of what you have, don't make waste and clean up your messes so someone else won't have to clean up after you.

Mercer Island can build on policies already in place that follow the tenets of sustainability.

We made a good decision to add density mandated by GMA (Growth Management Act) to the Town Center, where greater numbers of people can easily get on and off the Island (i.e. into and out of the Town Center).

We can enhance the accessibility of downtown by creating mid-block pedestrian links on large blocks that soon will be fully developed, eliminating vital accessibility. The dense housing being built in the Town Center is truly sustainable, but we neglected code and design guideline allowances for ``green buildings'' that aid in the mitigation of runoff and save on costly heating bills.

Our new public developments should be high quality and built to last. The redevelopment of the North Mercer School site for the Boys & Girls Club and other community facilities should not be made without considering the impacts and mitigation for the historic and unique current Boys & Girls Club building and site facilities. When we build new public buildings or retrofit them, we should use sustainable designs, able to accommodate demographic trends and needs now and in the foreseeable future.

Sustainable urban development practices are often less expensive solutions in the long run and do not limit the use of an owner's property. Done right, they improve property values, help families save money on household expenditures, and generate a safer environment for our children. They don't reduce mobility or access, but provide alternatives for those who choose to walk or bike. They can be creatively and artfully incorporated into our community's landscape to enhance the livable environment we value.

The City Council has been asked to assign planning staff to help a citizen study group understand sustainable practices and how they might be implemented. In turn, the group has promised to help organize study sessions and bring knowledgeable speakers on sustainability to the Island to share their ideas and experiences about how to implement sustainability wisely.

The city has an opportunity to engage us in a discussion of how our public policy relates to the future of our Island through a discussion of sustainability. It would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity.

State Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, represents the 41st Legislative District in the Washington Legislature.

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