Fire Station 1997

Mercerdale Park: The struggle to resist urbanization | On History

  • Tuesday, August 29, 2017 1:21pm
  • Opinion

By Ira Appelman

Special to the Reporter

Mercer Island sits between the first and fifth largest cities in the state, and is known for its parks, rural character and as a refuge from the craziness of its more populated surroundings. Mercerdale Park is at the center of Islanders’ struggle to remain suburban in an increasingly urbanized region.

In 1956, the Mercer Island School District purchased Mercerdale as a possible school site. Changing state requirements left Mercerdale too small to support a school. In 1970, the district tried to sell Mercerdale, but under state law at the time they needed a public vote: Island voters rejected the sale (Reporter, Feb. 12, 1970).

A centralized city

In 1960, the city incorporated and I arrived three years later. Since incorporation, there were multiple attempts to “energize” the city by filling Mercerdale with public and/or private buildings, culminating in the 1976 joint city/MISD community center plan (Reporter, Oct. 7, 1976; Nov. 4, 1976). That plan (see Figure 1) included City Hall, the library, a joint city/MISD maintenance/bus barn facility, a soccer field and parking. The community center plan was dependent on a public works federal grant that the city didn’t get.

Mercer Island can be frustrating for those coming from urbanized areas because it’s decentralized with City Hall, the library the fire stations, the Community Center and the Parks Department all in different places.

In the early 1980s, the idea returned of centralizing the Island by filling Mercerdale Park with public buildings, culminating in the 1985 Civic Center Plan (Reporter, Oct. 22, 1985). That plan (see Figure 2) included City Hall, the library, a Community Center, a fire station, a performing arts center with outdoor theater, and parking. That plan died under the weight of heavy Islander opposition. After the collapse, Mayor Jarrett admitted that the mistake was to go forward based on the recommendation of a small group. “We didn’t go through and debate in public whether this [Civic Center Plan] was the right thing to do.” (Reporter, May 21, 1986).

Changed strategy: One building first followed by the rest

Our leaders decided that Islanders were frightened by the scale of change so to get Island approval they needed to get one building first and the rest would follow, and that has been the strategy ever since. In 1987, a ballot issue for City Hall only in Mercerdale Park was voted. A fantasy schematic was circulated (see Figure 3) with City Hall surrounded by soccer fields, but the real plan was to follow City Hall with other public buildings (Reporter, Oct. 28, 1987). Islanders rejected Mercerdale as the site of City Hall, which was, instead, built in its current location.

Following the same single building strategy, in 1997 the city proposed building a new fire station in Mercerdale Park. As a result of blistering public disapproval, the fire station was rebuilt in its current location (Reporter, Sept. 17, 1997).

Our village green

We are faced again with another building attempt in Mercerdale Park from those who seek to urbanize our suburban Island. On July 30, 2014, in promoting the Mercer Island Center for the Arts to the state, Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz said, “…you’ve got this huge city of Seattle, you’ve got this huge city of Bellevue, you’ve got Mercer Island right between. Everyone would think that this should be a thriving economic area, but you walk into our Town Center and there is nothing going on … MICA [can] … make a huge impact economically on Mercer Island.”

After the 1987 City Hall vote, our Island community came together, proponents and opponents of constructing buildings in Mercerdale, and concluded that the mandate of the public was that Mercerdale Park should remain public and green. Mercerdale Park is our village green, the center of Islanders’ struggle to remain suburban in an increasingly urbanized region, and it should remain our village green.

Ira Appelman has been a member of groups protecting the following parks from over-development: Mercerdale, Clise, Island Crest, Upper and Lower Luther Burbank and Pioneer.

City Hall 1987

Civic Center Plan 1985

Community Center Plan 1976

More in Opinion

Allison Apfelbaum
How to eat healthy on the go | On Health

In our busy lives it can be so very hard to make… Continue reading

A recipe for Mercer Island graduates | On Faith

Stir about the mixed emotions reduced from simmered memories.

Signature of registered voter is a coveted commodity

The competitive nature of the initiative and referendum season now peaking in Washington.

Growth, knowledge, learning at your library | Book Nook

Spring is the time of year when many of us focus on… Continue reading

Reporter Raechel Dawson says farewell to journalism career

Eastside journalist moves on after six years in field.

Photo by Michael O’Leary/Everett Herald
                                Photo by Michael O’Leary/Everett Herald
Eyman says he will spend $500K of his own money on initiative

The conservative activist’s self-financing claim points to a lack of deep-pocketed donors.

Are students vaping in Mercer Island High School bathrooms?

Dear YFS – My daughter is a senior at the high school.… Continue reading

Six year old Laura Drake, who is so passionate about plants that she named her rescue cats Daisy and Daffodil, has been training as a Junior Naturalist in the Native Garden.
Tour of Native Garden led by junior naturalist tomorrow

Laura Drake’s first tour is April 28, during the Washington Native Plant Society native plant sale in Mercerdale Park.

NIM tackling Mercer Way shoulder paving, biking safety and more | Neighbors in Motion

Editor’s note: This is the fifth of an occasional article written by… Continue reading

E-cigarettes try to hook another generation | On Health

E-cigarette devices mimic conventional cigarette use and help normalize smoking behaviors.

Speak up to help silent sufferers of domestic violence | Guest Column

Leveraging the heightened awareness sparked by the #metoo movement.