City will lift Town Center construction moratorium on Dec. 1

Council passes ordinance regarding code amendments.

After sitting in place for more than two years over six-month periods, a moratorium will be lifted this Dec. 1 regarding major new construction in the southeast quadrant of the Mercer Island Town Center zone.

At its June 21 meeting, council passed an ordinance by a 6-0-1 vote — councilmember Lisa Anderl abstained from voting — focused on Town Center code amendments and revision of standards for retail requirements. Coupled with that passage comes the moratorium’s end in December. The code amendments will also take effect on Dec. 1.

Council renewed the moratorium, which highlighted the area south of Southeast 29th Street, four times since its unanimous adoption on June 2, 2020, for the city to possibly complete updates and/or amendments to Town Center development regulations that included commercial space requirements, according to an ordinance document. Another city report noted that it aimed to protect and expand the Island’s retail sector to maintain and improve quality of life and emergency preparedness for residents.

Before the final reading of the ordinance on June 21, interim community planning and development director Jeff Thomas told council: “This is a possible culmination of an over two-year process. It’s been a lot of work that went into this and I think the council’s done a lot of hard work on this, too, over time with its careful consideration and direction that it’s provided along the way.”

According to a previous Reporter article, council unanimously approved an ordinance to extend the moratorium for six more months during its May 17 meeting. Since then, staff worked on code amendments in preparation to repeal and replace the ordinance and lift the moratorium on June 21.

During her presentation, economic development coordinator Sarah Bluvas rolled through myriad code amendments, which include: Requiring a .2623 commercial floor area ratio (FAR) of eligible ground floor commercial space; establishing a cap of 5,000 square feet for individual museum/art exhibition or theater uses toward the minimum FAR for the corresponding site; and adding a “no net loss” requirement on a parcel-by-parcel basis on post-2005 developed Town Center parcels.

In another code update, Bluvas said the “pink lines map,” which marks Town Center areas in the north quadrant where ground-floor retail street frontage is required, now reflects corridor concentration on Southeast 27th Street and 78th Avenue Southeast for existing and future development.

Staff also worked with the city council and planning commission to devise an expanded list of ground floor uses that are required to be adjacent to street frontages: Retail, restaurants and personal services are currently included in the code, with potential additions being a museum and art exhibition, theater, bar, financial and insurance service, recreation area and a service station.

While addressing council remotely during the appearances section of the June 21 meeting, SRM Development managing partner Jim Rivard — whose Spokane company owns Tabit Village Square — suggested that the city assemble a group of Island property owners and retailers during the next cycle of code amendments to review the code and determine additional changes and vision.