Council addresses Town Center moratorium, proposed temporary utility tax rates increase

Members approve ordinances for further discussion on both subjects at Sept. 1 meeting.

The Mercer Island City Council passed a pair of motions at its Sept. 1 meeting regarding ordinances addressing the Town Center moratorium, and temporarily increasing utility tax rates to help pay for potential litigation to enforce the terms of the city’s 2017 Settlement Agreement with Sound Transit.

During its online meeting, council unanimously passed the motion to set the utility tax rates ordinance for a second reading and adoption at its next meeting on Sept. 15.

The proposed temporary 36-month utility tax increase — from Nov. 1, 2020 to Oct. 31, 2023 — is estimated to cost an average single-family residence $55.37 per year (about $9.23 every two months), it was stated at the meeting.

Council informed the community about the scenario in an open letter on Aug. 25. The online letter noted that the city has reached an impasse with Sound Transit in discussions regarding the organization’s modification plans to North Mercer Way in the Bus/Rail Interchange design.

* On the other motion, which passed by a 6-1 vote, the ordinance amends the scope of the Town Center moratorium and adopts additional findings of fact.

On June 2, council adopted the ordinance to place a moratorium on major new construction in the Town Center.

Following the second reading and passage on Sept. 1, the next steps are, according to Alison Van Gorp, deputy director of the city’s Community Planning and Development Department: consultant request for proposal currently in development for retail analysis; staff will bring scope of work, schedule and appropriation request to council later in the fall; any amendments proposed to the Town Center regulations or the Comprehensive Plan will require Planning Commission review, a public hearing and adoption by the council.

Last month, council requested the second reading to allow time for additional public response, of which there was minimal public comments and feedback to the council leading up to the Sept. 1 meeting.

Councilmember Lisa Anderl was the sole opposition to the ordinance, noting that she feels strongly that the area south of Southeast 29th Street would be a potentially viable and desirable corner for retail options targeting those who live in that area.

Deputy Mayor Wendy Weiker added that the whole intent with the exercise was to preserve retail and look at areas where it already exists.

Addressing a question from councilmember Craig Reynolds about the possible extension of the moratorium, Van Gorp noted that if the council wishes to lengthen the moratorium — which expires in early December — that could be discussed in late November.

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