Mercer Island City Council updates transportation, zoning codes

Many of the changes came in the form of Comprehensive Plan amendments.

Before diving into a multi-meeting review of its 2019-2020 preliminary budget, the Mercer Island City Council worked to wrap up a number of transportation and long-range planning issues that have generated community interest in 2018.

The city’s Planning Commission has been hard at work for about a year on two code amendments: one for transportation concurrency, and the other for revisions to the Mercer Island’s Comprehensive Plan. Both were discussed by the council on Oct. 2.

At its most recent review, the planning commission unanimously recommended that the council approve 12 of the 15 proposed amendments, had a 6-1 vote in support of two and rejected one. The rejected amendment would have created policy support to increase building heights in Town Center in exchange for public amenities.

The commission had some disagreement about the city’s land use map and the creation of a new designation for “community facilities” (revised from “private community facilities”) for the properties currently occupied by the Stroum Jewish Community Center, French American School and Herzl-Ner Tamid.

The latter has been the focus of community input — especially among residents of the Mercerwood neighborhood — and the city will host another meeting on Oct. 11 to further explain the amendment and what it entails. The city has not made any determinations on zoning or development regulations yet, and interim director of development services Evan Maxim said the council will make a “go/no go” decision at the policy level on Nov. 20.

With the realignment of Interstate 90, debate on the need for arts and cultural facilities on the Island, continued discussion about residential development and lack of commuter parking in mind, the planning commission and council voted to move forward with 14 amendments to the comprehensive plan, which looks 20 years into the future of the city.

Policy shifts as outlined in the comprehensive plan amendments include: updating the transportation element to address traffic modeling, level of service (LOS), nonmotorized improvements and I-90 changes; developing goals and policies supporting the cultural arts, facilitating disaster planning and recovery, and promoting universal design, disability access, and age friendly planning on Mercer Island; developing a “green” incentive for single-family residential new construction projects; and rezoning of the portion of land known as Parcel 12 (the city’s property that neighbors the Tully’s site) to allow for commuter parking and housing.

The amendments also include placeholders for an upcoming critical areas ordinance update and planning for the STAR Communities framework, which have been discussed by the city council and planning commission this year.

The planning commission also has been working on the city’s transportation concurrency ordinance, and recommended adoption of the proposed ordinance by a 6-0 vote in August.

The council had a Nov. 6 deadline to address concurrency, which is required by the state Growth Management Act (GMA), after the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) Central Puget Sound Region found the city to be in noncompliance.

On Feb. 23 Mercer Island resident and former city council candidate Mark Coen, represented by attorneys Robert Medved and Daniel Thompson, submitted a petition for review with the GMHB. According to the council agenda bill, the city agreed to stipulate that it has not complied with GMA goals and requirements after settlement discussions, because it had not yet adopted a transportation concurrency ordinance.

Concurrency refers to the timely provision of public facilities and services relative to the demand for them, and the GMA gives special attention to concurrency for transportation. The term entered public debate on the Island in February 2017, while the city was in litigation with Sound Transit over the I-90 center lane closure for East Link light rail construction.

As part of its legal actions, the council established two moratoriums to address public institution zoning, and “transportation concurrency” and “essential public facilities” (like light rail). The goal was to stop any project that caused a locally-owned intersection to decline below the LOS standards adopted by the city, which is a level of C in Town Center and D elsewhere on the Island. Both moratoria were set to expire in August 2017.

In October 2017, city staff suggested that the council revisit concurrency with more data, possibly tying it in with its review of the comprehensive plan, which had a transportation element in need of an update. The council could also review concurrency along with its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

On Nov. 20, the council is scheduled to adopt the recommended updates to the transportation element, which will become effective on Dec. 3. The comprehensive plan amendments are set to have a second reading on Oct. 16, but a 60-day review from the Department of Commerce is required before the amendments can go into effect.

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