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Council Considers Downtown Zoning Changes on Mercer Island: City Council Live Blog

Keep up with the latest City Council developments on Mercer Island Patch.

7 pm

Mercer Island Mayor Bruce Bassett opens the meeting.

Appearances are opened for the public to address City Council.

Carl Dodrill addresses the effects that tolling would have on the Mercer Island faith community.

Marty Gale asks the council to consider the circumstances of a WSDOT I-90 tolling survey of Mercer Island residents, complaining that the survey was irrelevant to the needs of local residents and was simply an exercise in bureaucracy.

Ralph Jorgenson says he's very discouraged by WSDOT and Mercer Island's elected representatives and the presentations they made on I-90 tolling. He estimates the total impact is $10 million per year in perpetuity.

"Tolling East Channel Bridge or I-90 is divisive. It's a divide and conquer strategy by the state," he said.

Tom Imrich: Calls the proposal to toll I-90 "Inappropriate, unfair and could cause a seriously disproportionate effect on Mercer Island.," and cites one of what he says are major flaws in the WSDOT Jan. 7 presentation.

"Go on record immediately, challenge both this WSDOT tolling and analysis and plan, at the regional, state, and Federal level. Mercer Island needs to resist any proposal that tolls residents and businesses over the I-90 bridge," he said. "Speak clearly to state, delaying any unnecessary Mercer Island loss of access to the center roadway. Mercer Island needs to demand continues free MI SOV access to the I-90 Bridge HOV/HOT lanes."

Claus Jensen asks the Mercer Island council and the City Attorney to challenge the assumptions made by WSDOT, Sound Transit and the state legislators, and says he doesn't believe a legal precedent exists for what they propose.

Dan Kolton says this is a very important issue on Mercer Island, as the only community that is water bound and stuck on bridges.

"It’s not our fault that WSDOT blew their estimates on SR520," he said. "When will you hear from us?" he asked the mayor. 

Breaking from protocol, Mayor Bassett responds to Kolton.

"We don’t have it on the agenda, but we will have a letter to them by the deadline Feb. 22," Bassett said.

Joy Matsuura voices her concern that Mercer Island was compared to Gig Harbor on Jan. 7, and complained that Mercer Island faced several other challenges, notably a lack of choice to leave the Island.

"Why can’t we have a vote on I-90 tolling, yes or no?" she said.

Ira Appelman returns to the podium and again asks for the firing of Rich Conrad, reviewing the Lindell affair, citing court document and under oath testimony that the City Manager broke the law (which ended in an over $1 million settlement, not including the city's own legal fees).

Human Resources Manager Kryss Segle — who was deeply involved in the lawsuit — is here in the audience, shaking her head in disagreement.

The council should end the meeting with the words "Happy Birthday, and you are fired," said Appelman.

Deputy Mayor Grausz responds to Appelman, asking a rhetorical question: "You have no standard of decency, do you?"

A lawyer for 7800 Plaza, a Mr. Hill, appears next with a request to amendments in the new proposed parking regulations for the 7800 Plaza building.

Section 2D of the ordinance. Existing legal restrictions “or other legally enforceable use” restrctions in place at the time of…. 7800 plaza building currently prohibits use of parking spaces within the building.

John Hamlin returns to the council over his privacy concerns over using on I-90 tolling. He found state law that restricts use of data collected in tolling, RCW 47.56.795, but said that a recent report in the Orlando Sentinel (FL) highlighted police mishandling of data.

7:41 pm

Mayor Bassett closes public comment period and moves to approving minutes from the City Council Meeting on Jan. 7.

City Councilman Mike Cero asks for a series of amendments to the minutes of the Jan. 7 meeting. Cero makes the argument that the amendments are necessary because he wants the minutes to reflect slightly more than simply the actions of what occurred at the meeting, but also some detail of what was discussed. The council unanimously approves appending the minutes with notes on the speaker's discussion as written by Cero.

7:50 pm

The council approves the City Consent Calendar unanimously.

7:51 pm

City Maintenance Director Glenn Bottecher presents AB 4795, Solid Waste Interlocal Agreement Terms Approval.

City Manager Rich Conrad clarifies that approval of the agreement is a non-binding statement of interest to join with King County in continuing it's waste interlocal agreement (ILA). An actual ILA will return to city council to approve later this spring.

The motion is approved unanimously.

8 pm

City Deveopment Services Group Director Scott Greenberg introduces AB 4794, Town Center Code Amendments – Modifying "60/40” Rule for Ground Floor Uses; Modifying Requirement for No Net Loss of Ground Floor Retail Space; and Adding Requirement for “Walk-Off” Parking (1st Reading) to discuss amending Town Center zoning code. This is a first reading of the regulation.

Greenberg summarizes the ordinance as a choice between allowing "walk-off" parking to take advantage of relaxed zoning regulations, or not. The relaxed zoning would allow for 40 percent minimum of tenants that are "retail, restaurant or personal services" and no more than 60 percent of "hotel/motel; public facilities; services; or office, and relaxation of the "no-net-loss provision. Those who do not allow "walk-off" parking can't take advantage of the new rules.

All new mixed-use and residential building must adopt the new regulations for walk-off parking.

Greenberg says recently there has been "less pushback recently since this ordinance has been drafted." Greenberg said that the last time he met with local developers, there was a clear essage in the room that the proposed regulations were a bad idea.

Cero asks how the effects of the new regulation woul have on future development. Greenberg said he's unsure of the effects.

8:13 pm

Mayor Bassett asks City Manager Conrad to weigh in on the feedback he's been getting on the ordinance. Conrad says he got a "mixed bag answer"

"It could have some negative impacts, or it could be just fine."

Conrad said Peter Orser, a former MI Planning Commissioner, said the city should look at creating a parking district, but the idea hasn't gained much traction.

Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz details his concerns on the new regulations, such as validating that people parking in spaces are actually visiting businesses in the Town Center, but voices his support for them, saying they promote a walkable Town Center. He offers a few minor changes to the proposed ordinance:

"6. Public Parking. On-site public parking complying with the following requirements shall be provided in any new missed use or nonresidential development and for all existing developments desiring to provide public parking that meets the requirements of this Section.

A.  All parking stalls provided for non-residential use shall be available for public parking, provided, however, parking stalls that the Code Official concludes were required to be dedicated for the use of a specific tenant in accordance with a lease provision in effect as of January 1, 2013 and which were specifically signed for that purpose on January 1, 2013 may be excluded until the expiration, termination, modification or amendment of the lease.

B.   Public parking stalls shall be available to motorists for such time period as is determined by the owner, but not less than two hours.

C.   An owner may require that the motorist intend to patronize at least one business in the development but otherwise will be entitled to leave the development without moving their vehicle, subject to the time period specified by the owner as provided in B above.

D. Once public parking is provided under this provision, it may not thereafter be eliminated."

Mayor Bassett says he likes the vision of a walkable Town Center, but says he believes that dropping the parking requirement, dropping the no-net-loss rule and "flipping" the 60/40 rule is the best move forward.

"I would really like us to see diagrams of buildings and parking spaces and see what uses these spaces are for," said Bassett. " I can't get my arms around what exactly the issues are."

8:26 pm

Councilman Mike Grady says he's unsure weakening regulations will help realize the vision of making the downtown area of Mercer Island friendly. He also voices criticism of the developers, advising that lowering rents would be an obvious strategy to attract tenants to the Town Center, and that many business owners complain that the rents are too high.

Councilwoman Tana Senn says through her discussions that the community believes that "something must be done, but not much." She supports the parking requirement for relaxed zoning as written, and doesn't see how enforcing a 2-hour parking limit as "too onerous."

8:31 pm

Cero voices his support for Mayor Bassett, and says he never supported the 60/40 rule in the first place.

8:34 pm

Councilwoman Debbie Bertlin says she's noticed that newer businesses were going into older developments, not older ones. She also noted that 300 more residents will be arriving in the Town Center neighborhood in 2013 with the opening of the Aviara Apartments on 76th Ave. SE.

Deputy Mayor Grausz said that he'll never forget that when he last met with property owners in an ad hoc group he was told signs to tow cars from their lots would not be erected, but they were. Now he wants to place parking requirements on new buildings. He says he wants to foster a community.

"What I do know is if we don't try and try to make some progress toward a sense of community, then we're not doing our job as a City Council."

8:40 pm

Councilwoman Jane Meyer Brahm said she feared that the council would be too agressive at the wrong time on the issue, saying she is noticing that the economy seems to be recovering. But she says she thinks she can support tying parking together with new development.

8:47 pm

City Councilman Mike Grady asks about allowing the use of parking for electric cars, or car sharing services. Deputy Mayor Grausz says it could be made an exception, if an amendment was offered.

8:49 pm

Mayor Bassett tries find consensus on the issue and asks the city to reach out to the developers in the community and how parking gets allocated under current regulations versus the proposed changes. Deputy Mayor Grausz says something off the microphone, voicing his discomfort with the Mayor's comments.

8:53 pm

Grausz amplifies his complaint, that councilmembers typically don't issue a call to the public for more information on an issue before council. The Mayor clarifies that he was simply asking for the information that had been presented before to be resubmitted and restated.

8:58 pm

Mayor Bassett concludes regular business and moves the meeting to the planning schedule. The council moves a meeting due to Mercer Island school spring break.

Bertlin says she doesn't see a time calendared for a statement on I-90 tolling. Brahm says that in the past, the Mercer Island City Council has repeatedly come out against I-90 Tolling.

"This council here (today) has to come out about I-90 tolling."

Conrad pledges that on Feb. 2 the council will hear from former mayors and officials on what to do about tolling.

"You will need to have a conversation about what the letter says," Conrad says. "This will not be the last time to talk about tolling."

Bertlin says that a "directional statement" can be made soon on the council's positions. Bertlin says the Jan. 29 meeting and the former mayor's meeting on Feb. 2 are two important meetings and she wants to discuss it on Feb. 4.

The Feb. 2 mayoral meeting will be held at the Mercer Island Community & Event Center, however, the meeting will not allow public comment and is intended for input only.

Deputy Mayor Grausz says he wants the city to be sure it understands that the letter should be focused on what the true purpose of public comment period is, which is scoping an environmental assessment of tolling I-90.

Bertlin says the letter is a milestone, but the council needs to express what it's position is on tolling overall, which might be a different action.

Conrad urges the council that they do not need to get into a nuanced debate before it is ready, and will schedule discussion on Feb. 4, and perhaps on Feb. 25 for talking about I-90 tolling.

City Attorney Katie Knight warns the council to avoid discussion and debate over a matter that is not on the evening's agenda.

Grady says making a statement on the council's position is fine, but he also supports a letter to direct the scoping as well.

"(It's got to include) what ideas do we have as a staff, and as a body with input," he said.

Cero says he's for both making a statement and issuing a letter on scoping, as well as putting pressure on state lawmakers. He also asks for time on the schedule for finding a replacement for Conrad and hearing from Sound Transit EastLink Exec. Director Ron Lewis.

9:16 pm

Deputy City Manager Noel Treat updates the council on the Verizon cell tower at Island Crest Park. He says the pole will be installed in the next week to 10 days and the remediation of the site will run through the month of February.

Councilwoman Brahm says the Mercer Island Arts Council is working on installing a new art mural on the walls of the Luther Burbank Park tennis courts.

Councilwoman Bertlin reminds the public to participate in the redesign of the Luther Burbank Park playground on February 5 and 19.

9:30 pm

Mayor Bruce Bassett calls for a 10 minute recess, after which the council will reconvene for an executive session to review City Manager Conrad's job performance.

Dan Kolton January 23, 2013 at 08:12 AM
It is important our elected officials come out with a position on tolling sooner than later. Past Councils have come out against it, and as noted by Bertlin and Brahm, it is important this council do so as well. Failure of the current council to maintain this postion will (in my opinion) be a position of weakness, not strength when dealing with the state agencies. Unlike ANY other community in the region, there is no "out" for MI residents. If we are stuck with a toll, we will be the only citizens of the region forced to pay it to leave our island and shop or travel beyond the city. Every other city has the ability to do so but us, be it Gig Harbor, Bainbridge, etc. Even a "one bridge" toll will impact those residents who must travel in that direction for any reason, while exempting thouse who must travel in the other. The 'blowback' from a tolling system that is unfair to Island residents is potentially huge. The faith community attracts many from off-island, as does the YFS Thrift Shop. Local businesses would be impacted as well. Many of our 'public employees' like police and teachers would be subjected to daily tolling, as many do not lve on Mercer Island. In the end, you could see a negative effect from employee turnover, decreased off-island patronage of schools, shops, religions institutions, et al.
Dan Kolton January 23, 2013 at 08:12 AM
(cont'd) In the end, I predict this would have a significant inpact on property values as a whole. While we ARE an island, we are not an island in competition for quality employees, business dollars, investment or property taxes. For all the expensive waterfront there are easily a smany retired people who cannot afford the added costs for their next doctor visits. The Council should not be waiting to state their position on tolling until the last minute and not give the residents of MI a chance to let them know about this decision. This is not a complex decision -- either you believe your constituents should be subject to up to $5000/yr in more 'taxes' or you do not. Perhaps this is an issue that should come to an Island vote?
Kendall Watson January 23, 2013 at 05:38 PM
Thanks Dan. From my perch, it appeared you were persuasive in moving the process of how the council will arrive to a decision point on speaking out about I-90 out into the open — at least somewhat. It is rare that the Council responds to citizens, like the Mercer Island School Board often does. Then again, it seems this issue is moving the council to do some unusual things. My 2 cents, and hats off to you in getting more information on this issue in a public forum.
Thomas Imrich January 23, 2013 at 07:20 PM
Commenter Dan Kolton is squarely on the mark. It is essential that both the evolving personal views of individual Council members, as well as the evolving Council collective views, be routinely and periodically shared with Mercer Island citizens, in time for meaningful citizen and institution input. There needs to be time to formulate clear and decisive comment to State political officials and WSDOT. Early substantive, credible, and overwhelming Mercer Island response is required here immediately, if there is to be any hope of achieving solutions that do not devastate Mercer island over the long term. The Mercer Island School District and Board are even now showing superior leadership on this tolling issue, as compared to the fragmented, ineffective, if any real effort, now being expended by our City and Council. It is time for the Council to get serious about MI input on this tolling issue, and act. Not to continue to politically duck the tolling and MI SOV access issues, until it is too late.
Paul Calderon January 24, 2013 at 12:35 PM
Tolling I-90 to cover a funding deficit is the wrong way to pay for the new 520 bridge. Besides hurting Mercer Island residents in a disproportionately hard way, it is a tax with another name. WSDOT should be proposing a small gas tax increase specifically destined to fund the $1.4Billion deficit that would end when the funds had been raised, rather than lasting forever and becoming part of our overall tax burden.

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