No Action Items. Instead, a Discussion on the Town Center District
Richard Hart, Director of DSG, introduced the panel present for the discussion: Rich Conrad, City Manager, Londi Lindell, City Attorney, Mark Hinshaw, City Urban Design Consultant, Bruce Lorig, Developer and past Planning Commissioner, Gordy Edberg, Architect and past Mayor and City Council Member, and Bryan Cairns, Deputy Mayor and City Council Liaison to the Design Commission. Mr. Hart explained the purpose of the meeting: 1. To understand the framework, history and political perspective of the Town Center District; 2. To share a perspective of the urban design review process; 3. To understand the legal enforceability of the Town Center District Development and Design Requirements (TCDDDR); and 4. To provide some education and training for the newer members of the Design Commission.
Rich Conrad, City Manager, summarized the history of the Town Center District beginning in 1988:
- The formation of a Town Center committee, Project Renaissance;
- GMA implementation;
- The formation of a citizen visioning process;
- Receiving an ISTEA matching grant for street improvements;
- The adoption of the Comprehensive Plan;
- City and RTA sponsoring a design charette; and
- The drafting of the TCDDDR.
Gordy Edberg, Architect and former Mayor and City Council Member, addressed the history of allowed story height in the Town Center: the 2-story restriction was adopted because of the construction of a 6-story building. Soon after, the City Council agreed that change was going to occur downtown and a plan was needed. Over the past 10 years, there have been positive improvements. The Design Commission does have the authority through the use of the TCDDDRs, even though some principles have both “shalls” and “shoulds”.
Bruce Lorig, Developer and past Planning Commissioner, pointed out that the 20-year vision introduced an urban environment to Mercer Island. Mercer Island now has the economics needed in order to have underground parking. The Design Commission could have some shocked citizens, but also many proponents for the change in our Town Center.
Mark Hinshaw, City Urban Design Consultant, addressed design review of other Puget Sound jurisdictions. Seattle design review spends time wisely; three meetings, each 1.5 hours long, are offered for each project. The process is a collaborative one and must rely on the city code. The review of projects must focus on the review of bulk, mass, and location, instead of the detail “wallpaper” review of color and material. If there is extra time then these detailed elements can be reviewed. The Design Commission has the ability to tell an applicant that additional design professionals are needed for a specific project; cities do not need to accept poor designs.
Londi Lindell, City Attorney, addressed the legal authority of the Design Commission. Their authority is broad but at the same time specific. The same legal enforceability for the TCDDDR is in place as for the Unified Land Development Code. The “shalls” are provisions that are mandatory; and the “shoulds” are defined in the code as “to impose an obligation on the applicant to comply with the design objectives and principles”. Also, page 19, in the TCDDDRs speaks to this obligation of compliance unless the project demonstrates to the Design Commission a better means for achieving the design objective. The decisions made by the Design Commission need to be followed with findings that are consistent with the TCDDDR and the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The Design Commission can express findings generally and later staff can put the wording together for your approval. Richard Hart, DSG Director, suggested the findings and conclusions be brought back to the Design Commission for their final approval at the following meeting.
Meeting was opened up for questions from the Design Commissioners to the panel.
Commissioner Dawson: Is it appropriate to refer to projects that are under current review during a meeting? Ms. Lindell responded no. Discussion continued regarding the impact of decisions made. Mr. Hinshaw pointed out that decisions could be recorded and included in the deed of the property. Commissioner Dawson asked, do we have to let the public comment at a study session? Ms. Lindell responded, no, but it is a courtesy and the Design Commission should have a policy in place regarding how much time is allowed; 15 minutes as an example.
Commissioner Glick: Mr. Edberg and Mr. Lorig, why has this Town Center plan taken so long to see active strong development. Mr. Edberg pointed out the 2-story height restriction and economics. Mr. Lorig added the property owners are not developers and now underground parking is feasible.
Commissioner Sandler: what is the history of mixed use for downtown. Mr. Lorig stated to provide both a place to live and places to shop, work and play. Mr. Edberg added, the retail is to be utilized by Mercer Island residents and the GMA introduced economic diversity with the need for residential. Hopefully, space adaptability, spaces that can be flexible and change uses over time, will be an objective considered. Mr. Lorig expressed that there is no problem with attaining the appropriate amount of retail space; there may not be housing on the street level.
Commissioner Wittman asked if the Design Commission has the authority to say, for example, the project needs 45 square feet instead of 25 square feet of public space? Ms. Lindell answered yes, as long as the objectives back the statement and consider the scale of the project.
Chairman McDonald inquired about the 5-stories on a corner versus less on the interior of blocks, as represented in the Town Center Plan. It was noted the Town Center Plan document is not an adopted city document. This issue of bulk should be addressed under other objectives. Discussions continued on location of parking and retail use for projects. Chairman McDonald suggested staff provide a Town Center subarea map to place on the wall for their meetings.
Public Testimony: Steve Bryan, Planning Commissioner, commented on how the Design Commission has the expertise to make judgement calls and strongly apply the design guidelines. Glenn Ledbetter, Planning Commissioner, added the Design Commission should keep in mind the boundaries of building height, as stated in the code. Bart Dawson, resident, asked that more staff time be given to staff support for the Design Commission in understanding the criteria and application of the code provisions.
SPECIAL STUDY SESSION MEETING FOR THE REVIEW OF PRELIMINARY PLANS: January 17, 2001, 7:00pm, held in the Caucus Room, City Hall
Council Liaison Report:
Next Regular Meeting:
January 24, 2001, 7:30pm
9:35 PM PM
[Important Note: The proceedings of the Design Commission meeting
were recorded on tape and are on file with the Development Services Group.
agenda and official minutes of this meeting are also available from the
Development Services Group.]