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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Call To Order:

Chairman Glick called the study session to order at 7:45 PM in the Council Chambers, 9611 SE 36th Street, Mercer Island, Washington. 


Roll Call:

Carl Bryant Jr., Marcia Dawson, Chairman Fred Glick, Vice Chairman Norman Sandler, and George Wittman were present from the Design Commission.  Chairman Steve Bryan, Bill Chapman, Dave Chappelle, Anne Fox, Jarrod Lewis, and Steve Schnoor were present.  Commissioners Bryan Caditz, Callie Ridolfi, and Melinda Eggers Huff were absent.


Staff Present:

Richard Hart, Development Services Director; Shelley Krueger, Associate Planner; Janet Reis, Attorney; Gabe Snedeker, Principal Planner



Commissioner Sandler moved, and Commissioner Dawson seconded, to approve the minutes of January 13, 2004 as submitted.  The minutes were approved by a vote of 6-0.


1.       Joint Study Session: 

The applicant, the City of Mercer Island, has proposed to revise and modify all design standards for “regulated” improvements outside of the Town Center.  Such regulated improvements include, but are not limited to churches, schools, shore clubs, public and quasi-public buildings and community centers, libraries, pools, retirement centers, apartments and condominiums, offices, and business or retail facilities.  No action was taken during this study session.


Richard Hart, Development Services Director, introduced Jim Pearman, City Council Liaison to the Design Commission, and Jim Stapper, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee as well as new staff, Shelley Krueger.  Mr. Hart then summarized the staff report, briefed the Commission on the Ad Hoc process, and stated the issues that remained unresolved.  These included internally lit signs and remodeling threshold for conformance to current standards.


The Planning Commission will hold a public meeting addressing the proposed standards on April 7, 2004.  City Council will have two readings of the proposed standards.  The first will occur on May 3, 2004, and the second will occur May 17, 2003.


Chairman Glick began the general discussion of the standards.


Overall comments included a suggestion for definitions at the beginning of the document.  Staff responded that these will be included in Chapter 19.16 with definitions for the entire MICC.


Comments on 19.12.010 included:

§         (G) Design Vision should include a broader word for “landscape imagery” to avoid connotation of just planting; there was general agreement that Staff should address this item.

§         Some felt the standards too prescriptive and the examples too specific.  Staff responded that examples and specific language are intended to provide clarity for applicants.  Staff feels this will help ensure legally defensible decisions.  The use of “should” provides flexibility for applicants and for the Design Commission to accept superior options.


Some questioned whether the definition of “should” was consistently and intentionally applied in certain standards where this term was used.  He provided as an example, 19.12.020(B)(1)(b).  In this example, the use of “should” appeared to mean “if feasible” and may in fact be in effect asking the design commission to balance the standard with other objectives and standards.  However, as defined in 19.12.010(D), it requires the applicant to demonstrate an equal or better means of satisfying the objective of respecting natural landforms and the standard of conserving the more fragile areas of a site.  Staff agreed that we need to be clear about what “should” means and will look at this closer. 


Comments on 19.12.030 included:

§         (B)(6) refers to a range of slopes for a roof; this is confusing and seems to imply varying the pitch of the roof in these ranges; Staff will clarify

§         the term “bright colors” has been confusing in the past; Staff will modify to include “white and other bright colors”


Comments on 19.12.040 included:

§         Numeric standards are included as minimums to allow the Design Commission to reject a landscape design based on insufficient plant material; these prescriptive standards are a starting point

§         Request for a change from “designing” to “planning” in (B)(1)

§         Minimum plantings and tree requirements in parking lots mean less land for parking; projects under 20 parking spaces should be exempt

§         Promoting off-site vistas refers to view from inside the site, not protecting views through the site from off-site areas; Staff will clarify

§         References to “prescriptive standards” will be removed to avoid confusion

§         It is difficult to enforce screens based on “plant maturity.”  The standards should address a time line for levels of maturity to achieve screening.  There was some disagreement regarding specific timelines – 2-3 years was suggested, but this means promoting fast growing “hedge” plants that will require thinning and may cause buffer failure from overcrowding at maturity.  It was noted that it was desirable to have plants achieve their natural growth form to be consistent with the existing natural landscape character of the island.  Two solutions are wider planting beds and requiring mature plant material at time of implementation.

§         “Visible” razor & barbed wire should be clarified to “visible from a public right of way”


There were no comments on 19.12.050.


19.12.060 raised the issue of noise restrictions.  Staff responded that WAC noise code is referenced in this section and addressed elsewhere in the MICC.


Comments on 19.12.070 noted that light spillage to areas off-site are addressed in (A)(4).  This section does not address light from City ball fields. 


Comments on 19.12.080 included:

§         (B)(1)(c):  the term “proportionate” may be too subjective; individuals responded that the Design Commission has used it in the past without incident to propose changes; the Design Commission rarely allows the maximum sign size

§         These standards differ from the Town Center in that joint tenant signs are smaller, particularly within street setbacks, and would prohibit internally lit signs outside of the PBZ

§         (B)(2)(e) “compatible” is unclear; Staff will clarify

§         (B)(11)(k):  vending machines visible from the public right of way are prohibited; several commissioners agreed with this section

§         There was some disagreement regarding the required size of address numbers.  Some felt the numbers should be limited to the size required for safety; others felt they should be larger than the proposed 9”



§         In response to questions, Staff will define a “significant” change in landscaping that would trigger either design review


Development Services Director Richard Hart gave a visual presentation on internally illuminated signs in the PBZ and the Town Center.  Participants considered the proposed language to allow internally lit signs in these areas with restrictions.  Comments included the following:

§         Some were in favor of allowing internally illuminated signs; the problem has been design, not internal illumination

§         Some were against all internal illumination and thought there are superior methods of exterior lighting that won’t “cheapen” the aesthetics of the Island

§         Businesses may need internal illumination to attract customers; it is important to attract a variety of business to the Island

§         External illumination problems were noted, such as light pollution

§         Some felt internal illumination is acceptable in the PBZ and Town Center but not residential areas; others felt it is fine in all areas

§         A poorly designed non-internally lit sign can add more light pollution than an internally illuminated sign; focus needs to be on design

§         Architecture needs to provide spaces for signs

§         Internally illuminated signs add light clutter and conflict with the higher quality of aesthetics on Mercer Island

§         It would be difficult to prohibit internally illuminated signs now, since the Design Commission has already approved five large projects in the Town Center with electrical signs

§         Flexibility is needed to determine sign measurement (including background, etc)

§         25% of the area for window signs is too large and creates clutter

§         City Council should authorize more resources for Staff to enforce against illegal signs that create clutter

§         All signs, even those that are not internally illuminated, need to be of high quality and compatible with the architecture of the building


Jim Stapper noted that there was not time during this Study Session to specifically address school portables.


The latest revised version of the standards will be sent to Design Commission members as well as Planning Commission members.  Planning Commission Chair Steve Bryan invited the entire group to attend the Planning Commission meeting on April 7th 2004 when these standards will be discussed.


The next Design Commission meeting will be April 14th, 2004


Adjournment:  11:05pm


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