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Council Completes Town Center Visioning Process With Approval of Updated Development Code

June 8, 2016 – At its Monday, June 6 meeting, the City Council voted 4-2 to approve an updated ordinance guiding development in the Island’s Town Center business district.  The passage of Ordinance 16C-06 (available here) represents the culmination of more than two years of work by community members, elected officials, City staff, and consultants.
 
The process was one of the most lengthy public engagement efforts ever undertaken by the City and Islanders were able to take advantage of more opportunities for community input than any other policy update in recent memory. By refreshing the 20-year vision for Town Center, the updated ordinance strikes a compromise that helps maintain a high quality of life for all Islanders, while preparing for changes coming to the region.
 
“I believe this refreshed version of the City's Town Center Code marks a big step forward for today’s residents and future generations. The code will emphasize architectural quality, incorporate a variety of new attributes at the human-scale, protect the environment, and offer a more noticeable sense of place,” said Mayor Bruce Bassett.
 
In early 2014, the City Council formed a subcommittee to review the existing code and vision for Town Center, followed by conversations with 29 community stakeholders, and the subsequent hiring of a consultant to evaluate possible changes to the code. These suggested updates were then discussed in early 2015 by a diverse 42-member Town Center Stakeholder Group over the course of six meetings, and were also open for comment via online form and at nearly a dozen public meetings across the Island.
 
By the summer of 2015, the City had released the Town Center Visioning and Development Code Update Interim Report to the community, reflecting a draft 20-year vision for the development rules that would apply to Town Center.  In November 2015, the draft language began receiving careful scrutiny and deliberation via the Joint Commission – a temporary forum composed of both the City’s Planning and Design Commissions, empowered to craft Final Recommendations on the fundamental components of a proposed ordinance for consideration by the City Council.
 
Following an extensive comment period this spring, including a formal public hearing on May 9, 2016, Council then began its deliberations which concluded with its recent June 6 meeting. The new ordinance replaces the previous 20-year vision for Town Center, adopted in 1994, and also signals the end of a development moratorium (scheduled to end June 20) that temporarily prohibited the submission of applications for most commercial building permits in Town Center while new rules were drafted.
 
 “This isn’t going to change Town Center overnight, but as time passes, we’ll start to see the components that mattered most to the stakeholders who weighed in during this process,” said Mayor Bassett. “These include: lower building heights in some blocks; larger, more-accessible open spaces; additional daylight at street level; larger sidewalks; and other mandatory public amenities.”
 
 Significant components of the new ordinance include:
  • Lower building height limits throughout the Town Center area
  • New open space, affordability and architectural requirements for buildings over 2 stories tall
  • New architectural standards, including upper floor step backs to reduce large vertical surfaces
  • Concentrating retail north of SE 29th Street by eliminating ground floor retail requirements in other areas of Town Center
  • New Green Building requirements
  • Enhanced public open space requirements
  • Better defined mid-block pedestrian connections
  • Street frontage use and improvement standards
 
Learn more about the Town Center Visioning process at www.mercergov.org/towncenter

For more information, contact Alison VanGorp, Administrative Services Manager, Development Services Group, via Email (Alison.VanGorp@mercergov.org).
 



 

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