If re-elected, I would pursue the following data-driven actions, which I believe reflect Islanders’ desires and values. These actions would be refined, vetted, and evaluated for public support through rigorous public processes and engagement. Each proposed action could be completed within my next term if supported by a majority of the City Council.
On April 6, 2021, Elliott Weiss, Project Manager at Community Attributes Inc., briefed the Mercer Island City Council on the draft, “Mercer Island Town Center Economic Analysis Memorandum,” presented along with Agenda Bill 5841.
The draft memorandum sought to inform the City Council on the feasibility of adding back the previously mandated commercial use requirement on the ground floor that the City Council removed by a vote of 4-2 on June 6, 2016.
In his economic analysis, Weiss presented data that supported the need for the remaining 339,446 sq./ft. of Town Center retail space, including the 1% vacant space, a scant 2,600 sq./ft., plus an additional 30,000 sq./ft—supported by planned population growth through 2040.
The analysis also presented several proforma development models, which predictably showed four and five-story mixed-use developments would support a retail requirement. In contrast, a three-story multi-family, the current zoning in most of the area within the moratorium, would not.
The data also presented multi-family unit growth from 2000 to 2021 and an inventory of the total Town Center retail sq./ft. from 2006 to 2021. The data showed a correlation between multi-family unit growth and retail sq./ft. whereby multi-family unit growth coincided with a retail sq./ft. contraction of roughly 11% between 2006 and 2021.
The observed retail contraction during redevelopment draws attention to the need to preserve existing Town Center retail sq./ft. while finding opportunities to create the additional 30,000 sq./ft. of future demand highlighted in the report.
Strategies I proposed to help the City meet these goals include:
Adding back and expanding the Town Center retail requirement to include the south end of Town Center; generally, the area south of S.E. 29th St. and adding the areas within the north end of the Town Center that currently don’t have this requirement.
Add a no-net-loss commercial sq./ft. requirement to the Town Center development regulations.
Develop a comprehensive Town Center on-street parking plan that identifies all available and potential parking capacity, ascribes parking hours and restrictions, implements pay to park where necessary, supported with a sustainable parking enforcement plan.
Revise onsite parking requirements for net-new single-story small retail and small restaurant development fronting 78th Ave S.E. and 77th Ave S.E. to utilize city-owned on-street parking to fulfill some or all parking requirements when onsite parking is not feasible.
Proposed City of Mercer Island Comprehensive Plan Amendment for 2022
In a 1963 study by, John Graham, for the City of Mercer Island, he concluded that the community desired to keep their parkland as “just plain old open space.” Over the decades since then, Mercer Island has judiciously added acreage to their parks and open space system as a commitment to the community. Recreational activities provided by the City have also expanded over that timeframe.
Today, I believe we need to strengthen that commitment and propose a Comprehensive Plan Amendment that augments the existing language in the existing Comprehensive Plan surrounding acquisition of park and open space acreage by establishing a quantifiable metric to easily measure, and more importantly, spur the City to action.
Land Use Element – Park & Open Space Policies
Incorporate into Goal #20 –
“Ensure the viability and health of the park system and the value of the user experience by managing the acreage of parks and open spaces such that total parks and open space acreage per 1,000 population does not drop below 15.8.”
The population of Mercer Island has steadily grown over the past 30 years. As shown in the Table I, the population increase/decade has been growing.
Fortunately, over that same period, the Mercer Island Parks & Open Space acreage has also grown with the addition of the following large parcels of land:
- Aubrey Davis Park – 1990 86.5 Acres
- Luther Burbank Park – 2003 72.6
- Engstrom Open Space – 2002 & 2006 8.5
Thus, of the current 475 acres of park and open spaces, about 170 acres (36%) have been acquired in the past 30 years. (It should be noted that the Luther Burbank Park was a county-owned and managed property prior to its’ transfer to the City of Mercer Island).
However, the growth rate/decade has decreased dramatically. Part of the reason is the tremendous growth between 1990 -2010 which was due to special circumstances that are not easily repeatable. Also, the availability of raw land has decreased, and the cost of property has increased dramatically.
How Does Mercer Island Compare to Other Cities?
Using a common density metric of acres/1,000 of population, Table III reveals that Mercer Island is in the middle of the pack when compared to several surrounding communities.
Each of these communities are in a different stage of their maturity or build-out, such that future opportunities to acquire parkland and open space vary widely. What is well recognized in the region is that population growth will continue at a healthy pace. (Note: We expect the new PROS Plan, 2021 – 2026, will update this table.) With the exception of Issaquah, all of these other communities have populations that are substantially larger than Mercer Island.
In Table IV the density metric is updated using 2019 population estimates and the most recent PROS plan published by each city. Overall, there has been very little increase in park acreage, but healthy population increases that have driven the ratios lower.
What Does the Future Hold for the Mercer Island Parks & Open Spaces?
Since 2010, the Mercer Island acreage/capita ratio has been falling as population increases have vastly exceeded parkland acquisition thus exposing a troublesome trend (see Table V).
An estimate of 15.8 acres/1,000 persons for 2030 assumes a fully-built out population of 30,000* and no additions of park space (i.e., 475 acres). To maintain the 2020 ratio of 18.3 implies that 75 acres would need to be acquired. To provide perspective, that means a parcel of land the size of Luther Burbank (including Upper Luther Burbank) would need to be acquired.
*The population estimate of 30,000 is based on a fully-built out community using the most recent Puget Sound Regional Growth Council estimates for the number of occupied housing units, and average household size.
Furthermore, there is increasing anecdotal evidence that off-Island usage of our parks is growing as other nearby communities experience safety issues in their parks.
What Does This Comp Plan Amendment Accomplish?
The proposed amendment accomplishes several things:
- By establishing an easily understandable metric, i.e., park acreage/capita, the community can measure the potential for “intensity of use” or crowding, or better the understand the capacity of our parks to absorb population growth.
- It provides an early-warning indicator such that the City can take necessary steps
- It should be noted that the current Comp Plan has “soft” language about parkland acquisition, but this amendment quantifies the issue, and increases emphasis, and the possible need for action.
- It further highlights the importance of parks for our community.
It can also be used as a metric as the community examines the need for another parks levy in 2023.
The City Council, each fall, reviews the proposed slate of Comp Plan amendments for the coming year. Thus, if this proposal is included in the 2022 Work Plan, it would be reviewed by City Staff and the community, with an anticipated vote to add to the Comp Plan in mid-to-late 2022.
The current parks levy is scheduled to expire in 2023. Adopting such language signals to the community the City’s expressed desire to maintain sufficient park space.
New Research on Estimating The “Right” Amount of Park Space or Level of Service
There is a growing body of research that categories the metric, acreage per capita, as a “first generation” or a traditional level of service (LOS). In this somewhat raw measure, there is no assessment of the value or benefits that the parkland and open spaces provide. Nevertheless, it can be valuable from a trend perspective.
A “second generation” of measurements seeks to examine closer metrics that provide more insight, but still use city-wide data. For example:
- Acres of Parkland Per Capita (1.0 generation)
- Acres of Parkland Per Square Mile (1.0)
- Acres of Developed Parkland Per Capita (2.0)
- Acres of Developed Parkland Per Square Mile (2.0)
- The % of households within a 10-minute walk of a park (2.0)
- The % of residents that participate/use the parks (2.0)
- The % of the population satisfied with the condition of park & rec facilities (2.0)
These second-generation metrics seek to provide a better overall picture by dividing parkland into developed and undeveloped (open space) area suggesting that there are qualitative differences between the two, and more importantly, the community may value them differently.
Also, by introducing a comparison of parkland to total land provides a perspective of how much a City’s overall land size is devoted to parks & open space (see Table VI). Mercer Island compares favorably to other eastside communities.
Furthermore, the total park acreage can be further classified as developed or undeveloped with much of what’s traditionally characterized as “open space” included in the undeveloped category. Mercer Island’s park system is about 35% developed which fits in the middle of the range for the communities surveyed.
A third generation of metrics (3.0) looks at the “recreational value” or put another way, how is the park land used, and by whom. Thus, rather than looking at land mass and population these metrics seek to understand how residents (and non-residents) use the various amenities provided.
Metrics can include the following:
- The condition of the park (a park “grade”) (3.0 generation)
- The number of amenities or opportunities in a park (3.0)
- The usage of those amenities (3.0)