The mayors of the cities of Mercer Island and Mill Creek told members of the Sammamish City Council this week about their experiences shaping large city center-type developments.
“Your peers are here to provide some observations after having gone down that road themselves,” said Sammamish Community Development Director Kamuron Gurol.
The peer review was the latest in a long series of council meetings about the proposed changes to the Town Center Plan, which is scheduled to be adopted next month as an amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
Mill Creek Mayor Terry Ryan spoke about Mill Creek’s vision, which resulted in 425,000 square feet of mixed use development, put in during a span of about five years. The process would have gone quicker and more smoothly if the city had bonded and built Main Street, Ryan said.
However, the end product has a mix of retail, condominiums, apartments, a gym, grocery and other elements, and has served the purpose of “creating a central identity” for the city, he said.
“What it’s really done is brought our community together,” Ryan said, citing events now held in the downtown such as a yearly festival and a race called “Run of the Mill.”
The reason he said he would recommend the city playing an active role in developing a central portion of the plan is the fact that different builders in Mill Creek weren’t as concerned with what the area as a whole would look like when completed.
“The key for us was to attract different types of retailers and different types of restaurants,” Ryan said.
Mill Creek’s Town Center has about 425,000 square feet of new development, including 318,000 square feet of retail space, 46,000 square feet of residential space and 61,000 square feet of office space, he said.
“If we could do it all over again, we’d do it all over again, he summed up.
Mercer Island Mayor Jim Pearman said that the city’s Central Business District has undergone a considerable transformation in recent years. “In our community, change is a huge thing,” Pearman said.
Positive highlights of work done and underway in Mercer Island include a public/private partnership to build a plaza connecting two residential and retail projects with the existing sculpture garden and a planned interactive water feature for kids.
A hugely important factor has been the involvement of the city’s design commission, Pearman said, which has vastly improved a number of the projects now built out or in process.
“We do not want ugly buildings in our community,” he said.
The gist of the vision for Mercer Island was to cluster taller buildings with more residential density to the north end of the downtown, adjacent to Interstate 90. From there, the buildings stair-step lower until they reach the southern edge of the downtown near Mercerdale Park.
Pearman related two things he would have liked to have done differently:
• Defined “public spaces” more clearly from the get-go (because in some of the early projects, developers made plazas that were billed as “public” but ended up being closed off for residents only).
• Somehow ensured that developers would build retail spaces that allow businesses to thrive.
He recommended that Sammamish officials consider carefully defining what “retail” can encompass.
“We said, ‘Banks are not retail, professional services are not retail, mortgage companies are not retail,’” Pearman said.
“As an Island, 75 percent of people think (the changes are) great now; 25 percent of people want to run me out of town,” he said.
The Sammamish Town Center planning area lies between East Main Street on the north, Southeast Eighth Street on the south, 233rd Avenue on the east and 222nd Street on the west. It includes the 30-acre Sammamish Commons, City Hall, the skate park and 20 acres of open space, play area, picnic facilities and trails.
The Sammamish Planning Commission reviewed the Town Center plan extensively, and suggested several amendments, the most significant of which would confine mixed use developments to the west side of 228th, rather than allowing it on both sides.
The city will be accepting further amendments from council members and citizens. An input form is available on the city’s Web site at www.ci.sammamish.wa.us — click on the calendar, then the May 20 council meeting.
At the May 20 meeting, the council also will hold a public hearing about the Town Center Plan, and a first reading of the ordinance adopting the plan. The council is scheduled to deliberate and potentially make a decision at its June 3 meeting. If a decision cannot be reached, a “fall-back” date has been tentatively set for June 9.
For more information about the Town Center project, visit the city’s Web site and click on “Town Center” in the lefthand column of links.
Wendy Giroux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 391-0363, ext. 5050.