A New Proposed Development for a prime Mercer Island Town Center location

January 22, 2019 | by Scott Strandberg

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It took nearly four years, but mixed-use development plans appear to be back on the table for the King Insurance property in Mercer Island Town Center. The City of Mercer Island’s Design Commission is meeting on January 23rd for a second round of study sessions regarding a new proposal to develop the property located at 2885 78th Ave SE.

Developer Xing Hua Group Ltd. is partnering with Johnson Architects to propose 16,000 square feet of retail storefront on the ground floor, with 155 residential units above the retail space. The proposal includes a number of features required by the Town Center code, including a pedestrian walkway on the north end of the property and public squares on the northwest and southeast corners.

The initial study session took place in November, when the Design Commission provided guidance to the developers regarding details of the design elements. Both parties hope to finish the design review process by the end of 2019.

Currently, the site of Xing Hua’s proposed development is home to King Insurance and Tiger Garden Chinese Restaurant on the southeast corner, with Mud Bay pet store and the Mercer Island CrossFit gym across the parking lot to the northwest. The adjacent First Church of Christ, Scientist, Church and Reading Room property on the northeast corner of 77th Ave SE and SE 29th St is not part of the Xing Hua proposal.

This is the first serious attempt to build on this site since the City Council passed the current Town Center Code in June 2016. In 2015, property developer Hines tried to build a five-story complex on the three parcels of land between QFC and New Seasons Market (formerly Albertsons), but a series of challenges proved to be too much for the project.

The Hines development met stiff opposition from the Save Our Suburbs activist coalition, which targeted the Town Center project as encouraging “the chaos we all try so hard to leave behind when we cross the bridge.” Members of the Save Our Suburbs group also successfully compelled the City Council to enact a temporary moratorium on building permits in Town Center, which ended up spanning February 16, 2015 to June 20, 2016. During this time, the City underwent an extensive evaluation and revision of the Town Center development code, and an updated code was adopted on June 6, 2016

Ultimately, the Hines proposal was unable to proceed because of three major issues, including their inability to land a Whole Foods store to anchor the site’s retail space. In addition, Hines had a disagreement with the City Council regarding parking, and the Design Commission denied the preliminary design due to insufficient public spaces on three sides of the building.

The Xing Hua proposal represents a revived effort to maximize the use of a large portion – approximately 1.45 acres – of Mercer Island’s Town Center core, and the design renderings, while preliminary, capture the future development’s transforming impact on the evolving downtown landscape.

[According to the City of Mercer Island, the above renderings “are conceptual, artistic representations only – not exactly how the finished project would look.” See all renderings and learn more information on the City’s website.]