Mixed-Use Development planned for Town Center enters Design Review

February 14, 2020 | by Scott Strandberg

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Five years have passed since property developer Hines first attempted to develop a mixed-use complex in Mercer Island’s Town Center, and it appears a new version of that project with a new developer and now property owner, Xing Hua Group Ltd., is finally poised to enter a design review phase.

The City of Mercer Island has set an initial public comment period that runs through February 26th, after which the City’s Design Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss the new proposal for 2750 77th Avenue SE and 2885 78th Avenue SE.

Hines dropped out of the project after failing to resolve several design issues with City Council, and today Xing Hua Group Ltd. is spearheading the efforts to build the development. Xing Hua’s proposal includes a four-story mixed-use building with 164 apartments and nearly 11,000 square feet of retail space, along with two levels of underground parking.

The current proposal is considerably smaller than the original plans proposed by Hines, which called for a five-story complex with 16,000 square feet of retail storefront. That project eventually stalled due to Hines’ inability to secure an anchor tenant for the site’s retail space, along with disagreements with City Council regarding the design of public spaces and a lack of sufficient parking.

Currently, the development site location includes 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 development site.

The Xing Hua development proposal includes a 20-foot-wide public pedestrian route along the north end of the property, near the McDonald’s restaurant on 78th Avenue. Xing Hua’s plans also call for four public plazas, a private courtyard for apartment tenants, and a loading dock and service area. The vast majority of the retail storefront would be built along 78th Avenue, across from the QFC.

It remains to be seen if this current development will face opposition, which played a crucial role in rejecting the original Hines development plan. Back in 2015, community activist group Save Our Suburbs led a movement to put in place a moratorium on all building permits in Town Center.

That moratorium ended up lasting for more than 16 months, from February 2015 to June 2016. Ultimately, the moratorium period gave the City an opportunity to reevaluate and revise several different aspects of the Town Center development code, which led to the adoption of an updated code.

The revised code set new standards for design, architecture, streetscapes, parking, and more, but the portion of the development code that derailed the original Hines development plan for Town Center was the new limitations on building height. The new code capped building heights between SE 27th Street and SE 29th Street at four stories, with a five-story exemption available only for developers who committed at least 7.5 percent of the gross floor area to public open spaces.

During the City’s public comment period on Xing Hua’s development plans, residents are encouraged to submit written comments to the Design Commission. Anyone wishing to make verbal comments may do so at the Commission’s public hearing, with a date and time to be set once the public comment period ends on February 26.

Xing Hua’s building plans and other associated documents are available on the City of Mercer Island website. The City also has a project overview, along with a selection of design renderings, on its Let’s Talk Mercer Island site.

Related reading: A New Proposed Development for a Prime Mercer Island Town Center location – January 22nd, 2019