Mixed-used development planned for Town Center passes design review

March 31, 2021 | by Erin Sirianni

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Northwest corner of the Xing Hua Development | Rendering courtesy of Johnston Architects

At its February 24th public meeting, the Mercer Island Design Commission voted in favor of approving the design for the Xing Hua mixed-use development, proposed for a central block of Mercer Island town center. The site is currently the location of MudBay, Tiger Garden Chinese Restaurant, and King Insurance.

The Design Commission’s approval represents an essential step forward for the property development. According to the City of Mercer Island, the decision “confirms that the design is consistent with Town Center regulations,” and the next step for the project is the review and approval of a building permit before construction can begin.

SE Plaza / Main Entrance | Rendering courtesy Johnston Architects

Xing Hua’s proposal consists of a four-story, mixed-use building above two levels of underground parking; 159 residential apartments, of which 16 are affordable; 14,030 square feet of retail and restaurant space at the ground floor to accommodate 3 restaurants and 6 retail businesses; 4 public plazas; an east-west pedestrian through-block connection along the north side of the property (just south of the McDonald’s property); and a private courtyard for tenants.

NE corner of development | Rendering courtesy Johnston Architects

The property’s location is at the center of Mercer Island’s downtown core, and past efforts to develop the site have faced significant community opposition. When Hines, another developer, pursued acquiring the site with plans for re-development in 2015, community activist group Save Our Suburbs led a movement to pressure the City Council to put in place a moratorium on all building permits in Town Center. The council responded by adopting a moratorium that 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, with new standards for design, architecture, streetscapes, parking, building height, and more.

At the February 24th meeting, commissioner Colin Brandt called the commission’s decision to approve the design of the Xing Hua development “a major milestone in the commission’s history.” He added, “This is the first big building that’s come through under the new code. I think we should think about whether the new code has been successful, whether it’s served the community, and about what the building would have looked like under the old code versus the new.”

NW Plaza | Rendering courtesy Johnston Architects

In contrast to Hines proposal in 2015, the project is four stories versus five and does not include the adjacent property at the northeast corner of 77th Ave SE and SE 29th St, where First Church of Christ, Scientist, Church and Reading Room is located. The Xing Hua development also provides for more public open space and enhanced pedestrian access around the building.

Johnston Architects is the architectural firm leading the project, and the landscape architecture is by SiteWorkshop. In an email, Megan McKay, a Johnston Architects partner overseeing the project, shared:

“We think the project will lend further walkability and vibrancy to the geographic heart of Town Center and strengthen the retail core. The design team heavily focused on provisioning the ground-floor public and sidewalk spaces with lots of lush and interesting landscaping elements, so we hope the community will see the project as an asset to Mercer Island when it is completed.”

Update on April 14th: According to a recent announcement from the City, the project is still awaiting a written decision of the Design Commission’s approval. The commission is reconvening on April 22nd to review an updated packet of materials, since the city’s interim Community Planning and Development Director noted “inconsistencies” in the exhibits presented to the Design Commission in the latest packet.

Learn more about the project on Let’s Talk Mercer Island: https://letstalk.mercergov.org/xing-hua

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