Mercer Island officials say they’ll recommend halting plans to build a new parking facility adjacent to Luther Burbank Park after an uprising by residents.
Mayor Bruce Bassett said a committee working on parking and commuter issues would ask the full City Council on Jan. 5 to stop further studies of a new park-and-ride garage or parking lot on city-owned land behind the island’s community center and on the west edge of the popular Lake Washington park.
More than 600 residents signed an online petition protesting the use of parkland for at least 200 new parking spaces. Sound Transit is looking for a site for parking when it closes the Bellevue Way Park and Ride for construction of a new light-rail station.
“We’re very pleased that they’ve put the plans on hold for now,” said Sue Stewart, a longtime resident and board member of Friends of Luther Burbank Park. “It was promised to us as a park, and we don’t want to lose any part of it.”
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City leaders had said the land was not part of the park and was included in a 2006 park master plan by mistake.
Bassett said the city might consider an alternative site halfway between the future light-rail station and a planned performing-arts center, which doesn’t now include parking. He said the city also might update zoning for its town center, where more growth is envisioned to accompany a future light-rail station.
Mercer Island residents have long complained that the Mercer Island Park and Ride garage, with 440 spaces, fills up by 7:30 a.m. and that about half of the people parking there don’t live on the island.
Sound Transit had offered to spend up to $6.3 million to build the additional parking facility, which, because it would be on city land, could revert to city control after several years, guaranteeing more space for local commuters.
Sound Transit will continue to search for parking options, said spokesman Geoff Patrick. With construction on the new South Bellevue station scheduled to begin in 2018, he said, a parking site with convenient access to Interstate 90 needs to be identified by 2016.
Mercer Island Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz acknowledged in an email to residents Tuesday that the parking discussions “hit a raw nerve.” Rather than “keep a large number of Islanders in combat-ready mode over the holidays,” he said, the committee, which includes himself, Bassett and Councilmember Debbie Bertlin, would ask the full council to stop studies of the park site.
Some residents said the parking proposal has raised concerns about future growth and development in the island’s town center, near Interstate 90, where the city has allowed taller buildings and more density over the past few years. Zoning now limits building heights downtown to five stories.
Tom Aker, who grew up on the island and moved back from Seattle a year and a half ago, has helped form a group called “Save Our Suburbs” to prevent the island community from turning into what he characterized as a “transit hub.”
He said development along Sound Transit’s light-rail route through Seattle’s Rainier Valley was too dense, architecturally unattractive and didn’t include parking. He’s also concerned that Sound Transit and Metro want to locate a bus turnaround point on the north end of the island for transit coming in from the east to connect with light rail.
“The conversation needs to be opened up for what residents of Mercer Island would like to have the town center become,” Aker said.