Why are comprehensive plan and code changes being proposed? Is this necessary?

    The applicants would like to the redevelop their properties to facilitate current and future needs. The applicants could redevelop their property under the current zoning on their properties. However, the development that might occur may not be desirable for either the applicant or the community.

    To ensure that future development at the applicants’ site meets the needs of the existing facilities but also is designed to address impacts to the community, a new zone has been proposed. Before a new zone can be created, a comprehensive plan amendment must be adopted to provide parameters for the new zone.

    The purpose of this process is to provide notice and predictability to the community, and allow for thoughtful development of the site.

    If the SJCC / FASPS / Herzl can do this under the current zoning, why change?

    The applicant for this project, the SJCC, FASPS, and Herzl-, has proposed a new zone called a Private Community Facilities zone. Currently the site is a hodge podge of different zones that makes permitting a difficult process that may not result in an outcome that is favorable to the tenant or the community.

    The rezone process is a thorough planning process with multiple steps. It starts with a comprehensive plan amendment. The comprehensive plans goals and policies provide direction for the writing of a zoning code amendment. A comprehensive plan goal is a very high-level statement of what the city wants to achieve. A policy is high level direction the city should take to achieve a goal.

    If the proposed comprehensive plan amendment is adopted, the applicant will then move forward with their proposed rezone and zoning code text amendment. The rezone would rezone all of the applicants’ properties to the newly proposed zone, the Private Community Facilities Zone. The zoning code text amendment process will determine which uses would be allowed in the new zone. It will also determine the standards by which uses in that zone must comply (setbacks, height limits, lot coverage, vehicular and pedestrian circulation, parking, lighting, noise attenuation, etc.).

    Only after a comprehensive plan amendment, rezone, and zoning code amendment are adopted, could the applicant apply for a project to be reviewed by the standards of the new zone. The current process will not result in the approval of a specific development project.

    Will the proposal result in the removal of properties from the tax base?

    Federal tax law enables nonprofit organizations and religious institutions to be exempt from taxes, including state and local property taxes.  The City does not have authority over the private sale or purchase of properties.  Private entities (both non-profit and for-profit) are free to purchase properties as they desire.  The current zoning code allows uses such as schools, places of worship, and recreational areas to be located in residential zones. The proposal will not affect the tax base any differently than the existing zoning. 

    Does the applicant have a fully formed plan?

    No, the applicant does not have a fully formed plan. The applicant has provided conceptual plans to support the proposed amendment to the comprehensive plan and the creation of a new zone.  Adoption of a comprehensive plan amendment would NOT result in approval of a specific project.

    Currently, the City Council is about to review a proposed comprehensive plan amendment outlining new goals and policies that could enable the creation of a new zone.  If the proposed comprehensive plan amendment is adopted, the City could then create development regulations for the new zone, a process that would include public meetings and public hearings. Only then, after development regulations are approved, could an applicant apply for a development project in the new zone.

    Where would the new zoning designation apply? Would it include other sites in addition to SJCC/FASPS/Herzl?

    The City is evaluating whether it may make sense to apply the new Private Community Facilities zone to additional properties in the city. There are other private community facilities located in residential zones other than the applicants’ facilities that may be good candidates for the new zone.  The needs and impacts of other facilities will be considered as the new zone is contemplated.

    Does this process approve a specific plan or development project on the SJCC/FASPS/Herzl properties?

    No.  Neither adoption of a comprehensive plan amendment, nor a rezone, nor a zoning code amendment would result in approval of a specific project. Currently, the planning commission is reviewing a proposed comprehensive plan amendment. The City is considering new goals and policies for the comprehensive plan that could enable the creation of a new zone.

    If the proposed comprehensive plan amendment is adopted, the City could then adopt a zoning code amendment and could rezone properties to be subject to the new zone. Each of these actions would include a public process with public meetings and public hearings. Only after all of theses steps occur could an applicant apply for a development project in the new zone. 

    This proposal will create impacts in my neighborhood, including more traffic, lighting, and noise. How will these impacts be considered and mitigated?

    The mitigation of known and possible impacts will be considered as part of the comprehensive plan amendment and zoning code amendment process.  It begins with the comprehensive plan process. Comprehensive plan goals and policies contain language that states specific impacts will be addressed. The impacts that need to be addressed are determined during the amendment process and are informed by input of the public. Specifics of how those impacts will be addressed is part of the next step which is the drafting of zoning code language. Zoning code language is based on Comprehensive Plan goals and policies. The zoning code language provides specific direction and limitations of how a site can be developed. The City is charged with writing zoning code that addresses mitigation of the types of impacts as stated in the comprehensive plan.

    Public comments help inform staff of current and possible future impacts of a proposal. When staff knows of impact concerns, they can ensure that the mitigation of impacts are addressed through language in the comprehensive plan and zoning code. 

    What are the steps and timeline of the process?

    Currently, the City Council is reviewing goals and policies that are proposed for adoption into the comprehensive plan. The Council held two readings (reviews) of the proposed comprehensive plan amendments where they considered the merits of the proposed amendments along with the planning commissions’ recommendation. The final decision on whether to adopt the proposed amendments is scheduled on November 20th.

    Next, the planning commission will create development standards and a rezone of the JCC/FASPS/ Herzl properties, beginning in Late 2018.

    Why isn’t the City drafting development regulations along with the proposed comprehensive plan amendment for a new zone?

    State law requires development regulations to be consistent with the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan. By adopting the comprehensive plan amendment prior to crafting development regulations, the City can ensure the development regulations will reflect the Comprehensive Plan. Adopting regulations simultaneously with a comprehensive plan amendment is not a best practice, as this requires the regulations to be crafted before the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan have been adopted.

    How does the Comprehensive Plan amendment process work?

    There are multiple steps to the process of creating a new land use designation, a new zoning designation and zoning regulations. The first step requires adoption of a comprehensive plan amendment. This process is two-fold: 

    1. Approval of the proposed amendment for inclusion on a docket of comprehensive plan updates that will be considered the following year; and

    2. Adoption of the actual comprehensive plan amendment.

    The purpose of the comprehensive plan amendment language is to identify a policy direction that the City will seek to implement in the subsequent zoning designation.  For example, what types of community facilities are appropriate in a private community facilities zoning designation? Should single family homes be allowed in this zoning designation?  Should Design Review be required?

    How does the code amendment and re-zone process work?

    After adoption of the comprehensive plan amendment, the next step is a code amendment where the new zoning designation would be created. The new zoning designation would detail the allowed uses and the size and intensity of allowed development within the zone.  The final step would be a rezone of the applicant’s property to the new zone.

    The Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC) met with the City last fall to discuss their interest to work with adjacent partners, the French American School of Puget Sound (FASPS), and Herzl-Ner Tamid (Herzl), and to enter into a master planning arrangement to accommodate a reconfiguration of properties and structures to facilitate their long-term needs. The City recommended a rezone of the property as the best way to achieve the proposed reconfiguration, and that a new zoning designation would be appropriate.  Prior to creation of a new zoning designation and associated regulations, the City must first determine the high-level goals and objectives for the new zone.  Thus, the City is starting with the Comprehensive Plan Amendment. 

    How long has this conversation been going on?

    How long has this conversation been going on?

    In September 2017, the SJCC/FASPS/Herzl team applied for the comprehensive plan amendment to be added to the 2018 docket for consideration. In December 2017, the 2018 comprehensive plan amendment docket was adopted, and the comprehensive plan amendment proposed by the SJCC team was adopted as one of 14 total comprehensive plan amendments that would be considered during 2018.

    The process for consideration of the specifics of the comprehensive plan amendment began in April 2018, when the planning commission was provided with a brief introduction to the concept. The SJCC/FASPS/Herzl team held a meeting for the immediate neighbors to the south of their property on May 31, 2018, and the City held its first public meeting for the comprehensive plan amendment on June 6, 2018.

    How many times and when did the City meet with the applicants and did these meetings influence the French American School’s decision to purchase properties?

    King County records show that the school began their purchase of properties years before they discussed their current proposal with the City. The five residential properties acquired by the FASPS were purchased between October, 2013 and June, 2017. The applicant approached the City with their current proposal in a meeting on September 12, 2017. Staff and the applicants met again on March 22, 2018 and April 19, 2018 to discuss the upcoming process and to discuss draft language of the proposed goals and policies.

    The existing zoning and development regulations allow private schools to be developed on residential properties. A school could be developed on these properties today, without approval of the proposed comprehensive plan amendment.

    How do public comments affect project decisions?

    How do public comments affect project decisions?

    Public comments are recorded as a part of the public record and shared with the decision-making body (e.g. Planning Commission or City Council).  Public comments must be considered in the decision-making process.  The Planning Commission and City Council are tasked with making recommendations and adopting policy and regulations based on their own judgement, taking into account their analysis of technical information, expert input and public comment.

    How can I get involved?

    There are several ways to get involved. You may post comments and questions on this website.  You may contact Nicole Gaudette, the lead for this project, to learn more about the proposal and to submit comments (nicole.gaudette@mercergov.org). You may attend community meetings, planning commission meetings and public hearings to learn about the project, ask questions, and make comments. A schedule of the meetings is posted on here.