City council approves ordinances allowing 236th St SW condemnations

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The area of 236th Street Southwest where the property condemnations were approved by the city council Monday night.

After listening to the concerns of several property owners during a public hearing, the Mountlake Terrace City Council voted unanimously March 20 to approve an ordinance that would allow condemnation of 33 right-of-way parcels along 236th Street Southwest for Phase 1 of the city’s Main Street Revitalization Project.

The city so far has acquired three out of the 36 parcels –  mostly around 2 ½ to 3 ½ feet wide – that are necessary for the project, which will run along 236th Street Southwest from just east of 56th Avenue West to the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center. Mountlake Terrace is facing a June 2017 deadline to finish the acquisitions in order to take advantage of already-committed project funding. The properties in question are listed by address on the ordinance here.

Prior to the public hearing, eminent domain attorney Kinnon Williams, hired by the city to facilitate acquisition of the additional parcels, told the council that even if the condemnation process begins, property owners can center into a possession and use agreement with the city while negotiations continue. This would allow owners “to take that money or apply it to their mortgage, depending on the situation, and still have an opportunity to continue to negotiate and/or contest the amount of compensation that the city believes is appropriate,” Williams said.

“Everyone will be treated fairly during this process and we will try to get it resolved as quickly as possible with as little impact on citizens as we can,” Williams said.

One property owner who spoke during the public hearing, Diane Broadley, said she is hoping to have her driveway moved to the east side of her home, since parking will be eliminated along 236th Street as part of the project. Her current driveway only has room for one vehicle and the second vehicle is now parked on 236th. The possession and use agreement only allows for negotiating a dollar amount, and not addressing the parking issue, said Broadley, who noted that she had requested that the driveway provision be included “a while ago” but had not heard back.

Broadley also voiced a complaint echoed by others who spoke Monday night: the amount of time property owners spend waiting for a reply from negotiators on the city side. “During this negotiating process it’s been common to wait 55 days until I hear back,” Broadley said.

Joe Miller, who also has property on 236th, told that council that he signed his agreement recently, but like Broadley has concerns about how long the process is taking. “I just think that all of this could have been planned out much, much better,” Miller said, noting that he first received overview information about the 236th Street project two years ago but then didn’t hear anything more until he received a notice about his property being acquired.

“Our first negotiation with the city took almost a month and half,” Miller said. “If the back-and-forth negotiation between the residents of the street and the city is a month each time, giving three months for negotiation is not adequate.”

Antonio Arroyo, who owns property behind the mini mart on 236th Street Southwest and 56th Avenue West, told the council he received a final notice three weeks ago that 397 feet of his property was needed. The notice surprised him, as he had not received a notice prior to the one marked final. “It’s too fast. It feels like they are rushing things,” he said.

Williams was quick to respond to speakers’ concerns, explaining that he had only recently been hired to facilitate the condemnation process and that he would do his best to find solutions for the issues identified. He pledged to work with Broadley to figure out a solution that both accommodates her parking needs and also follows city code. “The idea is not to put people out,” he said.

Councilmember Laura Sonmore spoke directly to citizens who had testified during the public hearing. “You have been heard. We do appreciate your comments very much,” she said.

The property the city plans to acquire is called “strip takes,” and it will be used for the addition of street trees, a two-way turn lane, and bike lanes on each side of the street. Existing street parking will be eliminated along that portion of 236th Street Southwest.

The project will tie in to the new Sound Transit light rail station with the goal of providing a better pedestrian corridor, including wider sidewalks.

The council also approved by a 7-0 vote a final docket for the 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendment process. The city’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan includes goals, policies and a land use map that indicates where land use districts (such as single family, community business, or industrial areas) are located throughout the city. The city may update its Comprehensive Plan no more than once a year, with limited exceptions. The 2017 update is planned to be completed by the end of June 2017.

The vote came after City Senior Planner Edith Duttlinger provided an update on a community open house held in late February to share information and gather input on the comprehensive plan amendment. Approximately 20 citizens attended the meeting, along with several members of the city’s Planning Commission, Duttlinger said.

The city did not receive any specific suggestions or specific amendments from citizens, she added, “so we are proceeding only with the items the council wishes to investigate and evaluate for potential amendment to the comprehensive plan,” she said. The Planning Commission at its meeting last week made the following recommendations for four amendments to be included in the final docket:

– Amend the Comprehensive Plan Land Use Map designation for publicly owned properties, acquired for parks and open space purposes, to “Parks and Open Space” (POS). Adopt a concurrent change in designation on the Official Zoning Map of “Recreation and Parks District” (REC).

– Amend the Town Center Subarea Plan to allow increase in building heights in some areas as an incentive tied to Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), Landscape Conservation Local Infrastructure Program (LCLIP) or sustainable development, environmental or other public benefit.

– Amend, in the Land Use Element of the plan, policies and action steps that align with current conditions and local, state, or federal requirements.

– Amend the Recreation, Parks and Open Space Element to consider a category or designation for special use parks and/or open space to support high-density and transit-oriented development (such as plazas, pocket parks or dog parks). This would also include evaluating and updating the Goals and Policies section to include a goal addressing financial stability and to periodically update the levels of service and impact fees.

“The Planning Commission had quite a bit of discussion about the proposed final docket,” Duttlinger said. “There were a number of concerns about light rail and the changes that have taken place in the last 10 years and that the Town Center Plan did not, could not anticipate all the changes that have taken place — first, the economic downturn and then the huge pressure on this area for jobs and for housing and the interest that there is in this community.” The Planning Commission’s vote on the final docket was 3-2, with two members absent.

Councilmember Doug McCardle asked if the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment regarding Town Center would reflect possible changes to the so-called superblock — between 234th Street Southwest and 232nd Street Southwest — that were discussed during the council retreat March 18. The council agreed that changes to the superblock should be addressed as part of that amendment. (You can read more about the vision for the Town Center and the superblock on the city website here.)

Councilmember Brian Wahl also proposed an amendment to the docket to include a review and update of council actions to take regarding elements from the Comprehensive Plan. That amendment was approved unanimously.

By voting for the proposed docket, the council isn’t adopting the amendments themselves but is directing staff to evaluate the merits of each so they can be discussed further. Next steps for the council regarding the Comprehensive Plan amendments are:

April 27: Work session to review proposed amendments
June 1: Work session to review the proposed amendments and an ordinance.
June 5 (tentative): Public hearing to consider the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments, public testimony, and other relevant information. Council may also take action to adopt an ordinance.

–By Teresa Wippel

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