City Council continues discussion about taller buildings, Town Center vision

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The current proposal for Mountlake Village LLC calls for an 8-story building on the former Roger’s Market site. (Illustration courtesy NextMLT.com)

The idea of taller buildings in Mountlake Terrace continued to be a topic of discussion during the Mountlake Terrace City Council’s June 1 work/study session.

Edith Duttlinger, the city’s acting community and economic development director, updated the council on a May 22 discussion by the Planning Commission. According to Duttlinger, the commission’s discussion focused on the Town Center and the Land Use Element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Commissioners were asked to review the vision for the Town Center — which covers about 72 acres along 56th Avenue West from about 228th Street Southwest to 244th Street Southwest — and determine if it needed updating.

You can see the complete Town Center Vision Statement included in the 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendment here, but it starts out this way:

At the heart of this neighborhood–and the community–is the town center (or “downtown,”) a central, pedestrian oriented business district. “Town Center” is a thriving and vibrant area, where many businesses and combined business/residential buildings are located.central, pedestrian-oriented business district.

After reviewing the vision statement, the planning commission agreed that the vision “was fine” and there was no need to change it, Duttlinger said.

The commission also discussed an expansion of the Town Center core area, which is currently the Town Center square — otherwise known as the “super-block” bounded by 56th and 58th Avenues West and 232nd and 234th Streets Southwest. The commission was in unanimous agreement that the core area should expand, “but not east-west, just north-south,” Duttlinger told the council. “They wanted to contain the Town Center core expanded area between 56th and 58th but take it up to 230th and down to 236th.” The  area would be divided into three “blocks” or “districts, she added.

There was some conversation about ways to stair-step building heights from the perimeter of the expanded core before allowing full height in the center of the blocks but the commission made no determination on the best approach at this time, she said.

Next, the commission talked about possible increases in building heights, as a follow up to the city’s April 26 meeting to discuss the city’s current plan for the entire Town Center — which covers about 72 acres along 56th Avenue West from about 228th Street Southwest to 244th Street Southwest. During that April 26 meeting, city officials raised the idea of allowing buildings up to 12 stories high in the Town Center area through the city’s 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendment process.

Duttlinger said that the planning commission “kind of came around to that an increase in building height seemed to be acceptable, provided that it’s done right,” which means quality building materials, good quality design, pedestrian open spaces and no visible parking lots. Later in the meeting, Duttlinger clarified that in discussing building heights, the commission was talking about three- to six-story buildings. Currently, the Town Center is zoned for buildings of five or six stories, depending on the particular location.

“I’m one of the people who do not like the (idea of) 14- and 12-story buildings in the downtown,” Councilmember Laura Sonmore said. “Our surrounding cities do not have buildings that tall.”

While walkability in the downtown core is important for future development — especially with a light rail station scheduled to come to Mountlake Terrace by 2023 — Sonmore and other councilmembers noted that it’s also important to keep the needs of existing residents in mind. Most of those residents are used to driving their cars from different parts of Mountlake Terrace to the downtown core, and will need places to park.

Mayor Jerry Smith said questioned whether the city’s consideration of allowing much taller buildings downtown is being driven by the developer of Mountlake Village LLC, which purchased the property on 56th Avenue West that housed the now-closed Roger’s Market, and has expressed a desire to build higher than the current zoning allows.

“I’m definitely against the tall buildings,” Smith said. “I’ll be voting that way all along.”

During the public comment period at the end of the June 1 meeting, Mountlake Terrace resident Stephen Barnes said that most MLT residents he has spoken with don’t support the type of height increases that were floated during the city’s April 26 meeting.

Mountlake Village LLC principal Alan Clarke has proposed an eight-story building on the Roger’s Market site but would like to go as high as 14 stories, said Barnes, who has filed to run for City Council this fall against incumbent Rick Ryan. “I’m telling you the citizens of Mountlake Terrace will not approve of that and if you approve it then you’re going to get on their bad side,” Barnes told the council.

In other action, the council:

– Referred to the Monday, June 5 council meeting consent agenda an agreement with Snohomish County PUD to install underground electrical switch vaults at planned public right-of-way locations for the city’s Town Center project. The switch vaults, each approximately 10 feet by 16 feet in size, will fulfill part of the Town Center vision to relocate existing overhead facilities underground.

– Also referred to Monday’s consent agenda a resolution that delegates authority to the city manager to sign and execute administrative settlement agreements related to property acquisition for phase 1 of the Main Street Revitalization Project.

– Determined that mid-August would be the best time to conduct the annual performance review for City Manager Scott Hugill.

– Heard an update from Snohomish Health District Interim Administrator Jeff Ketchel, including the results of the 2016 Healthy Youth Survey, which we covered in our earlier story here.

— By Teresa Wippel

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