By Doug Petrowski
Encouraging new development along 56th Avenue West in downtown Mountlake Terrace has been a goal of the city for awhile, but some at city hall don’t want to see it end there.
City officials have been pushing for increased economic development in the Town Center core of Mountlake Terrace for a number of years; city planners have now broadened their target to not just downtown, but now to what they are calling the Freeway/Tourist Zoning District just east of I-5, from the transit center on 236th Street Southwest south to the Gateway Plaza shopping/theater district on 244th Street Southwest.
This expansion of the zone for economic growth was highlighted last week in a Transit-Oriented Development Report presented first to the city’s Planning Commission meeting on June 11, then to the city council at its June 14 Work/Study Session.
The report, in part, addresses the relationship between increased growth along 56th Avenue West and similar development now being targeted around the transit center and south through the site of the former Evergreen Elementary School. The school was closed in 2009 and the building razed in 2011.
“The Town Center is envisioned to become a residential, restaurant and retail hub and the heart of the city,” the report says. “Residents and retail will benefit as the Freeway/Tourist add density, providing additional office space as well as residences and retail.”
The city has already begun an Environmental Impact Statement for the Freeway/Tourist district. An initial draft of the EIS is expected in July, with the final report following in September.
The city has also begun “preparing alternatives for a roadway that would connect 236th down to the existing connection through Gateway Place and onto 244th,” reported Shane Hope, Community and Economic Development Director. A new street through the Freeway/Tourist district would keep traffic out of adjacent residential neighborhoods and “it makes development much more attractive for anyone that wants to build there,” Hope said.
Hope stressed the importance of new development in the district being able to connect to the transit station with a new roadway. “That (potential) street has a lot of value,” she said.
More important than a new street through the Freeway/Tourist district is the placement of a potential Sound Transit light rail station in the area around the transit station at I-5 and 236th Street. “Location of the light rail station will determine the ability of Mountlake Terrace to meet its economic, social, and environmental goals for generations,” the TOD report states.
Sound Transit plans on operating light rail service from Husky Stadium in Seattle north along I-5 to Lynnwood beginning in 2023. Current proposals call for seven light rail stations along the link, including one each at 236th and 220th Streets SW in Mountlake Terrace. Draft Environmental Impact Statements are underway for all the station sites and are scheduled to be finished and published in the spring of 2013.
Initial plans call for the light rail station at 236th Street Southwest to be placed at one of three sites: the current bus freeway station in the center median of I-5, south of 236th Street on the former site of Evergreen Elementary School or along the eastern edge of the transit center’s surface parking lot.
City planners seem to favor the station site in or near the center’s surface parking lot, for it would be closer for downtown and Freeway/Tourist residents and visitors to reach on foot. “There’s a huge amount of parcels in the Town Center and almost the entire Freeway/Tourist district that’s accessible within a half-mile, Transportation Planner Peter Dane said. “The key is that denser core of the Town Center that has great walkable access to a light rail station at that location.”
The TOD report, paid for by a state grant, will help influence any future decisions by Sound Transit as to the importance and placement of light rail stations in Mountlake Terrace. It also contained elements and benefits of city planning that calls for medium-to-high density, pedestrian-oriented development in the Town Center.
The City Council isn’t expected to make any decisions on formally approving the TOD report until later this year. Any action on the Freeway/Tourism district by the council isn’t planned until this fall or winter. Sound Transit will not make any formal decisions on locations for new light rail station until after the EIS statements are completed next year.