After working its way through a long list of city council priorities — from city finances, to Main Street and Town Center development planning, to the latest proposal for a new city hall — the City of Mountlake Terrace is ready to refocus its efforts on economic development.
That’s the word from City Manager Scott Hugill, who provided an update on that issue to the city council during its Sept. 18 business meeting.
In 2008, the city put together an economic vitality strategy, and it’s now time to update that plan with two new elements: community input, which will begin this fall, and feasibility. The city will work with both citizens and the development community to review which of the design standards are feasible “and what should we revisit to make sure it can be built as the community wants to see it built,” Hugill said.
The city manager then introduced speaker Shane Hope, former City of Mountlake Terrace Community and Economic Development Director, who now serves as development director with the City of Edmonds. (Hugill said later that Hope has been hired on contract outside of her Edmonds employment to assist Mountlake Terrace with work on its Comprehensive Plan, economic development and other related items.)
“Economic development is important to the whole community,” Hope told the council. “It’s about jobs for the community, it’s about services that are here for our community members, it’s about bringing people here to enjoy this community as well.” In addition, robust economic development helps support the community through a better tax base, she added.
Hope then reviewed the range of development projects “that have been lining up” for the city, including the Gateway project near the planned light rail station; Atworth Commons, which includes 31 single-family home sites between 56th and 58th Avenues West in north Mountlake Terrace; the Atlas 236 building, which is planned on the former Calvary Tabernacle Church property at the northeast corner of 236th Street Southwest and 56th Avenue West; the Solana and Tamblyn townhome projects; and a development planned for the Creekside Church property (the church itself is moving to Lynnwood).
And then there is the Sound Transit light rail station itself — expected to open in Mountlake Terrace in 2024 — described by Hope as “a fundamental project for the community.”
“We want to help support those developers that are here to help provide places in our community that improve and provide for a healthy place to be in Mountlake Terrace,” Hope said.
However, she added, when it comes to retail sales, Mountlake Terrace has “a little problem.”
In a list of 281 cities in Washington state, the city sales tax per person — “a good sign of how much retail is occurring” — Mountlake Terrace ranks 182nd lowest in sales tax per capita, Hope said. That lowly spot is also occupied by small cities in Eastern Washington like Royal City, she added. “That’s probably not the place we want to be, and it certainly isn’t using our potential.”
Challenges for the city’s economic development include “leakage” — where the city’s residents go elsewhere to shop because goods they need aren’t available in the community. “It’s all right to buy things elsewhere but we want to have our share as well happening here,” Hope said. Other challenges include the unavailability of large lots, making it difficult for development due to lack of access, circulation and parking.
In reviewing the city’s 2008 economic vitality strategy, it’s important to gather community input, and to also consult with economic development experts to determine what’s feasible, Hope said. “It’s great to have an idea in one’s mind of what could happen, but the same thing doesn’t work in every community,” she said.
The city can play a role in assisting economic development by having a good permitting system and marketing the community “so everyone knows what a good place it is to be and how the permitting process and the planning process really work,” she said. These could include a more streamlined permitting process, using technology such as online permitting, ensuring quick turnaround times, making it a more desirable place for customers — “not because they can do anything they want but because they know people are here to help them work through their projects and resolve the issues that need attention,” Hope said.
Among the areas that the city should focus on: updating city codes, continuing to focus on infrastructure like the Main Street project and ensuring the city has an appropriate fee structure. It’s also important to develop partnerships and relationships with individuals and organizations interested in developing projects in Mountlake Terrace. Marketing and branding are also key for the city, “so that people know more about this community and what it stands for,” Hope added.
She stressed the importance of “relationships that staff might have and have [a] reputation that can really work with people. Those relationships can really help economic development continue to happen or happen in a more robust way,” she said.
To that end, Hugill said that the city is currently searching for a permanent Community and Economic Development Director. (Senior Planner Edith Duttlinger is currently serving in that role now that Steve Osguthorpe is now working for the City of Newcastle.)
Hugill said that applicants will be introduced during a reception with the city’s Planning Commission on Wednesday evening, Sept. 27, and a reception with the development community on Thursday morning, Sept. 28.
In addition, the city is recruiting for an assistant city manager, which is the position Hugill held before he was appointed last year to be City Manager. In a follow-up email to MLTnews this week, Hugill said he asked the council to hold off filling the assistance city manager spot until after the City Hall Advisory Committee’s work was finished – so that the savings from the vacancy would offset the cost of the architect working on the city hall project.
“The plan is to recruit an assistant city manager with experience in economic development to work on business retention and development, as well as special projects,” Hugill said.
Following Hope’s presentation, councilmembers agreed that it’s critical for the city to redouble its efforts on economic development. “We’re not doing what we’re supposed to, to start building,” Mayor Jerry Smith said. “We’re already at the end of the building season and now we’ve got to drag our feet until probably about April before we can really turn dirt.
“The quicker the better. We’ve got a lot of them (developers) out there just waiting to build,” Smith added.
— By Teresa Wippel