With a roomful of developers, builders and citizens watching, the Mountlake Terrace City Council spent considerable time during its Monday night, Feb. 5 meeting debating whether to further delay adoption of the 2017 Comprehensive Plan to allow completion of additional planning work on the city’s Town Center.
Both times council votes were taken on the issue Monday night– the first on whether to delay adoption (which failed 3-4) and the second on whether to approve it (which passed 4-3), there were lengthy pauses by Councilmember Bryan Wahl and Mayor Pro Tem Kyoko Matsumoto Wright before deciding how to vote.
Wahl in particular admitted he was conflicted about which way to land on the issue. And he spent a good part of the meeting pushing the council and staff to consider alternatives that would allow the council to delay Comprehensive Plan adoption but still adopt amendments identified by the city as critical to future development of Sound Transit’s light rail station in Mountlake Terrace.
“I am disappointed. I am frustrated. I am angry to be put in this position,” Wahl said. In the end, though, Wahl ended up voting against delay (joining Councilmembers Doug McCardle, Rick Ryan and Laura Sonmore) and for adoption (with the same three councilmembers). However, he urged city staff to work hard to develop a Town Center Plan that addresses concerns brought forth recently by local developers.
The discussion has focused on two Comprehensive Plan amendments related to Sound Transit’s light rail plans, which officials said would put the city in a difficult spot if they weren’t approved right away. One of them is related to ensuring that Sound Transit keeps its commitment to building a temporary parking lot within a quarter mile of the existing 200-space surface parking lot at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, which will remain closed for several years while construction takes place. City officials argued that without placing specific language into the Comprehensive Plan, Sound Transit may end up building the lot up to a mile away and shuttling commuters from there to the Transit Center — which councilmembers agreed would be a frustrating situation.
Sound Transit Government Relations Manager Patrice Hardy, who attended Monday night’s meeting, clarified that Sound Transit’s plan currently calls for a shuttling system to be in place regardless — for at least six months — once the 200-space lot is closed to allow for construction staging. That’s because it will take the agency a while to purchase all the properties necessary to create additional parking next to the existing parking lot. Sound Transit hopes to rent other nearby parking to accommodate that six-months-or-longer time frame when shuttles will be necessary, she added.
Another major issue involved with the vote was related the pedestrian plaza on the south side of the light rail station at 236th Street Southwest. According to City Manager Scott Hugill, language in the 2017 amendments allows the council to identify and add park projects to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. That is key to obtaining Sound Transit funding for the pedestrian plaza with a 50 percent match from the city. That language also allows the city to accept a donation of land from the currently planned Gateway project — known as Tract 3 — which will be used as part of that plaza.
Before taking their vote, councilmembers also heard from several members of the public who made comments on the Comprehensive Plan. Most of them were members of the newly formed CLEAR group — comprised of local developers, builders, architects, real estate brokers and interested citizens — who began meeting in December. The group is worried about the city’s slow pace in approving proposed projects, particularly those in the Town Center area bounded by 56th and 58th Avenues West and 232nd and 234th Streets Southwest. And they all urged the council to delay Comprehensive Plan adoption to allow for more work on updating the 2006/2007 Town Center plan — in hopes of kick starting those projects sooner rather than later.
Since the city’s Comprehensive Plan can only be updated once a year, the council’s Monday night decision means the city can’t consider another update for 2018 until late December. However, the city has hired consultant SCJ Alliance to help staff update the city’s 2006/2007 Town Center plan, including community outreach, developer forums, code review and market research.
Councilmembers who spoke in favor of approving the 2017 Comprehensive Plan update said it will give the city time to do its work, in conjunction with a soon-to-be appointed community-based economic development task force. And city officials said that waiting until December to do another update will give the city’s Planning Commission time to address a variety of other important issues first, so they can turn their full attention to the Town Center Plan once the consultant is finished.
Local homebuilder Duane Landsverk, who along with his wife Deanne spearheaded creation of the CLEAR group, said in a statement following the council vote that although he was disappointed by the decision, he was also encouraged about the future.
“While I am disappointed that city staff was unable to find a compromise to address promises made in the past, I am encouraged that this issue has risen to the top of the city’s priority list for 2018,” Landsverk said.
He also said he was “pleased to see a new level of transparency in our city government,” including allowing Sound Transit’s Patrice Hardy to have a voice in the discussion.
“I look forward to continuing the collaborative process of partnering with MLT to see a revitalized, dynamic and vibrant city emerge in the near future,” Landsberg said.
In other business, the council:
– Recognized former Mountlake Terrace Fire Chief Brad Reading, who is retiring after 13 years with South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue (formerly Fire District 1) and prior to that spent 25 years at the City of Mountlake Terrace.
– Heard a report from Edmonds School District Superintendent Kris McDuffy, who talked about several items, including the reasons the district is requesting a replacement levy to fund basic needs in the schools. Ballots are due Feb. 13 for the levy, which “remains our second largest revenue source,” McDuffy said. More information is available on the district website.
– Received an update from City Manager Scott Hugill on a meeting that city officials had last week with Congressman Rick Larsen regarding the Lake Ballinger Watershed Forum, a coordinated effort among the cities of Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds and Lake Forest Park. The forum has been working for several years to find ways to address and reduce Lake Ballinger flooding issues. One project aimed at doing that is to update culverts beneath I-5 at 244th/205th Street, which officials believe restricts the flow of water out of the lake. Hugill said that Larsen confirmed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved moving forward with funding a watershed study.
– Also heard from Hugill that five architectural firms submitted statements of qualifications for design work on the new Civic Campus project approved by voters last November. Three of those firms have been invited to present to a committee of staff, which anticipates making a recommendation to the council March 5, he said.
-Approved an event agreement with Cheeseburger Babies Foundation for the annual 3rd of July Celebration at Ballinger Park.
— Story and photo by Teresa Wippel