Letter to the Editor: Mountlake Terrace government sacrificing quality of life for growth

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Dear Editor:

After nearly ten years of practicing the Downtown Plan, it is clear the city has no intention of honoring many of the original commitments made to the community they serve when the plan was sold to the public in 2006. The city council and the bureaucracy it supposedly controls appear to feel very little responsibility to the surrounding neighborhoods suffering the impacts of that plan. In fact, their stated position is that the plan is benefiting the very residents who feel most abused by its outcomes. So, it should come as no surprise that many have concluded they can no longer trust the city to keep their word.

To get just an introductory sense of what this is about, look at the beautiful new senior care facility at 230th and 56th, The Vineyard Park project. Anyone paying attention to the process which brought us the Downtown Plan, of which the Vineyard is a part, will remember the enthusiasm nearby residents had for a boulevard with many new street level commercial businesses on the ground floor of the apartment buildings allowed along 56th Avenue. Even though mixed-use development promised an enormous increase in density downtown, many neighbors were willing to accept that downside for the upside promise of commercial revitalization represented as coffee shops, book stores and restaurants to name just a few.

So where is the ground floor commercial space in that project? You don’t have to go back to 2006 to find references, indeed promises, made by city officials that the ground floor of that building would have rentable commercial space. The former city manager, the former head of planning and the current interim city manager in an earlier stint in the same position all assured us there would be tenants in the space now openly occupied by the dining room and offices of that business.

But, then, if you look 6 blocks south to the even larger Arbor Village project, maybe the Vineyard owners are the smart ones. After nearly two years of trying, Arbor Village has only one small space rented and few lookers for the rest.  Yet the other three corners of 56th and 236th have been re-zoned to allow the same type of project, an accomplishment trumpeted by the city as evidence of the virtues of their long-term vision as if the prospective developers of those corners would somehow ignore the lack of interest in the ground floor space in the Arbor Village project.

And the land immediately north of the mosque at 56th and 238th is about to begin development of 48 units of senior housing with their “commercial” component not even on the street side and only accessible via a narrow walkway.  There won’t even be the suggestion of street level commercial space nor any parking to service it even if there were. The parking access isn’t even on 56th; it is via a one-lane easement along the southeast property line putting even more unwanted traffic congestion into what was and still wishes to be a quiet residential neighborhood. A similar fate awaits the Gateway neighborhood when the old Evergreen School site is developed.

What happened to the wonderful vision of 56th becoming a show place boulevard, you know the concept which justified our much appreciated $20 car tab tax? Well, when it was first advertised to us at the inception of that tax, it was a $12 million enterprise with nearly $1 million of future earnings from that tax. That has now been augmented by State and Federal promises for another $2 million. So, we now have $3 million of promises to fund what has become a $15-$18 million project. When we started down this path, it was $11 million in the hole; now it’s $12-$15 million in the red. They call that progress. The residents occupying single family homes in the surrounding neighborhoods face the resulting traffic and parking hassles from all the new apartment development and wonder how progress is measured.

Our city council is driven, for some still inexplicable reason, to keep us on a course which sacrifices the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods in favor of a regional growth imperative that we apparently have no independent right to resist.   Council doesn’t resist at all. They wished everyone spent less time noticing and more time sharing their Taj Mahal Town Center fantasies. Those living in the widening impact swath are growing in numbers as even former supporters realize that the impacts upon them are much greater than expected and not accompanied by even a whiff of mitigation.

Leonard French
Mountlake Terrace 

24 COMMENTS

  1. This is just another resident that longs for the old days of the horse and buggy. If a city doesn’t grow, then it’s dead. I appreciate they are tying to modernize the town. The center of town is run down and honestly sad, save for the updated Plaza. Plans don’t always happen as you intend. Flexibility is required in all things in life. I want them to keep attempting to make MLT better. Perfection isn’t expected.

  2. Many Mountlake Terrace residents, including those like myself who own single family homes in the Town Center neighborhood, are excited about the changes happening in our City. While the retail space has yet to be filled, the City Council’s work toward improving our downtown and allowing more housing options has certainly rejuvenated the neighborhood by bringing in businesses to fill formerly empty retail space. I can now walk to Diamond Knot to meet my neighbor for a drink, or take my parents to the pie shop when they come for a visit, or walk down to the french bakery to enjoy an espresso and their delicious pastries. Fairly soon I’ll be able to walk over to the Paradise Market where they’ll be selling spices and food products from all over the world. For me, my family, and most of my friends and neighbors, these are things that improve our quality of life here in Mountlake Terrace.

    Our neighborhood is in a transition right now but things won’t change overnight. While we can debate back and forth online or in person I think the real test of whether or not most people support the direction our City is heading is at the ballot box. Our current Council who, for the most part, is in agreement over the future of the Town Center neighborhood, has an average of nearly 8 years on the Council. Our residents continue to support the direction of our City. In fact, 2 of the 3 council members up for re-election this fall are running unopposed.

  3. I agree with Mr French. Where are all the shops and restaurants promised? There is no where to park, thats why no one wants their busnesses there. Its ridiculous. And no I dont want to go back to horse and buggy. Its just a very bad plan. Our streets cant accomidate the traffic.

  4. Your right Dustin, the real test of whether or not most people support the direction our City is heading is at the ballot box. Prop. 1 has failed 3 times now and it’s about time the City Council listens to what the citizens of Mountlake Terrace really want and can afford.

    • I see the City Hall as a seperate issue but on that note, most people did support the 3 previous ballot measure but we all know there’s a big difference between 50% and 60%. I do hope that either you, Len French, or Stephen Barnes applied to the task force as I think your input is crucial, if not absolutely necessary, to helping the City come up with a plan that a supermajority of voters will approve.

      • Dustin, Proposition 1 failed 53% (No) to 47% (Yes) in Nov. 2010, 43.17% (No) to 56.83% (yes) in Aug 2012 and again in April of 2013 46.60% (No) to 53.40% (Yes). Your statement that most people did support the 3 previous ballot measures is not accurate. Time will tell who the City Council appoints to their task force and if they are willing to come up with a plan that works for the citizens of Mountlake Terrace.

        • I stand corrected on the first one. Thanks. We shall see who is appointed. Those who opposed the ballot measures in the past must be represented on the task force for it to be effective so I’m hoping one of you applied.

  5. It would be great if the Council would listen to the citizens but they haven’t even listened to themselves nor their own consultants. In December 2009 they said in their Town Center Plan that adequate parking would be needed for the Town Center plan to work: one parking stall per residential home plus one for every four units for guests and two parking spots per 1000 sq ft of business space. That would mean 154 parking spaces for Arbor Village’s 123 apartments and 20 more for the bottom floor business space. The sad truth is our City Council celebrated Arbor Village and its 80+ parking spots. And the neighborhood knows where the others are parking.

  6. I appreciate conversation about the development plans for MLT in this forum and hope to see more. I love the idea of a vibrant little downtown, as we all do, but we have to remember to commit to shopping here instead of battling traffic to go elsewhere. Let’s get our hair cut, buy our groceries, gas, meat and smokes downtown MLT.
    Coffee shop? (Where is it… put a sign up on that place so we can find it!!!)
    And remember to vote with your ballot and your dollars.

  7. Dustin, the link you provided says there are 38 undercover parking spots for guest of the businesses to use. Today, out of interest, I went to check out Arbor Village and the parking garage. Imagine my surprise when I pulled up to the gate and it didn’t open up for me. I backed out and asked a woman that came out of the building how I would go about parking as a visitor in the garage. She told me, “you can’t, you have to park on the street. You don’t have a clicker.” If you go to Arbor Village Web page. http://arborvillageapts.com/interior/ it says “on site controlled access garage parking.” Who is telling us the truth….is there parking for those that go to visit residents at Arbor Village? Can patrons of the businesses park in the garage?

  8. Leonard French was right on about this ridiculous expansion plan of downtown. NO citizens want it! It’s time to dump the City’s council. Vote against all those that endorse this expansion plan, or voted for it originally. MLT is not some place people even want to live anymore….its just a mini Lynnwood.

    Kathy Peterson, MLT

    • The first step to any such actions would be to take the opportunity to replace the current councilor with me, Stephen Barnes, this November. I remember that we are 90% suburbanites and would vote accordingly. And tell your friends!

  9. Many of the responses to my recent letter to MLT News missed and/or ignored the point entirely. The matter in question is the difference between where we are and what the Downtown Plan promised. Backfilling long vacant spaces in one of the original downtown retail centers with a brew pub, a new market and a pie shop are great additions to downtown, but have nothing to do with the Downtown Plan’s broken promise of street level retail in the multi-story apartment buildings along 56th Avenue. They also don’t deal with the increasingly obvious fallout in traffic flows and parking issues.

    The analogy to horse and buggy thinking in the face of the automobile revolution of the early 20th century would be perfect symmetry had Henry Ford promised a vehicle which would not only navigate dirt roads, but which also flew and broke the sound barrier.

    The underlying issue is overlaying a generic model of urban planning onto every growth corridor. This necessarily overlooks the unique characteristics and, therefore, the unique potentials of individual communities in or near those corridors. Responding that Rome wasn’t built in a day trivializes the importance of the discussion while apologizing for the glorification of the unattainable. The common translation of that analgesic formulation is that if the train hasn’t run over you yet, just stay on the tracks a while longer. Its coming.

    • If the Town Center Plan dated February 5, 2007 promised that within 8 years we would have a built out Town Center and that retail would be immediately viable when the first mixed-use building was constructed then yes, we have all been duped.

  10. I know, let’s put the question of development in “downtown” MLT to a public vote! To me it seems as though “downtown” is (and should be) on the WEST side of I-5, and should NOT be amid our residential area. And actually, (for u newcomers) it WASN’T that long ago we had horses on property (legally) here in MLT. Now, of course, most our open areas have been bulldozed for yet another condominium or housing development with no allowances for parking other than on the street.

    Horse and buggy? Sign me up. Come on Council, have the guts to put this on your up coming ballot!

    Kathy Peterson, MLT

  11. Again Mr. DeKoekkoek’s response is artfully off point, that point being there cannot be successful ground floor commercial frontage if the city grants design variances without such space in the name of just putting up something new in or near downtown.

    Of course, theoretically no one could have foreseen the leasing problems the frontage commercial component of Arbor Village would have, but, here’s the point – at least it has that component. It might have helped were there adequate on-street and off-street parking, but I doubt it. Numerous developers over the years have noted the problems inherent to our commercial core without either adequate traffic throughput or population density. All of these concerns were dismissed by the city in 2006 with puffery about mitigation.

    As has been noted by numerous articles recently about Seattle’s experience (please see attached), high-minded projections are rarely memorialized with any specificity of language. ” Politicians tend to engage either in ‘delusional optimism’ — wishing the true costs down. Or ‘strategic misrepresentation’ — lowballing the costs for political gain. That last one is also known as ‘the old bait and switch.’

    The presentations, whether about cost or development patterns, are sales jobs to coax the public into accepting what are nothing more than suggestions for what could happen. They captivate many wishful thinkers, but allowances are not assurances which is what opponents here pointed out in 2006. What was predicted by opponents at the time was a large increase in population density, along with a spillover of traffic and parking problems into the surrounding neighborhoods with very little if any mitigation. Those predictions are now unfolding. Have we been duped? You decide.

    http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seattle-burns-through-money-on-fire-station-construction/

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