20-story buildings in MLT? City Council tables vote until April 21

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The now-vacant Evergreen Elementary School property in the Freeway/Tourist District.
The now-vacant Evergreen Elementary School property in the Freeway/Tourist District.

After a lengthy discussion concerning building heights and affordable housing options, the Mountlake Terrace City Council on April 7 tabled a vote concerning proposed code changes in the Freeway/Tourist District along I-5.

The council is considering changes that would allow building heights of up to 20 stories or 285 feet in portions of the mostly-vacant land along I-5 south of 236th Street Southwest to the King-Snohomish County border. The council is scheduled to reconsider the code changes at its April 21 meeting.

Current city code allows for new building construction in the Freeway/Tourist District of up to four stories, but city officials want to increase the height allowance to attract major developers to the area. The proposed changes are a complicated mix of rules for different zones within the entire district, different options for developers to meet in order to qualify for taller construction, and allowing developers to purchase Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) with rural areas of the region to qualify for taller construction.

“The intent here is to provide public benefits for developers’ opportunity to go higher in building heights more consistent with the market,” explained Bill Trimm, MLT Interim Community and Economic Development Director.

Developers could qualify for higher 20 stories or 285 feet in building heights if they purchase TDR credits, 12 stories or 180 feet if they meet two of four special conditions, or eight stories if they meet one of the four special conditions. The city’s proposed special conditions are:
• “Green” building practices that qualify for special Leadership in Energy & Enviornmental Design (LEED) ratings
• Low-impact stormwater management techniques
• Provision of 100 or more housing units, of which at least 30% are dedicated for 12 or more years for affordable housing
• A public plaza that is accessible from a public street, and includes artwork and landscaping

Much of the council discussion on Monday was centered on two aspects of the proposed code changes, the allowable height limits that development could reach and the use of a regional “Area Median Income” (AMI) figure that would define “affordable housing” in the district.

In the public hearing on the issue, Mountlake Terrace resident Charles Tupper told the council that any buildings taller than 90 feet in Freeway/Tourist sub-district D would block views of I-5 from homes in his neighborhood.

“The height requirements concern us greatly,” said Tupper, who lives in the 6000 block of 238th Street SW. “The people on the top of that hill in my entire neighborhood are going to be looking in the windows of people’s apartments. That’s what we’re going to have for a view in the future.”

City officials are counting on the 60-foot wide tree buffer along the east side of the Freeway/Tourist District to separate any potential development from the single-resident housing that sits at a higher grade further to the east.

Council members also spent time discussing the condition of affordable housing in the district. To qualify for higher building heights, developers could exercise the option of providing housing in their plans that are intended for those earning less than half of the AMI, approximately $86,000. Concerns of council members ranged from apprehension the condition may lead to low-income housing to the idea that the AMI didn’t give a true assessment of what the median income really is in the city.

“If we are doing this to … enable the developers to go higher, it benefits them; what’s the benefit to our local citizens if the median income is $86,000 that we’re using,” questioned City Councilmember Doug McCardle. “That’s not really what it is in this area.”

Noting that the council had plenty of good questions concerning the potential code changes, City Manager Arlene Fisher suggested that the issue be tabled until later this month. The public hearing that began at Monday’s meeting will also be continued on April 21.

Trimm admitted that the circumstances of the issue are extraordinary. “It’s frankly a little bit unusual to have a high-intensity zoned district like this directly adjacent to single-family neighborhoods,” he said.

— Story and photo by Doug Petrowski

10 COMMENTS

  1. Three observations:

    1. We have an ‘Interim’ Community and Economic Development Director? What happened to Mr. Baron? His LinkedIn page

    https://www.linkedin.com/pub/dave-baron/0/868/4b9

    says he’s with MLT in the position of director.

    2. LEED buildings do not, in fact, demonstrably use less energy than contemporary buildings without that certification. Here’s a recent publication by the American Physical Society by a researcher who has actually run the numbers:

    https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201307/backpage.cfm

    Rather than requiring that to get special treatment on a project builders meet a standard that doesn’t result in the hoped-for reduction in energy usage, perhaps the Planning Department could prepare a specific list of required items in order to provide the special treatment. If Planning wants solar panels and solar hot water heaters, a specific number of bike racks, and/or a specific limitation in the number of parking spaces, come out and say so. LEED is a concept based on computer modeling, not based on measurements of the completed project, and the scoring system doesn’t match reality. I put a bike rack outside my building to meet a City requirement, when I was building. To my knowledge it’s been used once, by me, several years ago. And yet that bike rack would count toward a ‘green’ certification, even though it does nothing for the environment if it’s not being used.

    3. MLT median household income was $54k in 2011. Shoreline was $65k. Even Bellevue was only $83k in 2011. That radius of inclusion around MLT to come up with an ‘area’ median income that high might extend all the way to Capitol Hill and South Lake Union. It’s financial data quality like this that might have contributed to giving some people the idea that a $37M City Hall/Civic Center project in Mountlake Terrace was a good idea. It’s nice to see a City Councilmember questioning obviously wrong numerical data. Lesson learned, perhaps.

  2. There goes the neighborhood. We’ll move if this happens. I don’t want dozens of people looking down into my back yard.

  3. May I suggest listening to the April 7th City Council meeting. While we all like to believe that what is written on this site is always the truth, it can sometimes be not entirely true. Before you are quick to judge what is important to others you might just want to take a listen. https://www.cityofmlt.com/…/cityC…/councilMeetings.htm

  4. The TRD should require a 5th element/condition; Significant repair/improvement to the local infrastructure. Typically only moderate improvements are required in the one block adjacent to the project. Anything of this size/scope should require traffic & transit improvements for 1/4 mile in each direction that is affected.

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