After Paine-Donovan sworn in, council discusses undergrounding utility code amendments

Mountlake Terrace City Clerk Jennifer Joki, left, swears in new Councilmember Rory Paine-Donovan. (Photo by Teresa Wippel)

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its Thursday, Feb. 2, work session briefly discussed the city’s proposed amendments to the undergrounding utilities ordinance. 

The meeting began with the swearing in of new councilmember Rory Paine-Donovan, who was appointed to the vacant Position 3 seat on Tuesday.

Associate City Planner Jonathan Morales came before the council to explain the changes. At the council’s Dec. 5, 2022 meeting, Morales explained that the proposed amendments are intended to clarify requirements, including specific exemptions, for undergrounding of power and other utility lines in existing single-family dwellings in the Town Center as well as other city zones.

“According to Snohomish County PUD, undergrounding requirements are jurisdiction specific,” he said. “So, this is something that staff brings before a council in the form of an ordinance to adopt those underground utilities.”

Under current city code, undergrounding is required in any city zone when new, replaced, relocated, upgraded and/or extended electrical service is provided to any property. The trigger for any property includes moving the electrical mast, which contains the wires that transfer power from the city’s overhead power distribution system to a home.

The proposed code amendments would require undergrounding in two instances: for all new single-family dwellings being constructed as well as specific home improvement projects in existing single-family dwellings.

“Underground utilities are triggered when an existing single-family dwelling is proposing a remodel, and is modifying electrical service, with a project improvement value that is greater than 50% of the assessed value of the single-family dwelling,” Morales said.

The associate planner said the estimated cost for a single-family dwelling to go underground would be roughly $4,000-$10,000, depending on how far away the structure is from the utility pole.

The proposed amendment would also require undergrounding in all Town Center zones, except in the case of life safety hazards. The exception for life safety hazards would permit homeowners to upgrade their electrical panel without the extra charge of utility undergrounding.

This exception was proposed because many Mountlake Terrace homes still contain hazardous electrical panels that were manufactured by Zinsco, a popular brand during the 1970s. The panels – known to increase the risk of electrical fires – were part of a major recall and lawsuit in 2002 and the company is no longer in business.

A public hearing is scheduled for the council’s Feb. 6 business meeting prior to the council’s vote on adopting the ordinance amendments.

In other business, the council discussed an annexation proposal the city received for a single plot of land within the Mountlake Terrace city limits.

According to Associate Planner Sara Pizzo, 4713 240th St. S.W. is a .38-acre parcel that is part of unincorporated Snohomish County, despite being surrounded by property that is part of Mountlake Terrace.

“The reason the property owners are coming to council with their request for annexation is because they have an outdated septic system and they would like to receive city sewer services,” Pizzo said.

City staff recommended that the council approve the annexation proposal without any modifications as well as adopt zoning regulations for the area at the same time, since that will eventually need to be completed as part of the annexation process. The owners of the parcel of land also agreed to accept all indebtedness the city would have – meaning they would pay for the cost of the removal of the old septic system and the connection to city sewer services.

The council is set to vote on the annexation on Monday night at its Feb. 6 business meeting.

In addition, the council briefly talked about the appointment of the 2023 Lodging Tax Advisory Committee members, amendments for a purchasing policy ordinance as well as the city’s professional agreements with the interim public works director and the hearing examiner – all of which will be on the council’s Feb. 6 consent agenda.

–By Lauren Reichenbach

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