In an effort to wield more influence over what they view as an indecisive and at times ineffective city government, a group of Mountlake Terrace developers, real estate brokers, business owners and citizens gathered Saturday, Jan. 27 to develop a strategy for next steps.
This was the second meeting for the group, which held its inaugural get-together Dec. 9. The initial meeting was organized by Duane and Deanne Landsverk, owners of Mountlake Terrace-based Landsverk Homes. The stated purpose was to identify “what we as a community can do to support and drive the revitalization of Mountlake Terrace in a proactive manner.”
During the two-hour Jan. 27 follow-up session, those in attendance agreed on a group name — CLEAR — which stands for Civic Leadership Educating Achieving Revitalizing. There was also a chunk of time devoted to discussing the group’s mission statement, but participants agreed to do more work on that through online discussion in coming weeks.
In addition, the group talked about how to best prioritize discussion topics for future meetings, and agreed that subcommittees should be formed to tackle the highest-priority items: the city’s Comprehensive Plan and its permitting process.
Mountlake Terrace resident and CLEAR member Linda Rogers said that while she agreed that the Comprehensive Plan is important, addressing the city’s permit process should be an even higher priority.
“From my perspective, the permitting process as it stands today is holding the developers up,” Rogers said. “What can we do to help move that forward, at the same time being active in seeing what’s going on in the Comprehensive Plan?”
Rogers noted that the city’s Planning Commission isn’t set to address Comprehensive Plan changes until mid-2018, “and that’s too long for what’s going on today.”
The Mountlake Terrace City Council is scheduled to discuss the next steps for the 2017 Comprehensive Plan at its business meeting Monday, Feb. 5. This follows up on the council’s Dec. 18 vote to postpone the plan’s approval due to a procedural error.
Acknowledging that concerns from the CLEAR group got their attention, councilmembers Dec. 18 discussed the possibility of using the delay in the Comprehensive Plan adoption as a way to revisit proposed plan amendments for possible changes before passage.
The Planning Commission has discussed the idea of expanding MLT’s Town Center core north and south of the city’s existing “Super Block” bounded by 56th and 58th Avenues West and 232nd and 234th Streets Southwest. The commission has also talked about possibly allowing buildings taller than the current seven-story limit, in exchange for developer-provided incentives like open space.
Developers had hoped the city would get to those changes during 2017, but city officials said they were unable to focus on them due to other priorities — including working with citizens to create a plan for a new Civic Center campus and placing it on the November 2017 ballot.
Since the city can only amend the Comprehensive Plan once a year, there was talk among councilmembers about the value of asking the Planning Commission to further review Town Center-related amendments now – instead of waiting for another year. That way, the commission could then make recommendations to the council sooner rather than later.
Councilmember Bryan Wahl made a motion to do just that Dec. 18, but it failed on a 3-4 vote. Councilmembers who voted against the idea had argued that there’s no point in speeding up the process, since there are other steps required – including allowing time for public testimony – before the council can approve increases in building heights and other Town Center changes.
Instead, at their Jan. 16 meeting, the council approved a $156,000 contract with consultant SCJ Alliance to help staff update the city’s 2006/2007 Town Center plan. According to City Manager Scott Hugill, the consultant scope of work would include community outreach, developer forums, code review and market research.
Hugill said that in response to developers’ concerns that the city was moving too slowly, the work would also include reviewing the city’s development application process to identify improvements to shorten timelines and firm up predictability on outcomes.
Some of those gathered for the Jan. 27 CLEAR meeting stated they weren’t happy with the council’s decision to hire SCJ Alliance, fearing delays in the process and adding that the Lacey-Wash.-based consultant doesn’t know the community or its needs.
CLEAR organizer Deanne Landsverk expressed hope that councilmembers would consider the possibility of CLEAR serving as an advisory group to the council, an idea raised at the council’s Jan. 16 meeting. Even if that doesn’t happen, “we still have a strong voice if we’re united,” Landsverk said. “There’s strength in numbers. Everyone here has an investment in this: personal, financial, emotional, whatever that might be.”
Group members plan to make their presence known by attending council meetings and offering comments this week and next. And the group also agreed to meet again on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. Anyone with an interest in Mountlake Terrace is invited to attend a future CLEAR meeting.
— By Teresa Wippel