City Council approves nonconforming use standards ordinance

About two dozen people heard and spoke at the public hearing in the Interim City Hall on Monday.

After a public hearing on Monday night, the Mountlake Terrace City Council passed a nonconforming use standards ordinance.

About two dozen people, mostly church goers, packed into the Interim City Hall during Monday night’s meeting. A similar group attended the first public hearing on the issue in December.

The ordinance was proposed because of a Town Center plan approved by council in 2007. Since development standards outlined in that proposal apply only to new buildings, the nonconforming standards will be implemented to

Since that public meeting in December, some changes were made to the ordinance, including an increase to the abandonment/termination period from six months to 12 months, which allows a more reasonable time frame for marketing nonconforming properties before they can be reoccupied. Another change was that limits were removed for standard repairs and maintenance.

You can read the full ordinance by clicking here.

Both opponents and supporters of the ordinance at Monday’s public hearing agree the changes were beneficial to nonconforming buildings. However, opponents, primarily church goers, thought they didn’t go far enough.

“The churches in the key places were a permitted use prior to these other rules that were implemented. Now, we are no longer a permitted use,” Pastor Wayne Taylor, of Calvary Fellowship, said. “So what I’m asking is if churches that were already there, or other establishments, is there a way that we can again be permitted uses where we are?”

Another member of the public said the ordinance is a violation of religious freedom.

“Bethesda Lutheran Church is accurate, regardless of what anyone says, when it says that the intent of this ordinance is to eliminate them. Period,” Gordy Lidstrom, of Everett, said.

About 10 people spoke against the ordinance. Kristen Cane, development director for the Housing Authority of Snohomish County was the only person spoke in its favor.

Cane explained how the ordinance would benefit the Tall Firs apartment complex that serves very low-income seniors in Mountlake Terrace. She said the building is in dire need of some repairs, but the amount of needed repairs now exceeds the threshold that is allowable under the current code.

Funds have been secured, so the Housing Authority will be able to do the work once the code permits them.

“The nonconformance update would allow us to complete this work, which includes repairing the building’s rotting siding, repainting the building, repairing the roof,” Cane said. “We also have very tall trees on the site many of which are a safety risk. We also need to create better sidewalk access for our residents, many of which are in wheelchairs and walkers and can’t safely get to the street right now.”

In the end, the City Council said they heard the concerns of the public, but think with the changes to the ordinance, they shouldn’t be worried.

“On the one hand, I strongly support revitalization and redevelopment,” Councilman Bryan Wahl said. “At the same time, we need to balance our efforts with protecting our property owners. To me, most of the nonconforming use is mostly about the the form of the buildings, not so much the use.”

Wahl said he supports the ordinance now that the “intensification” language has been taken out. The removal will allow current businesses to increase production, which a former version of the ordinance limited.

Councilwoman Laura Sonmore says the ordinance does not target churches.

“I don’t want to tell people where and how to pray,” Sonmore said. “The ordinance would help buildings such as Tall Firs. We’re not trying to shut out churches, we are trying to look at an ordinance for the entire city.”

Sonmore also said she would like for the City Council to look over the downtown plan again at a future meeting.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

–By Natalie Covate

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