City council approves undergrounding utility amendments, hears RFA annexation update

Assistant City Manager Stephen Clifton explains the discussions staff have been having with the South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority regarding annexation.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its Monday, Feb. 6, business meeting voted to approve the city’s undergrounding utilities ordinance as well as a request for annexation by the property owners of 4713 240th St. S.W.

A public hearing was held Monday night for the undergrounding ordinance and Associate City Planner Jonathan Morales again came before the council to explain the changes in the ordinance.

The proposed amendments are intended to clarify requirements, including specific exemptions, for the undergrounding of power and other utility lines in existing single-family dwellings in the Town Center as well as other city zones. The changes 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 during the council’s Feb. 2 meeting.

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.

Only one community member spoke during the public hearing to ask a few clarifying questions about the presentation that Morales gave.

After the public hearing closed, the council voted unanimously to approve the undergrounding utility ordinance updates.

Additionally, the council received an update from Assistant City Manager Stephen Clifton regarding the conversations city staff have been having with the South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority (RFA) regarding the city’s potential annexation.

The council voted at its Jan. 12 meeting to place the possibility of annexation before voters.

The city’s current 20-year interlocal agreement with South County Fire will end Dec. 31, 2024, and the fire district is not interested in renewing another long-term contract with the city. 

Fire support services from South County Fire will cost the city an estimated $3.7 million in 2023, but Clifton said that if residents decide they do not want to annex into the fire authority, costs would more than double for taxpayers.

The assistant city manager said the main discussion staff are having now is who will retain ownership of Fire Station 19, located inside Mountlake Terrace city limits.

“It’s really the only item at this time that we haven’t really been able to agree on – exactly how the station will be owned,” Clifton said. “Not how it will be used, but how it will be owned.”

Regardless of who retains ownership of the building, its use will continue relatively unhindered. Currently, Mountlake Terrace police occupy most of the downstairs, and RFA staff said it would be okay for them to continue to do so even if ownership of the building changes hands.

“We’re just kind of ironing out the details relating to how the building is going to be fully used,” Clifton said.

The council will receive another update at its Feb. 16 meeting. The measure is scheduled to come before voters April 25.

In other business, the council unanimously approved the annexation of the property at 4713 240th St. S.W. The owners requested annexation because of an old sewage system on the property that needs to be replaced. With annexation, the property could be added to the city’s sewer utility system. The owners will pay all costs to connect their existing sewer lines to the city’s system.

The council also unanimously approved the professional services agreements for the city’s hearing examiner and interim public works director as well as amendments to the city’s purchasing policy ordinance.

–By Lauren Reichenbach

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