City council OKs code amendments for corner medical uses in Town Center

The Mountlake Terrace City Council discusses the proposed code amendment with Community and Economic Development Director Christy Osborn, bottom row-left, June 7 via Zoom.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council voted 5-2 at its June 7 meeting to approve an amendment to the zoning code in the Town Center that permits the Richmond Pediatrics clinic to move into the Atlas 236 building at the corner of 56th Avenue West and 236th Street Southwest.

The amendment allows medical uses on a specific subsection of Town Center locations designated as corner storefronts. It affects seven street-level frontages or corners with such a designation located south of 234th Street Southwest and east of 57th Avenue West.

The Town Center’s seven designated corner storefront locations which will now allow medical uses are represented by the blue boxes.

Monday night’s vote followed a continuation of a public hearing started at the council’s May 17 regular business meeting. During that May 17 meeting, councilmembers voted unanimously to table the process to provide more time, which they felt would allow for a greater understanding of the issue’s complexities moving forward and a further exploration of alternative options that might be available. They also encouraged city staff and the proposal’s applicant to continue ongoing discussions seeking a possible common solution under the code’s language at that time.

The amendment application requesting a change to code text for the Town Center Zoning District had been submitted by Yuko Abe, president of AFCO & Sons Properties, which owns the Atlas 236 building. It provided different options for removing the restriction on locating medical/health care uses on the ground floor of designated frontages and corners – with the goal of expanding the allowed location to include the first 30 feet immediately at the corner of those intersections.

Abe’s proposal for the change would then allow her to lease the corner commercial space at the Atlas 236 building to Richmond Pediatrics, which must move out of its current location in Shoreline.

The Town Center Subarea Plan, updated in 2019, has some limited boundaries for select uses, and the zoning restriction applied to 18 corners total at six intersections — since those intersections have either two or four corners affected by designation. The plan is very specific about what uses are not allowed at specific designated corners, while allowing those uses along other portions of the ground floor in buildings.

The plan specified that select corner storefront-designated locations should function as activated pedestrian spaces with high turnover uses, including on nights and weekends, that include retail, restaurants and personal services like salons. Having those types of business activities present on prominent, highly visible corners throughout downtown would then draw people into further exploring other storefronts in that area. The Mill Creek Town Center and downtown Edmonds were provided as examples of walkable mixed development commercial areas with a specific sense of activity and place that the vision hoped to emulate.

City staff and the Mountlake Terrace Planning Commission, by a split vote, had recommended Abe’s proposed text amendments be denied because were not consistent with the Town Center plan’s vision and goals. They also noted that the 2019 plan update had solicited public comments and feedback from local stakeholders as part of its deliberate process.

While the hearing was paused, city staff and the applicant each submitted two separate proposals for alternatives but weren’t able to come to an agreement that could satisfy both sides. When the public hearing resumed at Monday’s meeting, staff and applicant were each able to briefly restate their case.

Abe and staff from the Richmond Pediatrics reiterated that they felt the business would provide a valuable service to residents and be good overall for the community. They said alternative layouts in the building’s space either couldn’t work for the clinic or weren’t viable from a cost perspective in the case of splitting up its footprint between floors and then having to add an elevator for partial access. Abe added that there was a lack of retail or restaurant businesses seeking to lease that corner storefront space at Atlas 236.

City staff reiterated that the designated corner storefront locations had been strategically chosen and that medical/health care uses were allowed in all other areas of those buildings including on the ground floor. Staff also said the planning process for usage had been sound when the Town Center’s plan was updated two years ago, and that its vision for the area should remain intact.

While all councilmembers generally acknowledged that the pediatric clinic would be a good addition to the city and appreciated its services, some councilmembers added that they thought any potential code text amendments should be made more deliberately with additional input. It was also noted that due to the time constraints Richmond Pediatrics faces by having to move from its current location, the process would likely take some time to finish and there would be no guarantees the clinic would or could then agree to relocate to Mountlake Terrace.

Several on the council voiced wanting to find a compromise that could allow for Abe and Richmond Pediatrics to receive an answer to their proposal Monday night, while also leaving open options for the city to explore further possible code text amendments that could still help preserve the Town Center’s vision for vibrant businesses likely to activate further pedestrian activity. That led to the vote adopting language that limits the approval of medical uses to a smaller subsection of the designated corner storefront locations.

Mayor Pro Tem Doug McCardle said that he had previously been in favor of keeping the restrictions in place due to the planning process involved with the 2019 update but had changed his mind in the ensuing weeks following public comments and further contemplation. “These uses in that particular area, they’re good solid businesses that are good uses, they bring people into the city and then they will spill out and use the other amenities that we might have to offer,” he said of his decision. McCardle added that he felt by limiting the scope of the area changed in the amendment, it still keeps the Town Center Plan’s previous vision in place.

Councilmember Erin Murray said she didn’t feel comfortable with the council trying to write on its own further limits in the proposed code amendment. She instead preferred “sending it to someone to develop code that is more in line with ultimately our intentions and then bringing it back to us to consider as a group.” Murray added she was unsure that the change, as presented, “gets us where we want to go and maybe is overly prescriptive.”

Murray said she thought the council should instead focus on a further examination of the subarea plan’s objectives and requirements before altering the code. She added it was important for the council to better understand “how we can create vibrancy without being so specific around the sorts of organizations that we are allowing or not allowing.”

Those long-term impacts beyond this specific applicant are important to revisiting the Town Center’s corner storefront designation, Murray added. “But I don’t know that we are going to solve that in a way that ultimately isn’t really messy tonight,” she said of her desire to put off changing the text.

Councilmember Bryan Wahl agreed with Murray’s sentiments, saying “this is not the ideal way to do it, this is not the way I wanted to do it.” Wahl said that is why he had asked, when the public hearing was tabled, for city staff and the applicant to try to reach a compromise “because that would be the better way to go.” However, he added that with the time constraints Richmond Pediatrics faces, the clinic needed some sort of resolution and therefore he was comfortable with voting on the measure.

“What we really need to do is have a thorough discussion of the uses and what is allowed and is not allowed, and why it’s allowed and not allowed,” Wahl added. He said he liked the fact that the measure as proposed wouldn’t affect all 18 of the designated corner storefront locations, which encouraged engaging in a more thoughtful process down the road. “This to me is a temporary fix,” Wahl said. “It gets us a win for now, but my hope would be that it ensures further discussion from the staff to come up with better language to truly meet the intent, not only for medical use, but really it needs to be a discussion about all uses,” and stipulations.

Councilmembers Rick Ryan and Murray cast the two dissenting votes to the proposed text amendment.

Also at the meeting, councilmembers approved by a vote of 6-1 an amendment to its small domestic animals code that will allow for keeping up to eight poultry on single-family residential properties. Previously, the municipal code set a limit of three poultry on those residences. The amendment also adopts measures of owner expectations required to reduce odors, rodents, bacteria and other concerns raised during public comments.

Mayor Pro Tem McCardle voted against the proposed ordinance.

In other business, the council unanimously approved three items discussed at its June 3 work/study session:

-A work order with Osborn Consulting for engineering design work to retrofit the Mountlake Terrace Public Works Department’s decant facility.

-Professional service agreements with both SAFEbuilt and West Coast Code Consultants to provide the city with plan review and building inspection services on an as-needed basis.

-An amendment to the contract with PND Engineering for design work related to improvements being made at the Ballinger Park waterfront.

The full agenda of items discussed at Monday night’s meeting along with any related materials and/or attachments can be viewed here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

  1. I’m not sure this was a good decision. A rushed last-minute code change that reversed what was developed in a year-long process with tons of stakeholder and public input. And still no discussion of how or why the change won’t have the negative impact the code was originally intended to address. I see that it’s limited to 8 street corners but how can the Council justify not making the same change should another request come in for a different corner?

    1. I am sure this was a good decision. Councilmembers Wright, McCardle, Wahl, Sonmore and Woodard should be commended for prioritizing People over Process. It was not a last-minute rushed code change. Richmond Pediatrics was in negotiations with MLT since last October. The stake holders they represent are infants, children, parents, and the near 40% of their cliental who are on Medicaid or some form of public assistance. This does not represent “tons” of stake holders because, as I am sure you know, children weigh less than adults. The Council discussed both the positive and negative impacts of the code change during the meeting and how the economy has changed dramatically since the code you are referring to was enacted. I feel that if there were medical clinics on all 8 corners, the economic activity generated would probably be more robust than the activity generated by ‘retail’ in the somewhat antiquated code you are referring to. I hope you don’t feel cornered by my remarks, reconsider your comments, and eventually come to view and support this as a good decision for Mountlake Terrace. It’s good for kids!

  2. A fantastic decision that will promote the health and welfare
    of the Mountlake Terrace community for the next 25 years.

    Planning must now take into account the explosion of on line retail sales and the impacts of Covid – masks, 6 foot distancing, and the threat of a new Covid strain.

    In 25 years will we need as much retail space as currently imagined? Maybe not.

    In 25 years will we need pediatric care in Mountlake Terrace? You betcha!!

    Good work Mountlake Terrace City Council!! Change must be met with change.

  3. A good and sound business decision. I am pleased the Council listened to their many constituents who took the time to write, email and call. Proud to see tax paying families matter to my City, just as much as those without kiddos!

  4. As a citizen vocally involved with the decisions swirling around this case, here are my two cents: While the very specific dense-city oriented ordinances originated with the City staff and were thus defended by them, we continue to see little movement to assemble properties and create the kind of downtown envisioned by the planning effort. As such, it is a positive decision for our city to say yes today to a good use of the corner space, even if is framed as an exception to the long-term goals for our downtown.
    I too would have voted yes to this exception, given the Atlas 236 efforts to comply and yet fill their space, as well as our current development environment.

    1. Regarding the Richmond Pediatrics Clinic, the Mountlake Terrace Community and Economic Development staff concludes:

      “The proposed change

      allowing medical/health care uses at corner storefront(s) ….

      …….. would not promote the health and welfare
      of the community.”

      (May 17, 2021 Memo; Page 7, conclusion.)

      That’s what they said. This is backward thinking. This is backward planning, not forward-looking planning.

      Maybe it’s time for the City Council and the public to re-evaluate the leadership of the Community and Economic Development Department.

      Maybe it’s time for a change.

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