City Council reverses course on building heights in Town Center; final approval set for Sept. 26

After reaching consensus during its Sept. 12 work/study session to reduce building heights in two areas of the draft Town Center plan, the Mountlake Terrace City Council reversed course during its Sept. 16 business meeting and decided to return to the original proposal for 8-12 stories in those two areas, as put forward by the city’s Planning Commission.

The plan is now scheduled for final approval during a special Thursday, Sept. 26 council meeting.

The Town Center boundary map and zoning districts now under consideration by the council.

The two areas are the southeast section of Town Center, between 58th and 56th Avenues West, and the northwest section, south of 232nd and west of the Civic Campus. (See map of draft districts above.) They include Town Center land use designations as outlined by an 11-member Economic Vitality and Town Center Task Force and put into plan form by the city’s Planning Commission.

As envisioned, the Town Center Plan is meant to concentrate growth and development in Town Center to protect outlying single-family residential areas. It includes simplifying the number of land use districts and their associated zoning, with the tallest buildings (up to 12 stories under the draft plan) adjacent to I-5 and the transit center. Heights would be reduced as the zoning gets closer to single-family residential uses.

A major consideration for these changes in the Sound Transit light rail station coming to Mountlake Terrace in 2024, which is expected to bring additional residents and businesses to the city.

On Sept. 12, there was council consensus that building heights should be lowered in both  the southeast section and the northwest section. There was agreement to replace proposed Town Center 1 (TC-1) zoning that would allow 8- to 12-story buildings with Town Center 2 (TC-2) zoning, which permits buildings 4-8 stories high. But after hearing citizen testimony and engaging in further discussion Sept. 16, the council agreed to return to the original plan.

Most of the seven citizens who offered testimony Sept. 16 asked the council to go back to the original designation for taller buildings in the two areas that the council had agreed to change.

“One of the purposes of upgrading our planning in the downtown area was to take advantage of the (Sound Transit) light rail, which is coming,” resident Stephen Barnes said during public hearing testimony. “The TC-1 designation up here right next to the transit center makes the most sense if in fact is as high as it can get so we can get the greatest possible density right where we need it, which is right within very close walking distance to the station.”

But some, like Mountlake Terrace resident Anne Bjornstad, offered a different viewpoint. Bjornstad noted that she used to live in Bothell and saw the impacts of that city’s rapid growth “without regard to infrastructure,” including utilities, parking and roads. She also worried that increased density in Mountlake Terrace would negatively impact the city’s parks. She then asked the council to be “not so ambitious and more thoughtful” in making their decision on the Town Center Plan.

Since September is a five-Monday month, there is no regular City Council meeting scheduled next week. So approval of the Town Center Plan and related documents is scheduled for a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Interim City Council Chambers, 6100 219th St. S.W., Suite 220.

Among the other business conducted Sept. 16, the council:

– Approved the adoption of development regulation ordinances to implement the Shoreline Master Program

– Approved a professional services agreement with PND Engineers for $176,000 to design a new boat launch and floating boat dock as part of the Ballinger Park Master Plan.

– Appointed Sarah Bennett to the MLT Planning Commission position being vacated by Commissioner Anthony Carr, who is moving out of the area. Bennett’s term will run through June 30, 2022.

— By Teresa Wippel

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