City council reviews chronic nuisance ordinance and water emergency response plan

City Attorney Hillary Evans presents the proposed chronic nuisance chapter ordinance to the city council via Zoom at its Feb. 3 work/study session.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its Feb. 3 work/study session reviewed a chronic nuisance chapter ordinance and also the city’s water emergency response plan now being developed.

The proposed chronic nuisance chapter ordinance would apply to properties within the city that have both nuisance violations and are also a hub for criminal activity. It would provide the City of Mountlake Terrace with the means for abating those properties with repeated code violations and criminal behavior. It also allows for community engagement and a cooperative process.

Such a provision carries heavy penalties that can serve as a deterrent to properties becoming a chronic nuisance, along with an incentive for property owners to abate the conditions once they are notified of them.

Mountlake Terrace does not currently have the tools within its municipal code to address and abate these properties. Under the proposed chapter, the city would provide owners with an initial notice and an opportunity to voluntarily abate the property, followed by court action for continued non-compliance. The court could then consider various remedies including a daily penalty of $100, city abatement of the property, or potentially ordering that the property be closed for up to a year.

Under the proposed code, a chronic property would be defined as one of the following:

– Any property that a court has determined, two or more times within a 12-month period, that probable cause exists that illegal possession, manufacture, or delivery of a controlled substance or related offenses has occurred on the property.

– Any abandoned property where nuisance activity exists.

– A single-family residential property, a single-unit non-residential property, a single unit in a multi-family residential property, or a single unit within a multi-tenant property for which four or more nuisance activities exist or have occurred on the property during any 90-day period, or eight or more nuisance activities during any 365-day period.

City Attorney Hillary Evans noted that the proposed process would allow property owners ample opportunity to achieve compliance, while also providing the city with the necessary tools to address persistent criminal activity at locations that meet the guidelines. She estimated that currently there are approximately three to five properties in Mountlake Terrace that would potentially meet those conditions.

Evans said that when developing the proposed ordinance, staff examined other cities in the region that have adopted local chronic nuisance provisions to address such properties. She characterized the measures included in the proposal as middle-of-the-road, adding that some area jurisdictions are more stringent by leveling higher daily fines, using guidelines with shorter time periods when declaring a property to be a chronic nuisance, and/or requiring less regular contact with property owners regarding their opportunities to abate the activities which determine chronic nuisance locations.

The code would allow for exemptions when a property owner is cooperating with the city to abate the ongoing criminal activity and does not allow it to further continue once they are aware of those activities. The city is required to notify owners in a timely manner about persistent criminal activity and then provide them with opportunities to address such activity. To level any penalties, the city must document that the owners are not only failing to abate the activity but that they are not even attempting to do so and are possibly even contributing to it.

Several councilmembers said they were glad the city is addressing the issue and that the ordinance is a step in the right direction. It was also noted that the end goal is to allow for a process that can help the city to work with property owners to clean up such properties rather than being strictly punitive.

Public Works Director Eric LaFrance discussed the city’s water emergency response plan, plus two separate interlocal agreements.

In other business, the council reviewed the water emergency response plan the city is developing. The City of Mountlake Terrace was notified last year that under the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, it is required to create both a risk and resilience assessment along with an emergency response plan for the municipal water utility. Since the city is responsible for providing a sufficient quantity of quality water to meet the needs of the community, which also includes future development, the response plan is meant to help reduce the impact of natural and/or man-made disasters.

It specifically addresses emergency response planning as it applies to the city’s water system. For example, in the case of small emergencies specific to Mountlake Terrace, the city’s Public Works Department’s water division can respond to such incidents on its own. However, in the event of a large-scale disaster, the whole city would be responding to the emergency and therefore a different chain of command would be used to assist with bringing outside resources to help.

Primary goals in the plan include coordinating the development and maintenance of the city’s emergency response plan, which then provides the framework for how to organize disaster operations. It also calls for:

– Providing a community education and preparedness program for city staff and assisting city departments in training activities related to emergency preparedness capabilities.

– Fostering interdepartmental cooperation within the city and also with adjacent jurisdictions as well as with county, state, and federal agencies.

– Providing a sufficient amount of water during an emergency, conserving or curtailing water usage consistent with emergency response protocols and also ensuring compliance with water quality standards during an emergency.

– Maintaining minimum fire flow capabilities throughout the system for emergency response.

– Communicating effectively with water utility customers to inform and coordinate cooperative actions while also maintaining confidence during emergencies.

Once it’s finalized, the emergency response plan will be used to train staff on how to respond to emergencies involving the city’s water utility and it will also be included as a reference in the next update to the Water Comprehensive Plan.

The council also:

– Heard city staff recommend the council approve a resolution that would provide a two-year extension to the interlocal agreement with the Edmonds Wastewater Treatment Plant. The extension will allow staff of the four jurisdictions that are part of the interlocal agreement — which include Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds, Shoreline and the Olympic View Water and Sewer District — more time to evaluate and fully understand how Washington state’s new wastewater treatment criteria will impact the plant’s operations before finalizing a methodology for cost allocations.

– Reviewed an update of the mutual aid interlocal agreement with Snohomish County for road and street services. When feasible and financially beneficial, the City of Mountlake Terrace contracts with the county to carry out various street maintenance projects that may require specialized equipment, expertise or labor resources that the city does not have. Both parties have an interest in updating the existing interlocal agreement to address issues of scope, liability and mutual aid. Staff recommended the council authorizes signing a new agreement that would run through 2026. The proposed agreement does not obligate either the city or county to perform work, and any work potentially accepted must include an associated cost estimate based on actual costs such as wages and an overhead factor.

– Reviewed appointments to the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee for 2022. Under state law, revenues from the city’s 2% tax on hotel and motel rentals must be used for marketing or operation of special events and festivals designed to attract tourists. They may also support the operations of tourism-related facilities owned or operated by nonprofit organizations. Programs or events supported should have the potential to increase overnight visits locally and/or create a positive economic impact.

Studio 6 is Mountlake Terrace’s only hotel or motel and it generates approximately $25,000 in such tax revenues each year. Those funds have been allocated to various events and services in the past including the Tour de Terrace festival, the 3rd of July Fireworks event and also the Arts of the Terrace Juried Art Show.

Each year the council must appoint the five members of the committee that is comprised of two representatives from businesses that are required to collect the hotel-motel tax, two representatives who are involved in activities that are authorized to be funded by the

tax revenues and one councilmember who serves as the committee’s chairperson. The advisory committee typically meets once or twice per year to review funding applications received and then make its final recommendations to the city council.

Appointments for this year include Studio 6 Hotel General Manager Laura Peckinpaugh, Studio 6 Hotel Operations Manager Sharaine Smith, Arts of the Terrace member Bonnie Mercer and Nile Shrine member Dale Newman. The council nominated Councilmember Laura Sonmore to again serve as its representative on the committee. The 2022 appointments will be put to a council vote on Monday night.

Kate Lunceford, who serves on the board of directors for the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County, addresses the city council during Thursday’s work/study session.

In addition, the Snohomish County League of Women Voters requested that the City of Mountlake Terrace sign on to a letter endorsing changes to the county’s urban tree canopy policy. It recommends that Snohomish County adopt a proposed policy on urban tree canopy as a new section of the natural environment chapter in the general policy plan during the process for the 2024 update to the county’s growth management act comprehensive plan.

The proposed policy seeks to prioritize and maintain an urban tree canopy throughout the county, while also accommodating projected population growth, and maximizing housing affordability and economic development. The letter, which has been signed by nearly 20 other various entities throughout the county, notes that “finding a balance is possible.”

It advises that trees and canopy are important to local cultural, historic, and ecosystem services. Therefore, there is a need for a comprehensive framework that can promote efficient land use while accommodating growth and also ensuring the region has a healthy and attractive livability.

Due to the diminishing tree canopy, the letter states that Snohomish County’s current policy and regulations may not be accomplishing their intended goals. It adds, “The environmental, health and safety values provided by a functional regional tree canopy warrant higher protection than currently provided.”

Objectives it would like the county to consider in future regulations and administrative rules for meeting current and long-term needs include:

– Providing a healthy urban forest including tree canopy cover to contribute to the economic vitality of the community, increase environmental stability and resiliency, and promote a better quality of life.

– Managing the urban forest resource as a part of overall green infrastructure for maximum community benefit and climate change mitigation.

– Initiating and promoting appropriate urban tree management practices in all urban areas to improve the quality of life.

– Promoting stewardship, community education and partnership opportunities, so the public and other potential partners are more likely to invest their energy and resources to help achieve the vision of a thriving urban forest.

– Using incentives as leverage to achieve community and urban forestry goals.

– Providing urban forest resources equitably across the community.

– Considering the management of urban forests and trees along with planning for transportation and utilities.

Councilmembers felt it would be beneficial for them to have more time to review the letter before making a final decision about the city signing onto it. Further discussions on the possible endorsement will be held at the council’s next meeting.

The city council will hold its next regular business meeting Monday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. It will include a vote on adopting the chronic nuisance chapter ordinance. See the agenda and information for watching/participating online here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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