At a Tuesday evening open house, a group of about a dozen Mountlake Terrace citizens got their first crack at reviewing and commenting on preliminary design concepts for the city’s planned new southern entry point, the Gateway Plaza on the corner of 236th Street Southwest. The plaza will be located just east of the I-5 offramp adjacent to the planned Sound Transit Mountlake Terrace light rail station.
“While the area is small — approximately 2,000 square feet — it is ideally located to provide motorists, light rail passengers, pedestrians and commuters with a welcoming space that reflects Mountlake Terrace’s unique identity,” said Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz. “It’s going to be a park — a new park. But it’s also a major gateway to our city. It’s a heavily travelled spot, and presents a great opportunity to convey who we are to a large, diverse audience.”
Betz went on to explain that the project’s slightly less than $1 million construction price tag is completely covered by existing funds from Sound Transit that have been earmarked for enhancing access to the light rail station. Mountlake Terrace is overseeing the design process, and will be responsible for ongoing maintenance of the plaza.
“The city’s name says it all,” said Curtis LaPierre, senior landscape architect for Otak, the city’s design consultant for the project. “Incorporating and evoking mountains, water and feel of a raised terrace became the underlying themes for our design process and are reflected in varying degrees in the three preliminary concepts we’re presenting to you this evening.
LaPierre also pointed out other factors driving the effort include ensuring a safe, natural pedestrian flow, a place to sit, and a positive welcoming message — all in a design that would be durable and easy to maintain.
“The important thing tonight is to look, learn and tell us what you like and don’t like about these three general themes,” he continued. “Think about the experience, what it would be like to walk through the plaza, sit there, meet friends as they come off the train. We’re not asking you to make a decision tonight, but rather to get your thoughts and ideas about each, and which elements you’d like to see in the final design. Remember that the three concepts are not mutually exclusive, so we encourage you to mix and match elements from each.”
The first concept, named Waterfall Sign, proposes a major water feature in the center of the space, surrounded by benches and landscaping. The waterfall would be bounded by two vertical pillars supporting a large horizontal sign, with the city’s name and including the Olympic peaks skyline above and reflected below. LaPierre pointed out that one advantage to a large flowing water feature on this site would be to create a refuge by helping deaden traffic noise from adjacent streets.
Concept 2, Lighted Sign, would also be built around a large identifying sign supported by two pillars, but would be a more organic design incorporating planters, benches, landscaping and greenery. The sign would also include the Olympic peaks skyline, and would be oriented to be visible from adjacent streets and to passengers on passing light rail trains.
The third concept, Community Tree, proposes a large specimen tree as the main focal point, surrounded by additional planters, benches and landscaping. The overall feel would be more flowing and organic than the first two concepts, and would provide an island of greenery in a heavily travelled area. Identifying signage would be on a low vertical wall facing 236th Avenue Southwest that would include the city’s name and a large sculpted city logo in a planting bed.
Questions from the audience included plans for pathway lighting, alternatives for sign orientation and placement, opportunities for children, the potential for root systems to disturb hardscape as the plants mature, whether a community tree could be incorporated into the other designs and not be the main focus, and possible provisions for dogs.
One attendee asked whether the water feature could be modified to flow into a drain located at grade rather than into a pond. LaPierre responded that this raises the problem of children and others using it as a spray feature with the attendant issues of maintaining potable water quality, which would not be consistent with the size of the space and plaza concept.
Another citizen suggested that the Community Tree and Waterfall concepts could be combined by placing the MLT logo in a pool with some water jets. LaPierre said he was intrigued with the idea and would see about incorporating it into the next iteration of design concepts.
The next community meeting is tentatively scheduled for mid-January
For additional information, complete design concept renderings, timelines, and a chance to comment and make your voice heard, visit the project web page.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel