City taking more time for Town Center plan development, council learns

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A review of Town Center Subarea Plan and development regulations is taking longer than expected as city staff and consultants allow more time for thorough discussion and public involvement, the Mountlake Terrace City Council learned at its Monday, Oct. 15 business meeting.

In a report to the council, Assistant City Manager Stephen Clifton explained that to date, the city has held a public open house and seven Economic Vitality & Town Center Task Force meetings, the most recent of those on Oct. 9. The city also hosted an economic development opportunities panel last summer to explore ideas, he added.

A draft subarea plan was supposed to be forwarded to the task force in August. However, time for draft preparation has been extended, Clifton said, “due to the complexities of the project,” including information related to the economic analysis, zoning and multimodal development.

In addition, a few task force members had expressed concerns about the overall time frame — including the rapid speed of the process, the conceptual maps, and the preferred land uses and building heights, he said.

City staff met with consultant SCJ Alliance to discuss those concerns as they related to next steps, and as a result, four additional task force meetings have been added, and a public open house has been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 4.

During the Oct. 9 task force meeting, participants discussed future steps in the Town Center planning process, and the group also participated in a visual preference exercise, something that was well received, Clifton said. The group was also going to discuss zoning districts based on the design preferences, but ran out of time so that discussion will be rescheduled for a future meeting, he said.

All maps and other materials provided to the task force can be viewed on the city’s website, he added. The agenda for the Oct. 23 task force meeting — open to the public — includes a summary of the visual preference survey ratings from the Oct. 9 meeting, and preferred design themes — building, street scapes and landscaping. In addition, consultant SCJ is going to take task force members on a visual tour of selected town center development districts throughout the Puget Sound region.

As for next steps for the draft subarea plan, Community and Economic Development Director Christy Osborn told the council that such a plan would be prepared based on task force feedback and then submitted to the task force for further review.

It’s anticipated that the draft plan will be completed by the end of November, and after task force review and revisions will be presented to the public for their feedback, Osborn said. The task force will then review and incorporate public comment into the plan, which will be forwarded to the City Planning Commission for their consideration.

The schedule calls for the plan to be finalized by the planning commission and city council in January and February, with plan adoption set at the end of February 2019, Osborn said.

Noting that the council had originally hoped the plan could be finalized and approved by the end of December, Councilmember Doug McCardle said he appreciated the time that both city staff and the task force were putting into the review.

“I think it’s time that needs to be spent so we just don’t throw something together really fast to have it in front of the planning commission, to have it in front of the council by the end of the year,” he said. “It can be somewhat less stressful to know that in the end, the plan that does get moved forward is the right plan.”

Councilmember Bryan Wahl said that while he appreciates the need for additional time to ensure a thorough process, he is also worried about timing to approve the plan in late February 2019.

“As I’ve been saying for two years now, there’s a window of opportunity for when things need to be in place to be able to fully realize the potential of the economy,” Wahl said, pointing to the slowing housing market as an example.

Last time the council adopted a Town Center plan, in 2007, the economy changed and the city “sat and sat and waited and waited for something to happen,” he said. The vision is finally starting to move forward “but I’m nervous about that window closing,” Wahl added. “So the sooner we can get this adopted right…the better to take full advantage of the potential economic development we can recognize here in the city.”

Wahl also asked Osborn whether the city would get into trouble  for adopting its comprehensive plan — legally mandated by the state to be updated every year — in February of next year.

Osborn replied that she has had conversations about the timing with the Department of Commerce, and has been assured that as long as the city starts the comprehensive plan review process in 2018, “if it spills over a little bit, that’s OK. It’s not going to impact us coming forth with additional comp plan amendments (in 2019).”

However, noting that this will be the second year the comprehensive plan has been adopted after the end of the calendar year, Osborn said she is committed to getting an early start on the process for next year’s 2019 plan update.

Also at its Oct. 15 meeting, the council discussed a recommendation from the planning commission regarding amendments to the Freeway/Tourist District. When the district — located along Interstate 5 where Terrace Station is being built next to Gateway Plaza — was initially established, it was anticipated it would “mostly serve the traveling public,”Osborn explained. As a result, zoning uses were based on ways to maximize tax revenue. In addition, uses related to the later-proposed light rail station weren’t considered, including allowances for adult and child day care and preschool facilities.

Entertainment and recreation facilities, such as fitness centers, also are also not a permitted use in the current district zoning, and are required to go through a conditional use process, she said.

The planning commission has recommended that the city council amend the code to allow such facilities, with the caveat that they should be limited to 5,000 square feet in size.

Councilmember McCardle said he thought adding such uses was a good idea, as it allows people who are using light rail to take advantage of these nearby services. He did question, however, whether the 5,000-square-foot limit is large enough to meet the facilities’ needs.

“I definitely do think there could be discussion of whether 5,000 square feet is adequate to adequately serve these types of uses,” Osborne replied.

Testifying in favor of expanding that square footage limitation was Patrick Foley of Lake Union Partners, which is developing the first phase of the Terrace Station project. He requested that the council consider, instead of 5,000 square feet, a figure that represents 35 percent of the retail space in the Terrace Station phase one project — which is approximately 17,000 square feet.

The council will continue discussing the Freeway/Tourist District amendments at its Nov. 1 meeting, Osborn said.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

 

 

 

 

 

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