Council agrees to lower building heights in two Town Center zones, hears proposal for stormwater rate hike

In preparation for a Sept. 16 public hearing on the proposed Mountlake Terrace Town Center Plan, the Mountlake Terrace City Council at its Sept. 12 work/study session resolved three outstanding issues related to building heights and parking standards.

Consultants Bill Trimm and Bob Bengford summarized the consensus the council reached on seven items during its Sept. 3 business meeting, then moved on to the three that were left unresolved.

The seven issues agreed upon Sept. 3 were:

1. Accept Town Center Core and Town Center Reserve (TC-R)  Boundaries

2. Revise the plan’s Transition Zone:

◦ Remove Transition Zone south of 237th Street Southwest
◦ Extend Transition Zone to three properties adjacent to 54th Avenue West

3. Retain townhouses in the TC-R zone as a permitted use

4. Maintain block frontage designations as presented

5.  Keep options open for future incentives for developers following adoption of the plan and development regulations. In particular, the council is interested in learning more about the Landscape Conservation and Infrastructure Program (LCLIP) as an incentive tool.

6. Accept revisions to Opportunities and Policy sections of the Economic Vitality Element

7. Accept the map amendment to the Recreation, Parks and Open Space Element

Among the three issues outstanding, two involved how tall buildings should be in two areas of the Town Center: the southeast section, between 58th and 56th Avenues West, and the northwest section, south of 232nd and west of the Civic Campus. (See maps above.)

In both areas, the council reached a consensus to replace proposed Town Center 1 (TC-1) zoning that would have allowed 8- to 12-story buildings with Town Center 2 (TC-2) zoning, which permits buildings 4-8 stories high.

The TC-1 zone of taller buildings will remain in the Town Center area east and southeast of the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, which city officials hope will eventually attract the development of office buildings adjacent to the new light rail station.

“It keeps the taller buildings where we want them, near the transit center,” Mayor Pro Tem Doug McCardle said.

Councilmembers agreed that maintaining the lower building heights now in those areas would keep the city’s options open for future conversations about developer incentives — where community amenities could be provided in exchange for taller buildings.

In the case of changing zoning from 8-12 stories to 4-8 stories for the northwest corner, some councilmembers pointed to the concern that the elevation there is higher, so those 8-12 stories would appear even taller in that area.

The third area of consensus was related to off-street parking standards for multi-family residential buildings that will be developed as part of the Town Center Plan.

The proposal calls for different tiers of parking requirements, based on the walking distance to and from the transit center/light rail station. Tier 1 is based on a five-minute walk, Tier 2 on a 10-minute walk and Tier 3 is beyond a 10-minute walk

Councilmembers McCardle and Laura Sonmore reiterated their concerns that the parking issue shouldn’t be minimized, as it’s one that will be an ongoing concern for residents as the city grows. McCardle pointed out, as he did during the Sept. 3 meeting, that requiring developers to provide half a parking space for a studio apartment — or one parking space for every two studio units — means that residents will end up parking on the street, causing additional parking shortages. “The numbers don’t make sense to me,” said McCardle, who is a middle school math teacher.

In the end, the majority of the council agreed with the idea of requiring developers to submit a parking management study for any development application that comes in for a building that is eight stories or higher. Those plans should be reviewed by a third party, paid for by the developer.

The city council has been considering the plan, which calls for zoning changes that could bring taller buildings and more density to the downtown core, since July. As part of that review, councilmembers have been poring over documents, hearing presentations and listening to public comment about the proposed changes. In late August, they also took a walking tour of the Town Center area to get a first-hand look at neighborhoods where changes are proposed.

In other business, the council heard a presentation from FCS Group regarding is recently completed stormwater rate study. Much of the city’s stormwater infrastructure, built in the 1960s and 1970s, is nearing the end of its useful life, so capital improvements are required. And costs for stormwater operations and maintenance are exceeding revenues, meaning that debt reserves are being depleted.

As a result, staff is recommending a 95% rate increase — from $11.45 monthly to $22.33 monthly — in 2020, with additional 10% rate increases in both 2021 and 2022. After that, ratepayers would see a lower increase — an estimated 3.5% –annually in 2023 and beyond.

Councilmembers noted that such news would not be welcomed by residents, who were hit in January 2019 with a nearly $22-per-month average increase in water rates, and also likely will be facing an increase in sewer rates. The council heard a presentation in March 2019 on a staff recommendation to raise sewer rates by 55 percent, again to replace aging infrastructure and meet increased operations costs.

“It’s a huge jump on everything,” Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright noted of the three potential utility rate increases in one year.

Public Works Director Eric LaFrance said that staff would be coming back to council Oct. 31 with a review at the impact of the combined utility rate increases — both the existing water as well as the proposed sewer and stormwater — as well as a review of what nearby cities are charging.

You can learn more about the stormwater rate proposal in the FCS presentation to council here.

And you can review the full agenda for the Sept. 16 council business meeting at this link. Other items scheduled to be discussed during that meeting include:

– Public hearing and adoption of development regulation ordinances to implement the Shoreline Master Program

– Review and approval of 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.

– Discuss a proposal by the city’s Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee, based on public input, to name the new Civic Campus plaza as “Jerry Smith Town Center Plaza,” in honor of the city’s late mayor.

– Review and Approval of a city council subcommittee recommendation to appoint Sarah Bennett to the MLT Planning Commission position being vacated by Commissioner Anthony Carr, who is moving out of the area. Bennett’s term would run through June 30, 2022.

The Sept. 16 meeting will be in interim Mountlake Terrace City Hall, 6100 219th St. S.W., 2nd floor.

— By Teresa Wippel

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