Council discusses code text change that would allow pediatric clinic in MLT corner storefront space

Mountlake Terrace City Councilmembers listen as Community and Economic Development Director Christy Osborn (bottom row – right) discusses the proposed zoning code text amendment.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its April 29 work/study session heard a request for an amendment to zoning code in the Town Center area that would allow a pediatrics clinic to move into a corner storefront in the new Atlas 236 building. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for later this month.

The council also discussed the city’s art deaccession policy and reviewed the Mountlake Terrace Police Department’s latest quarterly report.

Regarding the Town Center proposal, an application has been submitted by Yuko Abe, president of AFCO & Sons Properties, which owns the Atlas 236 building. The application requests a change to code text for the Town Center Zoning Districts that would remove the restriction on locating medical/health care uses on the ground floor of designated frontages and corners. The proposed amendment would expand the allowed location of those services to include the first 30 feet immediately at the corner of the designated intersections in the TC-1, TC-2, and TC-3 Zones.

There are some limited boundaries for select uses, and the zoning restriction currently applies to six corner storefront intersection locations. A total of 18 corners are subject to the limitation since those intersections have either two or four corners affected by designation. The plan is very specific about what uses are not allowed at specific designated corners, while allowing those uses along other portions of the ground floor in buildings.

Corner storefront locations in the Town Center.

The current block frontage in the Town Center is roughly 22,000 linear feet and the medical/health care restriction within the first 30 feet affects a total of 1,080 linear feet of block frontage in the Town Center.

The application is seeking the change for a specific location: to allow the Richmond Pediatrics clinic and its seven doctors to relocate from Shoreline to the Atlas 236 building at the designated corner storefront of 56th Avenue West and 236th Street Southwest. However, any text amendments proposed in the city are required to be evaluated for their implications across the entire zoning designation so as not to be deemed arbitrary and capricious.

City staff and the Mountlake Terrace Planning Commission have recommended the proposed text amendment be denied because it is not consistent with the Town Center Subarea Plan and does not promote the public health and welfare. Community and Economic Development Director Christy Osborn said the intention of that plan is for those select corner storefront-designated locations to function as activated pedestrian spaces with high turnover uses such as retail, restaurants and personal services like salons.

The reasoning is that those corners were identified as potentially being the most vibrant and active shopping and dining areas within the city. And the corner storefront restriction’s purpose was to ensure that corners in the Town Center remained active on evenings and weekends. Restricted uses such as medical/health care, day care operations and financial institutions at these locations might typically be open for less hours of operation and activate less pedestrian traffic during those periods, Osborn said. “Medical or dental (uses) would be allowed, just not on that specific corner,” she added.

Staff felt the proposed change to allow medical/health care uses at those identified corner storefronts would be contrary to the plan’s original intent to create such activated, ground-level pedestrian spaces at key intersections.

Some on the council said they felt that turning away a business that wanted to move into the city could be bad policy. Another factor some said should be considered is that having a pediatric clinic there would still bring a desirable type of traffic to the area, including families who might be likely to also engage in other types of commercial activities around medical appointments.

Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright said a consideration is that the commercial real estate market is currently slow because of COVID-19 effects. “I’m looking at all of these corners and if every one of them had a restaurant I would be pleased,” she said. “But I’m looking at that’s probably going to take 30 years to fill every one of those corners with a restaurant so what’s going to go in there until we get all of that done.”

Other councilmembers said that the Town Center planning process had been deliberate and strategic while also including public input and therefore it shouldn’t be amended at this time. Some noted that the plan had only recently taken effect, many of the area’s commercial properties are still being developed and said more time should be allowed for it to remain in place.

“In the scheme of government and the way we work, this is like a brand-new plan,” Mayor Pro Tem Doug McCardle said. “It’s still in its baby steps and it hasn’t even had a chance to get going to see what we could really end up with and to turn around and change it in this early stage I don’t think would be wise.”

Several people associated with either the pediatric clinic or the Atlas 236 building provided public comments in support of the proposed text amendment, including the applicant. “I hope the city realizes that they’re receiving a strong interest to our Town Center by a doctor’s office,” Abe said. “In this challenging retail market it’s a very rare opportunity and this doesn’t happen very often. If this amendment does not pass you should expect other cities are eager to welcome this tenant.”

Abe added she thought the clinic would provide stable tax revenues to the city and serve more people in the average week than restaurants or salons would. She speculated that patients may also utilize other businesses or amenities while in the area and added, “I also want to let you know that I haven’t received any single inquiry for this space to date.”

The proposal will have a public hearing at the city council’s May 17 regular business meeting.

Councilmembers continued discussions on establishing a proposed art deaccession policy, which would authorize the Mountlake Terrace Arts Advisory Commission to recommend any artwork for deaccessioning to the city council. The commission has been acquiring works of arts for public display since 1976, and that has created a backlog of stored art, some of which is either in disrepair or no longer remains useful to the original location where it was installed.

Even with the policy, the city council would still have to approve any such recommended actions. Both the advisory commission and city staff have recommended that the council adopt such a procedure, adding it will be important moving forward because of the current age and condition of some of the city’s art pieces.

Previously, the proposal set a threshold value of $10,000, which would require any art with an original purchase price of that amount or greater to be independently appraised before it could be deaccessioned. But several councilmembers felt that original purchase price threshold for triggering an appraisal should be lowered and asked the arts commission for further input. The revised policy, if approved, would now require any artwork purchased for $1,500 or more to be appraised as part of the deaccession process.

The proposed motion is not yet scheduled for a vote and councilmembers were nearly unanimous in indicating through a thumbs-up consensus that they were supportive of the policy revision. Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz said their direction helped and anticipated that the resolution could be presented for approval at a meeting in the near future.

In other business, senior staff members from the Mountlake Terrace Police Department provided a review of its 2021 first quarter report. It included an update on the investigation into a series of crow shootings, with police noting they expect charges to be filed shortly against a suspect they identified.

The new partnership program in cooperation with the Lynnwood Police Department, Verdant and Compass Health to have an embedded social worker with officers has hit a temporary setback because the social worker had to suddenly leave due to personal reasons. The process to identify and hire a replacement is currently underway. “We are very determined,” Chief Pete Caw said of the effort. “I’m very optimistic we’ll move forward very quickly, all the bedrock stuff is in place, we just need to find the right person.”

The police have continued training in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques, with a focus on dealing with people experiencing mental illness and also the use of less lethal options.

Commander Mike Haynes said that total calls for service were up approximately 30% from this time last year. “This is to be expected as the community has adjusted to living with COVID-19 precautions and as we progress towards returning to normal more and more people are venturing out and often times that results in more activity for us,” he noted. Haynes later added, “Overall our response time is very good, I’m quite pleased with it.”

All of the department’s staff have now completed expanded mandatory training on bias-based policing. In the first quarter of 2021 there were five complaints received from the community. One of the complaints received involved the allegation of bias-based policing and is currently being investigated. “We take every complaint seriously and they are thoroughly investigated by supervisory staff,” Haynes said.

Commander Pat Lowe informed the council that the investigations unit had cleared 23 of the 31 cases assigned to it in the first three months of the year. Code enforcement had closed seven cases in that time and is actively working on almost twice that number.

Also highlighted were community outreach programs including the return of the Mountlake Terrace School Liaison Program, which started up again with children going back to classroom learning. The Cops and Clergy program plans to resume when the construction addition to the police station is complete, and will make use of the facility’s new training room. Also, the department’s community outreach program received a donation of over $2,000 from the Cedar Plaza Ace Hardware.

The city council will hold its next regular business meeting May 3, beginning at 7 p.m. It will include a Sound Transit update and a separate update on COVID-19. See the agenda here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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