At their Dec. 3 work/study session, Mountlake Terrace city councilmembers discussed turf materials proposed for the Evergreen Playfield Complex renovation, mulled over updating the income levels necessary to qualify for a utility discount and also heard proposals for a street vacation and a separate lot subdivision to accommodate townhomes .
Recreation and Parks staff had first presented the final design and budget proposal for the sports complex improvement project at the council’s Nov. 16 meeting. The plan recommended the use of a standard synthetic crumb rubber infill for Evergreen Playfield #1, rather than more expensive alternatives (for example, coated crumb rubber, ground cork or nut shells) as a cost-saving measure. The council agreed to move forward with submitting the design for permitting, but also requested more information and time for public input about the health and environmental concerns of using a standard crumb rubber infill rather than a coated crumb rubber one known as “Cushion Fall.”
In comparing the two synthetic field materials, “the difference is that the vast majority of all the synthetic turf fields that have been installed, they utilize that crumb rubber,”Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz said. “And really over a hundred technical studies that have been performed over the last 30 years have no findings and links to health risks currently.” Betz did note, however, that two large studies are currently underway, and some questions still remain.
Betz said that current reports show that while crumb rubber does contain contaminants, it does not pose an increased risk to health through exposure by playing on the fields. There is evidence that the chemicals utilized in crumb rubber infill are toxic, but available studies show that toxicity is limited and deemed far below harmful levels. Some comparisons show that it is similar to the plastic in children’s toys, or other similar levels of chemicals that people encounter in their everyday lives.
Regarding environmental impacts from crumb rubber, Betz informed councilmembers that the studies available were limited and focused mainly on effects from stormwater runoff. “Some studies that have been done have shown that stormwater runoff has negative effects for coho (salmon) and can be linked to their deaths,” Betz said. Those chemicals found in the dead salmon are the same used in automobile tires, but crumb rubber isn’t referenced as the cause. “It’s simply just the runoff from automobiles on everyday streets around the county that are driven,” he said.
Studies noted that a mixture of sand and soil can filter out many of the contaminants and help to prevent negative effects on fish, and Betz said the city has already proposed that practice in its design for the turf installation.
Both of the proposed turf materials have a top layer of infill with a lifespan of roughly eight to 12 years. The coated “Cushion Fall” turf would cost approximately $55,000 more than the standard crumb rubber proposed, and total costs for the completed renovation project are currently almost $1.8 million. Betz said that once the foundational infrastructure underneath the synthetic turf is installed as part of this project, the cost of replacing that top layer in the future will be substantially lower than the initial price and new materials can also be considered at that time.
He summarized the two materials’ pros and cons, saying that the standard crumb rubber is the most widely used, cost effective and has also been analyzed or tested the most, although some reported public concerns about health risks remain. The coated crumb rubber has been “found to have some antimicrobial benefits,” doesn’t hurt as much to slide upon and has a brighter color rendering, but besides being more expensive it has the same chemical makeup and there has been “relatively little analysis done” on it as compared to the standard crumb rubber. A link to the various studies cited at the work/study session is available online.
The council thanked Betz for the additional health and environmental information he provided and afterward expressed their comfort with using the standard crumb rubber turf material. Councilmember Erin Murray added the caveat that the public still has time to comment on any concerns that may need to be weighed before a vote on the proposal at the Dec. 7 meeting.
Senior Planner Edith Duttlinger presented the council with a proposal from Sound Transit for the city to vacate a portion of its 222nd Street Southwest right-of-way. The purpose of the vacation request is to facilitate construction of the light rail system on the land as opposed to an elevated guideway. It would eliminate a land-locked remnant of that right-of-way between the guideway and west margin of I-5 in order to provide for Sound Transit access and maintenance of the guideway.
The area proposed for vacation is a roughly 100-foot segment of 222nd Street Southwest with a 60-foot wide right-of-way located between 62nd Avenue West and I-5. Any petition to vacate a city right-of-way must be signed by more than two-thirds of the adjoining landowners and the submission signed by Sound Transit represents 100 percent of the abutting properties.
Duttlinger told the council the street vacation would not deny any nearby property owners from direct access to a public way, although she recommended that the city retain an easement over the water main within the vacation area. Sound Transit submitted an appraisal that valued the vacation land at $160,000, which the city affirmed through an independent third-party evaluation represented a fair market value.
City staff has concluded that the public interest would be served by supporting the regional light rail system and vacating the land-locked remnant in the area while requiring compensation funds.
“If the council chooses to vacate the right-of-way and to require compensation as a public benefit that money, at least half of it, has to be used for public infrastructure either transportation or parks capital improvements and the like, within the city, and that would provide a benefit to the community at large,” Duttlinger said.
A public hearing and council vote on the ordinance will take place at its next meeting on Monday night.
Associate Planner Kevin Johnson briefed the council on a proposal to redevelop the two-acre Cedar Park site for townhomes. The project would subdivide the land into 52 lots for townhome development in 12 buildings by demolishing the four existing single-story buildings at the former Cedar Park Christian School site. The Mountlake Terrace Planning Commission recommended approval of the development in July.
Mayor Pro Tem Doug McCardle said he like the project and its layout but had concerns about local traffic impacts in the area. Johnson replied that the development wasn’t required to do a traffic analysis or mitigation because with residential use “mathematically this project will actually generate less trips than when the school was open and functioning.”
“I can agree with you mathematically, but I think realistically we as a city are going to have to keep an eye on that,” McCardle said, citing the possibility of different traffic patterns from residential use of the property compared to those of the previous school.
A public hearing on the proposed subdivision will take place at the council’s Monday night meeting.
The council also discussed adjusting the income thresholds required for providing household utility discounts to low-income senior citizens and disabled residents. This topic had previously been reviewed at the end of October and councilmembers requested that city staff recommend updated income guidelines that more closely matched those in neighboring cities. Because different formulas are used, fewer households currently qualify for a utility discount in Mountlake Terrace than Edmonds, Lynnwood or Alderwood Water & Wastewater District.
One of the challenges, City Manager Scott Hugill said, is that right now “we don’t have good data to know the effect of how many people can take advantage of the program under new income thresholds and what the impact would be to utility revenues.” There are currently 108 Mountlake Terrace households receiving this discount. He said that newer, more accurate data would be available after the results of the 2020 federal census are released around the middle of next year.
In the interim, Hugill recommended the council adopt the income levels used by the state in determining low-income property tax exemptions. He felt that this provides advantages by increasing the number of households eligible to qualify for the discount and that the income threshold is then tied to the area’s economy, rather than the broader federal level.
Combining these income thresholds with household size could look like the following:
Several councilmembers expressed their willingness to move forward with the recommendation to make changes. Councilmember Bryan Wahl said that he agreed with the need “to at least make some interim steps” and would even like to look into expanding the program to also allow renters, in addition to property owners, access to the utility discounts.
Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright agreed it was important for the city to raise the income levels necessary to qualify so that they more closely mirror the requirements of other nearby cities.
The agenda for the council’s Dec. 7 meeting is available online. It includes a vote on adopting the final 2021-22 biennial budget ordinance along with public hearings on both the 222nd Street Southwest vacation ordinance and the Cedar Park townhomes proposal for a lot subdivision.
— By Nathan Blackwell
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