Council has further discussion on draft environmental impact statement for Town Center Plan

The Mountlake Terrace City Council and Planning Commission held an Aug. 5 public hearing on the draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Town Center Plan. (Photo courtesy City of Mountlake Terrace)

Elected officials and citizens had a chance to express their opinions Aug. 5 during a joint Mountlake Terrace City Council and Planning Board public hearing on the draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) prepared for the proposed Town Center Plan.

The plan would bring taller buildings and increased density to the downtown core.

During the Aug. 5 meeting, Kevin Gifford of Burk Consulting reviewed the same presentation regarding the draft EIS that was given to the council during its Aug. 1 work/study session.

He provided an overview of the process involved in creating the draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the Town Center Plan and original EIS were completed in 2007. An addendum was completed in 2013 when there was a small expansion of the Town Center Plan boundaries. The current draft Town Center builds on the prior work that was done.

The EIS identifies the proposals and potential impacts on a range of alternatives. Among those impacts: land use, transportation, aesthetics, public services and utilities.

Preparation of the draft SEIS started with a scoping process to determine what will be included in the document, and public meetings were held as part of that process.

The city is continuing to use the Planned Action tool that was part of the 2007 Town Center Plan, Gifford said. It allows for “streamlining of the environmental and permitting process” by moving it to the planning stage rather than including as part of permit review for every project.

The council has two alternatives to choose from when considering the SEIS:

The No Action Alternative means the council would following the existing Town Center Plan, as written with the 2013 plan addendum. The No Action Alternative doesn’t mean there would be no change in the Town Center. Instead, any development would occur using existing zoning, development districts and height limits.

The Proposed Action Alternative is based on the draft Town Center Plan update that takes into account changes since the 2013 addendum was created – for example, Sound Transit’s light rail station arriving in Mountlake Terrace in 2024 and the likely residential and commercial growth associated with that.

The Proposed Action Alternative takes into account proposals under the draft Town Center Plan Update that would amend Town Center boundaries to create Town Center Core and Town Center Reserve areas, reorganize the Town Center into three core districts and one reserve district, and increase height limits in the Town Center core. It would also:

  • Establish block-frontage and streetscape standards to govern building access and design.
  • Amend design standards for building setbacks, open space, pedestrian access and building height transitions.
  • Amend off-street parking requirements, with less parking required near the transit center.

During the Aug. 5 public hearing, Mountlake Terrace resident Dale Jeremiah was the only citizen to offer comment. He expressed concerns about the possibility of taller buildings next to Interstate 5 as part of the proposed TC 1 zone in the draft Town Center Plan. He suggested the city might want to consider a formula of height vs. street width, a practice followed in Washington, D.C., in determining how tall buildings should be in various zones. The city should also consider the sea level elevation of locations where buildings are being constructed to that there is uniformity throughout the city, Jeremiah said.

Following the hearing, it was time for councilmembers’ comments. Councilmember Rick Ryan reiterated concerns he had expressed during the Aug. 1 work/study session on the draft Town Center Plan.

“What is it that we are actually trying to accomplish with our city center?” Ryan asked. “I know we want progress…but we want to find a balance with apartments, office buildings and our single-family residents. In the end I want to make sure that this plan is really something that we can be very proud of.”

To that end, Ryan said he would like to see:

  • More clear communication with citizens, including a map that shows the proposed number of stories for buildings in the three zones
  • A balance of apartments, condos, business and singly family residences in the zoning map.
  • Addressing whether existing city streets can accommodate density proposed under the draft plan.
  • Addressing concerns that citizens and councilmembers have raised about parking.
  • Discussion of a proposed planning commission change to allow multi-family housing east of Arbor Village.
  • Discussion of the appropriate transitions between taller buildings and single-family residences.

Ryan said he also wanted to echo sentiments expressed by Councilmember Laura Sonmore during the council’s Aug. 1 work/study session that “the light rail is not end all of everything. Just cause light rail is coming doesn’t mean we have to change everything in our four-square-mile city,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to think about, what do we want? What do our citizens want? Do we want to change that whole area by the freeway to nothing but multi(-family) housing units? So something to think about and we need further discussion.”

In addition, Ryan suggested that the council find buildings similar in height to the ones proposed in the plan and stand under them.

Ryan concluded by stating he is worried the council wouldn’t have the time to address these points if it followed the schedule laid out in approving the Town Center Plan by Sept. 26, and said the council should consider extending the deadline so that it could consider them.

“We have one chance to get it (the plan) right and that means we need to tweak it and work it now,” Ryan said.

Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Doug McCardle said that while he agreed with Ryan’s concerns, the purpose of the Aug. 5 public hearing was to review the draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of the Town Center Plan update, and not the plan itself. City Attorney Greg Schrag reminded councilmembers and the audience that the goal of the public hearing was only to gather feedback on the draft supplemental EIS and that nothing would be approved during the meeting.

Finally, Planning Commission Chair Alice Kier offered her own remarks to the council since the Aug. 5 joint meeting with the council marked her final one on the commission, since she is retiring. Kier said that 25 years ago, after her children grew up and moved away from home, she was looking for ways to give back to the community and heard about an opening on the planning commission. The council “accepted my application and I have been here ever since,” she said.

“Mountlake Terrace is a beautiful place to live,” Kier added. “The people here are different. We’re growing quickly but we’re still a small town.”

“Thank you very much for the best 25 years of my life and for looking after this city I call home so very, very well,” Kier said.

Also at the Aug. 5 meeting, the council:

– Approved a professional services agreement with Gray & Osborne, Inc. for a sewer system plan rate study.

– Ratified appointments to the city’s new salary commission, which will review the salaries of city councilmembers and recommend whether changes are needed. Those appointees are Eric Chham, Dustin DeKoekkoek, Victor Eskenazi, Margaret Loiseau and Judi Smith.

– Held two public hearings and adopted ordinances for 1) a 2020-2025 Six-Year Transportation Improvement Program and 2) street naming of Van Ry Boulevard. (See related story on Van Ry Boulevard proposal here.

— By Teresa Wippel

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