Council, planning commission outline steps for Town Center work; public hearing on transitional use zone Feb. 20

During a joint meeting with the Mountlake Terrace Planning Commission Feb. 15, City Councilmember Bryan Wahl made a statement that captured the mood of the room: “We have our work cut out for us this year.”

That sentiment was clear during the Feb 15 meeting, when the council during its work/study session doubled down on the importance of addressing key issues related to updating the city’s Town Center Plan.

This Tuesday night, Feb. 20, the public can have their say during a public hearing on another matter related to Town Center — a proposal to create a separate residential zoning district for the transitional use areas nearby. (The council’s regular business meeting is a day later than normal due to the President’s Day holiday.)

The transitional use zone involves townhomes and parking lot development that is currently permitted in a narrow band of lots abutting the Town Center zoning district. The purpose of the transitional uses area is to provide a buffer between the more intense development permitted in the Town Center district and the surrounding single-family residences.

Under the plan, the height limit for the townhomes in the new transitional zone would be the same as allowed in the city’s other RS 7200 and RS 8400 districts – 35 feet or three stories.

The public hearing set for Feb. 20 follows public outreach and review by the planning commission, and it was supposed to be followed by a council recommendation to approve the ordinance. But City Manager Scott Hugill told the council that the design standards included in ordinance “are still under discussion and still haven’t been completely finished.” As a result, staff is recommending that the council delay actual adoption of the ordinance until details are finalized.

Hugill’s remarks led Councilmember Doug McCardle to remind fellow councilmembers that it is important to ensure that both the council and the planning commission not only tackle the heavy 2018 workload, but also make sure the work is performed correctly.

“This is kind of our mode of operation lately,” McCardle said. “We discuss something we think it’s ready, it’s time for a public hearing then we don’t pass it.”

“Think back on this as we’re talking to the planning commission to do all this work and get this stuff in front of us so we can work on it as well,” McCardle advised.

The city council has already stated it has a goal of amending as soon as possible this year the city’s comprehensive plan and addressing Town Center development code and design standards. That follows increasing frustration from the development community over the city’s slow pace in approving proposed projects, which sparked formation in December of the CLEAR group – comprised of local developers, builders, architects, real estate brokers and interested citizens.

The city council voted Feb. 5 to adopt the 2017 Comprehensive Plan after considering — but then rejecting — an option favored by developers to delay it —  so that the 2006/2007 Town Center plan could be updated sooner rather than later in the year. Now, the pressure is on the council and planning commission to do the work necessary to ensure that plan and other key initiatives are completed in time for the 2018 plan adoption, which must be finished by December although some are hoping could be completed sooner.

“Realistically, I would say October’s pretty aggressive to get everything taken care of,” said Christy Osborn, the city’s newly-hired Community and Economic Development Director. In addition to making changes to the actual Town Center Plan, the planning commission and council must adopt related environmental documentation as well as development regulations, she explained.

Planning Commission Chair Alice Kier reminded the council that while the commission is committed to doing the heavy lifting required, the process “takes time.” The planning commission makes recommendations to the council, which may then send those back for further revisions — and the group only meets twice a month. However, Kier added that the commission is willing to hold special meetings to ensure the work gets done.

Osborn noted that addition to the Town Center-related work, the planning commission has several other key initiatives it must address this year. These include the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance, which was supposed to have been adopted in 2015 and so is out of compliance with state law, and the adoption of regulations for placement of wireless communications facilities, which currently don’t comply with federal law.

Planning Commissioner Nick Bautista pointed to the commission’s desire to be more proactive in identifying areas of the city where development regulations should be reconsidered prior to new projects being proposed. “I feel like we’ve had ‘missed opportunity’ moments,” Bautista said.

Mayor Jerry Smith suggested that the commission may want to consider holding a retreat to assist in developing a plan to address those concerns.

Also during the Feb. 15 meeting, Osborn went over the city’s development review process and invited local home builder Duane Landsverk to discuss how the process should work from a developer’s perspective.

Through the years, Osborn said, “there have been parts of that process that have broken down,” caused by a range of issues that include staffing shortages and turnover, differing interpretations of regulations, not enough staff training, and a lack of internal and external communications. “There’s some definite room for improvement as we move forward,” Osborn added.

She said she is committed to addressing those problems and “working to rebuild our trust with the development community and the community at large, the people who come to our front counter.”

Landsverk complimented Osborn and the city on its commitment to “a change of culture.”

“A lot of good conversations have been had in the last few months,” he said.

As part of these efforts, the council on Feb. 15 again talked about formation of a Town Center Task Force that will assist consultant SCJ Alliance in updating the city’s 2006/2007 Town Center plan. Adoption of a resolution to establish that task force is on the Feb. 20 council agenda. Assuming council approval, the task force will include five members of newly-formed CLEAR group, plus six others chosen by the council. Applications for those six remaining task force positions would be made available on the city’s website and accepted through the end of February, Hugill said.

Also on the Feb. 20 business meeting agenda:

– The 2017 Police Department Report on Community Outreach.

– Adoption of a resolution to authorize the city manager to execute agreements for undergrounding utilities for Main Street (Comcast, Frontier and Wave Broadband).

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in interim Mountlake Terrace City Hall, 6100 219th St. S.W., 2nd floor. You can see the complete agenda here.

— By Teresa Wippel

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