Council sets Sept. 16 hearing on Town Center Plan amid concerns about building heights, parking

The Town Center boundary map and zoning districts now under consideration by the council.

After an in-depth discussion Sept. 3 about the proposed update to the Mountlake Terrace Town Center Plan — with a specific focus on where the tallest buildings should be located as well as whether there should be changes to parking standards — the city council voted to set Monday, Sept. 16 as the official public hearing date on the measure.

Prior to the Sept. 16 public hearing, the council during its Thursday, Sept. 12 work session will review the latest Town Center Plan documents, which will be updated based on council comments made during the Sept. 3 business meeting.

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. Last week, they also took a walking tour of the Town Center area to get a first-hand look at neighborhoods where changes are proposed.

On Sept. 3, councilmembers generally agreed with the recommendations in the draft plan, although they also identified some specific areas of concern.

The meeting began with City Manager Scott Hugill reminding the council that in reviewing the plan, they should keep in mind the “vision for Montlake Terrace’s future” as originally outlined by an 11-member Economic Vitality and Town Center Task Force and put into plan form by the city’s Planning Commission.

Although the official public hearing is Sept. 16, the public will have additional opportunities to comment on the plan, since more meetings are scheduled over the next couple of weeks, Hugill said.

Then Community and Economic Development Director Christy Osborn and consultants Bill Trimm and Bob Bengford went through a PowerPoint presentation listing issues where they were hoping to gain councilmembers’ consensus.

A significant amount of time was spent discussing the building heights allowed in each of the three main districts — TC-1, TC-2 and TC-3. In particular, Councilmember Laura Sonmore expressed worry about the southeast corner of the TC-1 zone — which as proposed would allow 8- to 12-story buildings — and whether that area should instead be zoned TC-2 for 4 to 8 stories. (See maps below)

Trimm noted that a majority on the task force and the Planning Commission recommended that the TC-1 zone should be extended “all the way to 56th Street,” although staff had heard concerns from the pubiic about that idea.

The task force had been split on where the TC-1/TC-2 boundary should be placed, but the majority agreed that the boundary should continue to extend all the way to 56th to attract additional professional offices and employment, and new job opportunities for Mountlake Terrace, he said. However, staff has heard comments that “maybe we should bring that back a bit,” Trimm said.

A closeup of the northwest TC-1 zone.

Sonmore also said she was concerned about the current TC-1 zone located north of the transit center, which as proposed would also allow 8-12 stories. Her comments were echoed by Councilmember Steve Woodard, who noted that the elevation of that northwest TC-1 zone is higher, so those 8-12 stories would appear even taller in that area

Councilmembers Bryan Wahl said he is “generally comfortable” with the zones as proposed “pending further discussion and input from the public.”

However, Wahl emphasized he would like to see more discussion about developer incentives that could be included as “placeholders” for future inclusion.

Sonmore said she supports Wahl’s idea of incorporating incentives in exchange for taller buildings “down the road.”

City Manager Scott Hugill noted that best incentive “is to reduce costs to developers.” One example would be to lower the required number of parking spaces for commercial buildings, since creating parking costs money, and “can be done if development is next to light rail,” Hugill said.

Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright said her top priority is providing developers with incentives to build affordable housing. “I don’t care if we go eight stories or 12 stories as long as we have a good number of affordable housing units in there,” she said.

Another major point of discussion Sept. 3 was off-street parking standards for multi-family residential that are being developed as part of the Town Center Plan.

Bob Bengford noted that in developing the parking standards, staff and consultants made some comparisons with other Puget Sound area cities along the Sound Transit light rail route as well cities along light rail in suburban Portland. The numbers being proposed “are largely in line and consistent with what’s being required in some of those communities,” he said.

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

Wha is being proposed in Tier 2 and Tier 3 generally matches what is currently in place in the Town Center, Bangford said. Proposed Tier 2 parking standards propose one space per one-bedroom unit instead of the current standard of 1.25. Proposed Tier 1 required parking is “a little less” than the current parking standard, depending on the number of bedrooms.

No changes are proposed to the current commercial standards now in place.

Mayor Pro Tem Doug McCardle said he was concerned about this approach, noting that while at some point in the future people may drive less and have fewer vehicles, it’s important to consider “what’s going to happen in the next two, three, four years…so we don’t have those huge impacts related to not enough parking.”

Bengford responded that “it’s a delicate, delicate balance.” It’s important to note, he said, that the parking standards are minimums and that some developers may choose to provide more parking “if that’s going to make their development more profitable.” It is now standard practice for apartment dwellers in the Puget Sound region to pay extra for parking, he added.

However, McCardle responded that the reality is, renters who don’t want to pay extra will simply be parking on the street, which will affect parking availability overall. And not having enough parking could impact the city’s efforts to attract visitors to expanded retail and entertainment opportunities envisioned through the Town Center Plan.

Consultant Trimm said that one option the city should consider is to require a parking management plan for any development application that comes in. Those plans should be reviewed by a third party, paid for by the developer, he added.

When it comes to parking, “It’s going to take years to have us all change our ways,” Sonmore added. “I think we need to keep on having this conversation.”

One other area of interest discussed Sept. 3 was the community’s desire to have a grocery store return to the Town Center. The area has been without a downtown store since Roger’s Market closed in February 2016, and Trimm noted that a grocery store would be a permitted use in all three Town Center zoning districts.

Trimm, who formerly worked for the City of Mill Creek, then explained how that city had attracted Central Market to its new Town Center development. City officials had proposed the idea during a meeting with Central Market owners, but received feedback that the city didn’t have enough residential activity to justify a grocery store. So, for the next year and a half, Mill Creek worked to bring 1,500 new residential dwelling units – almost all multifamily – within walking distance of the Town Center. After that, the city went back to the Central Market officials and — a week later — they agreed to bring a store to the area, Trimm said.

“We had to create enough critical mass for new residential developments so they could actually provide enough capacity for the market to come in,” Trimm said, adding that same approach is applicable to Mountlake Terrace. “We need to create more critical mass so we can meet those margins that grocers are really looking at,” he said.

Once the Town Center Plan has been adopted and projects are underway, “we can start looking at a grocery store,” Trimm added.

Among the other recommendations included in the draft Town Center plan, which the council agreed to include as part of the Sept. 16 public hearing, are recommendations to:

– Remove the Transitional Zoning on the south side of 237th Street Southwest and maintain that area for single-family residences.

– Allow townhomes as a permitted use in the Town Center Reserve (TC-R) zone.

– Modify the single-household residential designation of property on the east side of the boundary adjacent to Arbor Village on 236th Street Southwest, so that it remains in the transitional zone.

In other action Sept. 3, the council:

– Reviewed materials and agreed to move forward to the Sept. 16 business meeting two items: 1) a lease agreement that includes relocating the cell phone antennae and associated equipment that is now on top of the city’s water tower to allow for recoating and maintenance work and 2) updated lodging tax funds criteria and application.

– Approved an agreement with Snohomish County for a grant to build a deck outside the Mountlake Terrace Community Senior Center at Ballinger Park. See related story here.

– Approved a professional services agreement with the Pacific Northwest Basketball Officials for recreational league games.

– Recognized the Terrace-Brier Lions Club and Police Officer Tim Krahn for two $1,000 donations from the Lions Club and the estate of late MLT Police Capt. Stan Krahn — one to the city’s Police Explorer program and the other to Mountlake Terrace High School for a scholarship to a graduating senior. See related story here.

— By Teresa Wippel





















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