Councilmembers discuss visions for MLT’s future during half-day retreat

Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright

Mountlake Terrace city councilmembers discussed their long-term visions and goals for the city during a virtual Feb. 20 retreat.

Holding an annual retreat allows the councilmembers to clarify agendas for the year and also get to know each other better outside of normal business meetings and work/study sessions. Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright said she felt that councilmembers becoming more familiar with one another was especially important after almost a year of only being able to meet virtually during the pandemic.

During the four-plus-hour session, the council discussed community priorities and long-range goals for five categories: events, parks, recreation, housing and social services. Councilmembers were asked to envision what they’d like the city to look like in 20-50 years and come up with priorities to help guide their conceptualizations. Ideas and concerns identified during Saturday’s session will form the basis for a vision statement to help guide long-term planning and agendas.

City Manager Scott Hugill told the council to “think big, consider yourself a kid the day after Thanksgiving, you’ve got all the ads for toys and you get to pour through and not have to worry about cost or anything that’s going to come later.” Those ideas will eventually be winnowed down and adjusted, he said, but this process is important for setting up a vision of the city’s future. He pointed to the council’s 2006 concept for the Town Center as an example of long-range planning coming to fruition. “What you do today affects 20 years out,” he said.

Events

The council’s discussion about events focused on how to ensure that community favorites such as the Tour de Terrace, Arts of the Terrace juried art show and 3rd of July celebration remain an important staple of civic life for years to come. Many on the council pointed to the coming light rail, increased transportation services and developments being built throughout the city as important factors in their thoughts.

Councilmember Bryan Wahl pointed out that events such as the Tour de Terrace and 3rd of July celebration are privately run and wondered about possible steps the city could take “to be proactively thinking about and helping ensure” they are still being held in 20-30 years. He noted that the Arts of the Terrace has the city’s Arts Advisory Commission board, which runs the show each year. Wahl also said he would like to explore the future feasibility of building an amphitheater for performance arts, possibly in one of the city’s parks.

Mayor Pro Tem Doug McCardle

Also given consideration was how to host or attract more events to new and established venues such as the Jerry Smith Town Center Plaza, Gateway Plaza and city parks. Mayor Pro Tem Doug McCardle said he’d like to explore having more city-sponsored events centered around holidays or specific themes and also how to possibly open up those venues more to allow for an increase in functions hosted by the private sector. “Just taking a look at those new venues and how we might better use the ones we have, as well as begin to use the ones that are coming online,” McCardle said.

Councilmember Steve Woodard echoed comments about the city’s need to continue hosting and sponsoring events while also utilizing new venues as they become available. He said that he thought growth of Arts of the Terrace is currently constrained by the physical size of the Mountlake Terrace Library where it is held, but that with access to bigger venues it could possibly expand in the future.

Councilmember Laura Sonmore said she would like the city to consider reestablishing an events coordinator position to handle all of the various planning and logistics involved with putting together long-term viable city sponsored functions.

Parks

Councilmembers said they felt it is crucial to protect neighborhood and regional parks in the city and also explore how they will continue to be used.

Councilmember Erin Murray said she thinks that long-term, the city needs to see what can be done to make sure that all of its parks are both walkable and accessible to all residents. She also prioritized the importance of maintaining open and green spaces as development increases and land continues to get more expensive.

Building on the topics of walkability and accessibility Woodard said he would also like to see more interconnected systems between the parks and throughout the city such as bike lanes and signs.

Some expressed that they would like to see the city add more parks space. Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright said they should consider different ideas, including the possibility of purchasing a property to be converted into a park with grant money. Creating a park in the Melody Hill area was mentioned by Matsumoto Wright and other councilmembers.

Councilmember Laura Sonmore

Several said it is important to ensure the formal protection of those parks, trees and habitats that already exist. Sonmore worried about the possibility of a council in the future making decisions that would negatively impact such spaces if they were no longer determined to be a priority. “It’s really looking at not thinking that we know what’s going to happen in the future, but really getting out there and protecting what we have,” she said.

Wahl said he would like for the city to contemplate a variety of options to be ready for any opportunities that may arise in the future if properties such as the Nile Temple Golf Course should for some reason become available.

Recreation

The council discussed ways to continue providing and also improving recreation activities in the long-term.

Councilmember Rick Ryan said he believes it is important for the city to explore replacing the Recreation Pavilion “because we know the building’s 50 years old and it’s antiquated.” He also mentioned looking at how to properly maintain play areas, equipment and the gazebo located in Veterans Memorial Park as the area around it continues to develop.

Several on the council worried about declining participation in public youth sports leagues that have traditionally used city spaces such as the Evergreen Playfield Complex. They said it is important to be aware of current trends and try to find ways to ensure that facilities can meet expectations for decades to come.

Murray said she felt the city has a vested interest in supporting community recreation non-profit organizations and thinking about how to keep recreation and such services affordable for residents. Others on the council also expressed a similar desire to look into partnerships to help provide support, resources and possibly methods of funding.

Woodard said he would also like the city to explore the possibility of what businesses might be able to offer equipment or services that could enhance recreational activities on and around Lake Ballinger.

Housing

All of the councilmembers agreed that it is vital to make sure Mountlake Terrace has a variety of available housing at different price points. Many said they felt there is a “missing middle” of the housing market that people making $50,000-$80,000 annually would be able to afford.

Several said they felt that can best be addressed by shoring up zoning codes, which will also help to address the local market and housing stock available.

Matsumoto Wright said that doing so would enable the city — and by extension, developers — to offer more types of housing and at different densities. “Let’s start looking at zoning a little differently,” she said. By not doing so, she said, the city is essentially ensuring that houses affordable to the middle class and first-time buyers aren’t being built. “Let’s change our zoning so that we can get more affordable houses being built and affordability is multiple units,” such as condominiums, duplexes and quadplexes Matsumoto Wright concluded.

Cuoncilmember Bryan Wahl

A consistent theme of the discussion was that Mountlake Terrace alone won’t be able to fully address the urgent issues and challenges associated with affordable housing and homelessness. It should therefore focus on building and maintaining regional partnerships with other stakeholders and organizations. Wahl said he felt that could help the city to see what has worked for others, come up with new ideas and fine-tune any future plans.

Sonmore added that the city has come full circle after previously being known for its block houses that used to be considered affordable compared to the surrounding area around Seattle. “If we don’t have those (partnerships), don’t expect that that affordable housing’s just going to happen in Mountlake Terrace,” she said of development.

“I don’t know the appropriate way for us to bring more focus to this topic,” Murray said, “but I do think (we need to be) figuring out what we can do individually as a community because there are definitely actions we can take as a city,” when partnering with others and moving forward.

Woodard said he thought the city should also explore how to facilitate the construction of tiny homes as a way to address issues of homelessness and affordability. He said as part of the overall process the city may also need to redefine what affordability means and how that is viewed.

Social services

Similar to talks about affordable housing several on the council said they felt the city should be more of a regional player in addressing social services issues. Doing so would also allow the city to play an increasingly active role in helping to develop solutions

McCardle listed the following issues the city should explore in expanding its social services role: homelessness, substance addictions such as opioids, and low-income housing. Whether the city offers some of those services itself or partners with other organizations, it’s important to “just to begin to be a more active part of solution-driven initiatives that face the region,” he said. He cited the Mountlake Terrace Police Department’s domestic violence coordinator and its homeless population liaison as the two areas where the city is currently undertaking such efforts.

Wahl said he would like to look more broadly at what social services are needed, which ones are provided by government at different levels such as county, state and federal, and also what can be done realistically to step up and ensure needed programs are available and affordable, while acknowledging the city can’t do it all on its own.

As for next steps, McCardle, Sonmore and Wahl served on a council subcommittee that had identified the five categories of community priorities discussed. The three councilmembers now will work with Hugill and city staff to come up with a vision statement encompassing ideas about the city’s future from Saturday’s session. Hugill said of the process to follow, “It’s vision, mission, objectives, strategies and actions.”

Wahl finished the discussions by asking councilmembers for a succinct word or summary statement when thinking about the big picture for Mountlake Terrace that could be incorporated into a vision statement helping to guide long-term goals. Those identified included vibrant, dynamic, diverse and inclusive. Once the visioning subcommittee comes up with a statement, the council will continue talks in order to fine-tune and work on it further before later thinking strategically and tactically about how to carry those priorities out down the line.

During a closing summary of progress made, Matsumoto Wright said she felt there is still a lot more for the council to discuss and floated the idea of holding another special work/study session retreat later this year. Most of the council raised their hands in a show of agreement with her idea.

— By Nathan Blackwell 

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