Fiber conduit delaying completion of Arbor Village sidewalk features


Flower pots at Arbor Village.

While the Arbor Village Apartments officially opened last August, and renters have been living in the Mountlake Terrace complex for more than three months, construction still continues on sidewalk features outside the northwest corner of the building. The culprit of the extended work: a bank of plastic tubing found under the newly-built sidewalk on the south side of 236th Street Southwest at 56th Avenue West.

City of Mountlake Terrace zoning laws call for developers to include 10-foot sidewalks, selected street lights, benches, bicycle racks and trees in any new construction within the Town Center district. Sidewalks, lights, benches and racks were all installed along the north and west edges of the new Arbor Village complex, but builders Afco & Sons ran into difficulty placing tree pits in a section of 236th Street Southwest sidewalk.

“The area in which the street trees would have been planted at grade along the frontage of Arbor Village on 236th Street Southwest is precluded by a fiber duct bank of conduit that happens to parallel the curb at a shallow depth exactly where the trees would have been planted,” said City of Mountlake Terrace Senior Planner Edith Duttlinger.

“In order to provide sufficient soil mass to support some plant material, raised beds were created,” she added.

Work crews are putting finishing touches to large raised beds for landscaping trees, shrubbery or flowers to be planted in; they are also rebuilding the sidewalk along the 50-foot affected area. There was no word on when the project would be completed.

While the work is being done on public right-of-way, the costs are all the responsibility of the developer, Afco & Sons.


  1. Street trees are wonderful in theory but quickly grow to cause all kinds of problems for both the city and property owners. I think we really need to rethink the use of city trees that look really nice when planted and then become huge problems down the road in years to come and end up having to be removed before their prime.


  2. This is a bad fix on so many levels. The first commenter mentioned one aspect I had not considered.

    Trees planted with tree grates offer little resistance to the pedestrian activity zone (I think that’s what they call the widened sidewalk with amenities for people using it). The grates can be walked on and the only impediment is the trunk of the tree. What has been done in the Arbor Village case is an effective squeezing of the activity zone into a much narrower corridor, which forces people to walk between a newly placed elevated concrete obstruction and a solid brick wall. Someone walking a dog and a pedestrian walking in the other direction now are squeezed together. Someone walking an aggressive dog and a pedestrian pushing a baby stroller in the opposite direction might result in an unhappy encounter, whereas with the intended wide zone there is plenty of room for all. Add in the effect of the diagonally oriented wood struts helping to support the awnings and the somewhat claustrophobic effect of the overhead awnings themselves in that area, and people are almost in a tunnel-like enclosure of concrete, brick, wood, and metal. Is this really what the City wants? Really?

    Further, there is now a nice, broad, light-colored vertical concrete canvas for graffiti. Having repainted my own building not long ago because of graffiti, I have some experience with this occurrence in the commercial area.

    The narrow concrete sidewalk remaining between the curb and the elevated planters will be an enticing alternative pathway for some and the preferred pathway for more than a few teens and others who like to live life a little bit on the edge. They’ll further block the traffic sight lines for those exiting the underground parking and they likely will periodically step into eastbound traffic while facing eastbound themselves.

    Concrete hurts. When one cycles or skateboards into it, it hurts a lot. Although wheeling on sidewalks is against the rules, it still happens. The City has put itself in the position of liability when someone gets hurt.

    I know that construction codes exist for a reason but in some cases they can get in the way of reasonable solutions to various unforeseen problems. Rather than putting in planters in the activity zones, why could there not have been agreement to instead put trees and tree grates in another sidewalk expanse somewhere else in the Town Center area, paid for by the Arbor Village owners? Granted, this would give more ammunition to some who have complained that the mature trees promised in front of this building have not materialized, but a tree is a tree, and if it’s doing a job elsewhere in town that isn’t a bad thing. Alternatively, the Arbor Village owners could have been required to pay into a mitigation fund for sidewalk beautification/improvement elsewhere in Town Center, in the future, in lieu of what seems to be a poorly though-out modification on their own site at present.

    Right now I assume that the concrete is still curing. There’s still time to undo a problematic fix.

    If only there were another reader who could weigh in, maybe someone with a civil engineering background and experience who

    “manages the design and construction of engineering projects as well as provides on-call engineering services to his municipal clients.”

    Anybody know anyone like that?


    • I’m glad to weigh in but I’m going to try and get more information first. There’s a lot of factors that go into addressing changed conditions like this and there is always going to be a “better” solution in someone’s eyes. I try not to be one to conjecture in public forums like this.


  3. Up on 216th near 44th the trees along the condo development had to be cut down. Not only does the area look better, the torn up sidewalk won’t have to be done over again (tree roots caused sidewalk to crack and tilt at an angle).


  4. So let me get this straight — the plans were to originally plant trees in this location?  But then they were surprised to find that there were fiber optics running where the trees were to be planted? 
    I think of fiber optics as being a relatively new installation, not something I would expect to be lost to the annals of history.  I am amazed that this is described as something “found” or, as another commenter called it, a “changed condition” — please tell me if I am wrong, but wouldn’t this be something that should or would be determined in the planning stages?  Doesn’t the city approve building plans?  If so, how did the plan get approved if the design called for trees to be planted on fiber optic installations? 
    It seems like we are missing some critical information in this story.


  5. @Robert Kramer @James Mize 
    I know that some people may have some knowledge as to how these things work but  (especially Robert as it sounds like you were involved in the development of your own property on 56th), but I’ll give a quick overview to explain for others that may want to know. Many different agencies have utilities underground in our City’s streets. The City itself has storm, sewer, and water systems which include pipes, manholes, catch basins, valves, vaults, etc. Then there are a handful of other agencies/companies like Comcast, Centurylink, Frontier, AT&T, etc. that also own conduits and vaults underground for fiber optics, telephone, cable. Additional you have some Snohomish County PUD which has underground power lines and PSE which has gas mains, services, valves, etc. All this to say that there is a lot of infrastructure underground owned by many different agencies.

    When a new construction project is planned, whether it is a private development like Arbor Village, a project by a utility company like PSE or a public City project like the Main St. Project, all the above utilities are contacted to come out and have their utilities marked.This is generally done by spray paint on the ground. Walk down 56th right now and you’ll see a ton of paint on the ground for both the PSE project and the Main St. project. After all this is marked, whoever is doing the project will hire a surveyor or provide their own to survey all the markings as well as other surface features. What they provide is a map of everything and that is what the project design is based of off.

    As you can see there are a lot of different sources of information here and, as you can imagine, once in a while someone might mark their utility slightly off from where it actually is. Additionally, there are some loose guidelines about how deep conduits are but the vertical elevation is generally unknown or not recorded. Many times they can be moved, especially if its just power or telephone, but fiber optics are much more sensitive and difficult to move.

    So there is some background just to show that this happens. As a civil engineer I run in to things like this all the time. You can always plan for something but once you start digging there are always some surprises. you put your heads together and try to come up with the best solution.

    Now I’ll try to address some of the other comments and questions. Even with the planter boxes, there is still 10’ of sidewalk between the box and the building. That 5’ width of sidewalk next to the curb is meant to contain street/pedestrian lights, benches, trees, bike racks, etc. The planter boxes are within that 5’ strip so they aren’t narrowing the 10’ portion of the sidewalk meant to be kept open for pedestrian use. Before commenting here I thought I should walk through it. I did and it doesn’t feel confined or claustrophobic. If a restaurant goes into that space I can see the planter boxes as being a benefit. It provide something additional for people to lean or sit on while waiting for a table or waiting for friends. They frame in a nice pedestrian space just outside the where a restaurant will hopefully be.

    The City’s traffic engineers did look at the issue of blocking traffic sight for people exiting the parking garage and it wasn’t an issue. You’ll notice that the planter boxes don’t go right up against the curb. All the street furnishings are set back slightly to provide some horizontal clearance from the vehicle/bike travel lanes and furnishings. The distance is the same for a bench or a planter box or any other furnishings. If someone decides to walk or ride their bike or skateboard in to light pole or planter box I really don’t think blaming the City is going to hold up.

    I have more information from the City if there are still more questions/concerns that anyone has. I am happy to investigate further.

    So to recap, projects like this are designed using the best available information. Sometimes that information is incomplete, not precise, or just incorrect. If a situation comes up where something needs to change you try to find the best solution. In this case I think the planter boxes work well. I’m looking forward to seeing them planted and the project completed.




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