What does the future hold for MLT’s Freeway/Tourist District?

The northern portion of the district where Evergreen Elementary School use to sit.
The northern portion of the district where Evergreen Elementary School use to sit.

Now that zoning rules in the Mountlake Terrace Freeway/Tourist District have been changed, what are the prospects of seeing commercial development coming to vacant land along I-5 south of the transit center to the Gateway Plaza business park off of 244th Street Southwest? Judging from testimony at the April 21 city council meeting, that will depend up where in the district you are talking about.

And just how tall will that development end up? Concerns of 12- to 20-story buildings in the area can most likely be eased as speculation tends to be topping out at eight-story building heights.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council approved updates to the building codes in the district by a vote of 5-2 at its April 21 meeting. The changes put into motion the possibility of developers constructing buildings of up to 12 stories if specific options are included. A separate Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program is also available in the district, giving builders a chance to go as high as 20 stories, but the only place where TDRs have been successfully taken advantage of in the region is in downtown Seattle; no one is expecting TDRs to be purchased for Mountlake Terrace development.

In addition to taking comments from a few Mountlake Terrace residents about the potential impact of new building codes in the district, city council members at the April 21 meeting heard from Bill Trimm, the Mountlake Terrace Interim Economic and Development Director, and Larry Ingraham, Managing Member of Emerald Properties Brokerage & Development of Lynnwood. Both were enthusiastic about the prospects of commercial development coming to the southern portion of the Freeway/Tourist District just north of the five-story Sterling Bank building at 6100-219th St. S.W.

“There will be some development there,” Trimm said during the meeting.

Freeway Tourist District map, colorAs confident as Trimm was with the prospect of commercial development coming to the southern half of the district – sub-district C as described by city officials – Trimm was just as adamant that the northern portion of the Freeway/Tourist District would see little if any new buildings.

“In that particular area, because of the buffers and the shape of the parcel, we don’t anticipate any buildings will be built in that area,” Trimm said. “It’s just too narrow of a site, plus all the environmental constraints associated with the creek and steep hill, as well as the wetlands.”

Usable land in Freeway/Tourist District narrows on the site of the former Evergreen Elementary School building, razed by the Edmonds School District in 2011. The district still owns the property and has expressed interest in selling or leasing the site, but with the off-ramp from northbound I-5 crowding the western boundary and environmental buffers through and on the east side of the property, developing the land may be difficult.

“The development potential in district D is fairly limited,” explained City Council member Bryan Wahl, “because of the buffers; we’ve got a wetland, a creek, and a tree buffer, plus the boulevard, all going to make development in the top portion, the northern portion, unlikely – in fact, not only unlikely but nearly impossible.”

Speculation of new commercial development in the district is centering on the southern half of the site, made up mostly of a large 4.87-acre property owned by Layne Sapp, a Bellevue businessman. City officials believe this is where developers will look first to build. “The question is, from an economic standpoint, is how high will those buildings be,” Tripp said.

“Given the suburban market, you’re probably going to see maybe a maximum of seven, possibly eight stories,” Tripp continued. “That’s a result of the international building code in terms of economics of building multi-story buildings in a suburban market.”

“It’s very, very expensive to go above seven stories, because then you have to go to steel construction. And when you go to steel construction, you want to get as much height as you can because you have to go deeper into the ground to accommodate sub-terrarium parking. So the higher you go, the more parking you need. The more parking you need, the deeper you have to go, and the more expensive it becomes.”

Ingraham echoed during the public hearing that developers will most likely be looking at building projects no more than eight stories tall. Ingraham said that current economics just don’t work for builders to maximize investment returns with 12-story projects in suburban areas; it might be something they would consider in the future, “but the property might well be developed by then.”

Ingraham has been more than a casual observer of city plans for the Freeway/Tourist District as the real estate broker has attended previous council meetings concerning the area. “I have a number of clients, some of whom I have talked to about this property,” he said.

When asked by Mayor Pro Tem Laura Sonmore if there are investors who might buy or lease land in the district for development, Ingraham answered, “Yes, there are people interested, and I make my living by encouraging people to be interested in situations that are good-to-go, like yours.”

— By Doug Petrowski


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here