Letter to the Editor: City could have done more to notify citizens about changes in building heights


Dear Editor:

In a split vote (5-2) the Mountlake Terrace City Council approved new heights of up to 12 story buildings* (180 feet) as incentives to builders in the Gateway freeway district (near the Mountlake 9 and former Compusa buildings and including the grounds of Evergreen School). That would tower over the backyards of the nearly 130 households just east of the former Evergreen School property.** If developed it would be 120 feet above the tree line based on the city staff’s own presentation. That, despite the fact that much of the tree border they proudly point to is infested with ivy (which may eventually destroy that hedge anyway).

But that is not all. They let stand an incentive program for development rights (called TDR, transfer of development rights) which would allow builders to ratchet heights in that district up to nearly 300 feet high!* That is almost three times the already massive Sterling Building which faces the freeway in that district.**

When I inquired as a Terrace citizen what process of notification they took for the citizens directly affected (those households due east)** and the other Terrace citizens who might be faced with a nearly 300 foot monolith at our southern border under the regulations they were approving (see the Table 19.60.050.B Freeway/Tourist Zone Dimensional Requirements by Building District on the Terrace city website*), they weakly proclaimed they had done the (minimum) amount required by law. Because they have as a council spent three sessions on this matter, it is clear that they know this is an important matter. Yet they provide no other than the “customary” notice? Who regularly checks the city’s website anyway? And if you did, would you know where to look?

A concerned Mountlake Terrace citizen,
Stephen Barnes

*Table is on page 3 in attached “Proposed Ordinance” which was accepted as presented from the staff without change except as amended in red.
**Attached staff presentation showing the sections in question (C & D) & their clear proximity to potential development and undeniable thrust beyond the tree line at the proposed heights (D: slide p6 B with p7 A and C: p7 B with its height of the Sterling Building displayed as dots and a 12 story shooting above that building at nearly double the height on p8, slide A) Not shown is an allowed potential 20 story structure which would be at 635 feet above sea level, two thirds above the depicted tree tops!


  1. Do people really think that someone will put up a 300′ building in MLT? 3 stories is an outdated rule. Because a height is allowed does NOT mean someone will build up to it. There are a few levels in between that and the ground. It’s called options of which there really weren’t many before. Progress my friend.

  2. Thanks Jarrod for your response. Clearly you have not considered how close we are to Seattle. With both Shoreline & Lynnwood halting at eight stories (which I recommended to the City Council), we are only providing opportunity for some mega developer to overshadow our citizens in the south of our city. This runs counter to the City Council’s preamble which we are discussing which clearly stated “19.60.010 Purpose. A. The purpose of this chapter is to provide for an attractive commercial and mixed use district that: 1. SERVES AS A WELCOMING gateway to the community (my emphasis)” A monolith or two of such proportions overshadow and don’t reflect our community.

    • Neither does a waste collection center reflect our community but we’ve got one. Warts an’ all.

      it would be one thing if taller buildings of this proposed maximum height were in the Town Center area. That’s not the case. Taller buildings in the area in question would go right next to an already-tall building, right next to the freeway, and right next to a major transit hub. In other words, in a location that already is developed for or to support this type of high-density commercial use. That ship has sailed.

      People may threaten to move elsewhere before or when the building starts. In all likelihood they will not. They may lose some westerly view and late-afternoon sun but they may very well also lose that lovely view of the freeway congestion each morning and afternoon, and will hear fewer horns blaring and fewer diesel engines gearing up and down. It’s a tradeoff.

      I’m hoping for mid-rise, similar to or shorter than what’s already just south, but that’s just me.

      Rather than threatening to leave, which influences nobody, people who feel threatened by this proposed development should consider extracting as much environmental buffer and other concessionary elements out of the area as they can. Dial down the hyperbole and maximize the potential environmental benefit of the land separating existing residences from the area to be developed. Consider planting fast-growing trees NOW, so they’ll already be 20-30 feet tall when the construction starts. Insist on more tall trees in front of the buildings so that more green and less building is visible from the east. Go from there.

  3. Thanks Robert for your two cents. The “already tall building” to which you refer is the Sterling Building which will be dwarfed by either of the tall provisions the City Council approved / let stand. At 95 feet (the staff’s reckoning) it will be HALF the lower top of 180 feet (12 stories) now allowed and a TDR building could be a massive 300 feet, three times that current building. My argument is that it is out of character for our community. Unless the secret agenda is to push out current citizens while crafting a new Redmond or Bellevue. Just stand near the Sterling Building & imagine it three times as high! Doesn’t look like Mountlake Terrace to me.


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