MLT City Council denies zoning designation change in Gateway neighborhood

The Mountlake Terrace City Council discusses a rezoning proposal, via Zoom, at its regular business meeting Monday night.

Pointing to concerns about future impacts on nearby neighborhoods, the Mountlake Terrace City Council at its March 21 business meeting denied — by a 5-2 vote — a proposed site-specific zoning map amendment in the 5400 block of 240th Street Southwest that could eventually lead to townhome development there.

The proposed map amendment would have changed the zoning of three adjacent parcels — with a combined area of 0.92 acres –from their existing designation as Single-Household Residential, with an 8,400 square feet minimum lot area (RS 8400), to Single-Household Residential-Transitional (RS-T), which allows for the construction of townhomes.

Each of the three Gateway neighborhood properties currently has a single-family residence located on them. The proposal was only for a rezone of those three properties and did not include any development applications to build housing.

Land use in the area is designated as Urban Low Residential (URL), under the city’s existing comprehensive plan map, which allows for RS 8400 and RS-T zoning designations. Any rezone and/or development permit applications must comply with the city regulations that are in effect at the time when they are submitted.

RS-designated zones generally allow for the same uses, but townhomes are not permitted in RS 8400-zoned areas. The transitional district is a single-household residential district zoning designation that includes townhomes and commercial parking lots to provide a transition between traditional single-household residential districts and the city’s Community Business Downtown (BC/D) zoning district.

City code doesn’t include density requirements, it is determined by minimum lot size, and properties zoned RS-T can accommodate approximately four additional dwelling units per acre when compared to RS 8400 parcels. There are some minor differences concerning setbacks and maximum lot coverage by structures.

Permitted land uses are exactly the same between the two single-family residential zone designations with two exceptions. Townhomes are not permitted on RS 8400 properties and cottage housing is not permitted on RS-T properties.

The Mountlake Terrace Planning Commission previously voted 6-1 in favor of recommending that the city council approve the site-specific zoning map amendment. In addition, city staff had recommended adopting the ordinance to approve the amendment.

Since the proposal was first put forth last summer, many residents in the neighborhood have submitted comments, including a petition signed by more than 60 people, opposing the site’s zoning change because they feel the area’s quality of life and public safety will be negatively impacted.

Four residents spoke out against the proposed change during Monday night’s public hearing. Even though no townhome development is currently planned for the site, they noted that if the zoning was changed, one would inevitably be built there in the future. Some added that they felt the city already has enough land zoned as RS-T and worried that allowing more areas to be changed from RS-8400 would only encourage developers’ attempts to keep doing so.

Common reasons those against the proposal expressed included concerns about increased neighborhood density, traffic and congestion, pedestrian safety — including a lack of sidewalks in the area — and the impact on adjoining property values. There were also comments about affordable housing and privacy concerns for neighboring residents if townhomes were to eventually be built on the parcels.

Jim Egge, who represented the applicant, said the properties’ owner has no immediate plans to demolish the existing older houses on the properties and plans to keep renting them out, but “they just wanted to prepare for the future.” He noted there are several other properties to the north that have also been granted an RS-T zoning designation and added that approving the zoning change would be consistent with those decisions along with also helping to offer a variety of housing types throughout the city – particularly near the Town Center and downtown corridor.

However, the council ultimately voted 5-2 in favor of denying the requested change, with Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright and Mayor Pro Tem Bryan Wahl dissenting. The council majority’s said it decided to deny changing the zoning designation because four of the six criteria for approval had not been “satisfactorily met.”

Although the proposal complies with the city’s Comprehensive Plan and the parcels of land contained in the request were not receiving special or privileged treatment, the local impacts to the neighborhood area were determined to be too significant.

Criteria the five councilmembers felt the amendment didn’t satisfy included:

– The proposal will not be materially detrimental to properties in the vicinity or the community based on the entire range of uses allowed in the proposed zone.

– Adequate public services will be available to serve the full range of proposed uses.

– The reclassification is warranted because of a change in circumstances, or because of a need for additional property in the proposed zoning district classification, or because the proposed zoning classification is appropriate for reasonable development of the subject property.

– The proposed rezone would promote the general health, welfare, and safety of the community.

Following the public hearing, the council could have approved the zoning change proposal while also identifying specific conditions for their assent, such as required buffering and tree retention measures. But several councilmembers expressed a reluctance in their ability to adequately craft meaningful conditions on the spot and in the moment, especially without a specific development application attached to the proposal.

It was also noted that the council will have further discussions concerning the city’s subareas and zoning, including areas designated as transitional, as part of the process for the upcoming 2024 Comprehensive Plan update.

Also on Monday night, the council unanimously approved an ordinance consolidating the municipal code enforcement provisions.

Mountlake Terrace municipal code establishes a process for code violations regarding various types of nuisances, zoning regulations and permit requirements. But previously those code violations were addressed by different enforcement processes scattered throughout various chapters of the municipal code. As a result, this could at times lead to uncertainty in the enforcement of code violations and their potential outcomes while also creating difficulties for city abatement efforts.

The municipal code was modified to establish one enforcement process that is applicable to all nuisances. The revised process is intended to be consistent throughout the municipal code, and a violation of any chapter of the code would utilize the same process.

The consolidation is meant to help provide both the community and staff with added clarity and consistency in the application of code enforcement. The changes made were previously discussed with the Mountlake Terrace Police Department, public works and community and economic development staff to ensure the revised process will meet the needs of all the departments involved.

The new process will generally allow 60 days for voluntary compliance before a notice of order is sent out. If voluntary compliance is not achieved at that time, it will then proceed, after a 15-day appeal period, to Snohomish County Superior Court.

Typically, the process will be initiated with a complaint to the city followed by an initial contact from code enforcement officers. Those responsible for the violation(s) will then have an opportunity to enter into the voluntary compliance agreement that includes specific corrective actions to be taken and deadlines for compliance.

The new enforcement code creates a daily penalty, that unlike before is not capped at four days, and defines the term “nuisance” to include all violations of the code. Any daily penalties assessed will not begin until after the non-compliance deadline has passed or the appeal period has expired, whichever is later.

The maximum penalty would be $100 for the first violation and $200 for a second or subsequent violation of the same nature or a violation that continues past a deadline provided by a notice of violation – unless a different penalty amount for a given violation is expressly authorized or required by a more specific city code provision. The daily fine amounts do not include any related fees, costs and assessments that may be required.

If the matter proceeds to Snohomish County Superior Court, then the City of Mountlake Terrace will attempt to obtain a judgment that covers its costs, fees and any fines levied. It will seek an injunction to prevent the continuance of those identified nuisances on the property and a warrant of abatement to then abate the documented problem(s). The city can then file a judgment against those responsible as well as a lien on the property for the cost of the city’s completed abatement efforts.

“We will hopefully reach a much more efficient resolution and garner more voluntary compliance,” City Attorney Hillary Evans said.

In other business, the council:

– Approved a $4.8 million contract for the Westside Water Main Project, which will take about a year to conclude. Crews will be replacing approximately 9,400 linear feet of pipe throughout neighborhoods west of I-5 with new water mains, along with updated valves, hydrants and water customer connections. After construction, they will restore the affected sidewalks, asphalt and landscaping. The project is funded using a low-interest state loan that will be repaid by water customers’ regular fees and developer fees.

– Discussed a possible May return to in-person public meetings. More time is currently needed to finish preparing various equipment and staff requirement for holding those meetings inside council chambers at the new Mountlake Terrace City Hall. Councilmembers agreed they were looking forward to having in-person public meetings again and said that targeting a date in May sounded reasonable.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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