MLT city council discusses work plan priorities at retreat

Mountlake Terrace City Councilmembers discuss their upcoming work plan at the council’s March 6 retreat special meeting.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its March 6 retreat discussed a high-level work plan that will help guide municipal planning and upcoming budgeting efforts moving forward.

A draft of the council’s work plan includes the following stated vision: “Mountlake Terrace is an attractive, walkable city with a revitalized town center, diverse neighborhoods, healthy environment, and ample opportunities for housing, education, business, recreation and community involvement.”

Community values in the plan include:

– Feeling safe and welcome throughout the community

– Housing choices for all incomes levels

– A community informed of what is happening

– Parks that provide for quiet walks and active youth sports

– A variety of recreation programs for all ages

– Sidewalks and bike lanes connecting all neighborhoods together

– Events that celebrate arts, neighborhoods and culture

– A vibrant Town Center that provides jobs, services and activities

The draft identified 10 categories of high-level goals. Councilmembers then gave feedback to city staff about their priorities along with any additional strategies or tasks they would like to focus future discussions on over the next three years as part of the municipal budget cycle. Many of the items previously included in the work plan will automatically be addressed as part of the budgeting process.

One of those council goals identified earlier is keeping the community informed of what is happening. It calls for developing a communication plan and various methods for community outreach, obtaining public feedback and promoting local businesses.

Additional priorities that councilmembers suggested included the possibility of regularly holding open houses to discuss matters under consideration by the council; leveraging the Mountlake Terrace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission (DEIC) in the city’s communication efforts to help engage and gather input from more residents; developing a youth commission; possibly utilizing additional text messaging and other methods of communication to more effectively inform and reach people in manners they are comfortable and most engaged with, and perhaps identifying some key members and stakeholders within the community who might be enlisted as a type of city ambassadors that can then help keep residents within their social circles of influence informed about municipal programs and efforts.

Several councilmembers said it is increasingly important that the city’s communication efforts reach people using a variety of emerging methods and existing channels that residents are engaging with — and also comfortable relying on — for exchanging information and receiving updates.

“I would love to see us, when we think about kind of the ways that we engage, continue to think about how our community best receives information,” Councilmember Erin Murray noted. She added, “I would love for us to just continue to have conversation about, as communication evolves and changes, how is our community best receiving information and how are we working to meet them where they are.”

It was also pointed out that additional investments in municipal resources such as technology and staffing will likely be necessary in order to further develop and consistently maintain a more comprehensive, effective communications plan.

The council had identified economic development and related activities as a goal for further discussion. Its strategies include determining ways to potentially attract more businesses and jobs to Mountlake Terrace, ensuring the city’s infrastructure can properly support anticipated growth, engaging regularly with community stakeholders to solicit feedback on permitting and construction inspection processes, updating the development code and review process, and organizing a task force to improve opportunities for business retention and expansion.

Councilmembers added they would like to look at how to properly grow and activate the downtown corridor and Town Center area – particularly in advance of light rail service coming to Mountlake Terrace in 2024. Issues to address include stimulating economic development and also drawing a greater variety in the types of businesses, store sizes and services that are available throughout the area.

“We need to take a look at what’s going to make our light rail station work,” Councilmember Doug McCardle said, adding that needs to be done in the next two years before the Mountlake Terrace Light Rail Station opens. “As we work through (addressing) economic vitality and a vibrant city, taking a look at what businesses do we attract or what kind of development that would make our light rail station function like it’s supposed to,” he said, noting that would also include examining the area’s infrastructure and available parking.

Some on the council said it would be helpful to figure out what types of businesses and industries the city is targeting and hoping to attract, along with also learning which types may wish to locate operations in Mountlake Terrace. Another suggestion involved examining the municipal codes in order to ascertain if there are any that might potentially be inhibiting or discouraging further business and economic growth locally.

Councilmembers said they also felt the city should coordinate efforts more closely with the Mountlake Terrace Business Association in order to help support its mission and efforts in the community.

Regarding goals of sustainability and environmental stewardship, councilmembers said they mostly thought Mountlake Terrace was doing a good job, citing among other things its continued recognition as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. In addition, they would like to see the city continue its commitment to environmental work by exploring ways to further protect tree canopies, add more open and green spaces, prioritize the creation of an urban forestry plan, and possibly add more bike lanes or trails that connect throughout the city and also with the Interurban Trail.

The council discussed its stated goal of identifying and encouraging events that celebrate arts, neighborhoods and culture. Strategies include determining the funding for holding various types of events in city parks, implementing new gatherings, supporting the DEIC’s work plan to celebrate and recognize the value of community diversity, developing programs for art, exploring support for a local farmer’s market, and partnering with local stakeholders to hold special events and activities that can have a positive impact both within the community and also for the city.

Councilmember Steve Woodard said that in the spirit of being inclusive, he would like to see the city pursue a youth commission or some similar manner of regularly soliciting or involving their input and ideas. Several councilmembers said they would like to see a farmer’s market in Mountlake Terrace again. And others noted there should be continued discussions on various ways to display and promote public art throughout the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Bryan Wahl added the city should also work with organizers to help develop a plan moving forward to ensure the continuity of annual public events that are privately run and important to the community.

Another previously identified goal is to make sure there are housing choices available throughout Mountlake Terrace for residents of all income levels, while also planning for anticipated growth in the city. Strategies include creating a list of development incentives that might encourage a diversity of housing types, examining municipal zoning and land use regulations to identify options for diversifying the city’s housing stock, looking at development policies needed to accommodate long-term population growth projections, and working with housing authorities and developers in order to expand local housing opportunities, choices and affordable units.

The council noted that tackling the complex issue of housing affordability is challenging work that will require partnerships and possibly even creating a task force. Several councilmembers said that it’s important to first determine and define what affordable housing means in Mountlake Terrace before moving forward with any specific vision to address the issue. Additional priorities included looking at city codes and processes for developing housing within the city, and also identifying available resources that can help further inform future discussions.

Many on the council added that it is key to move forward quickly with efforts to help address housing affordability, particularly as a means to help keep people who already live in the community from being displaced.

Concerning stated goals to meet the community’s needs for parks and recreation experiences and activities, councilmembers noted they would like to see the city encourage and promote more healthy opportunities for residents across a variety of ages and life stages to regularly participate in. Several advocated for the creation of additional open spaces in Mountlake Terrace and some noted that they would like to see the aging Recreation Pavilion facilities replaced and identify funding options to do so.

Among the goals identified for a safe and welcoming community, developing a welcome guide was highlighted – although it was added that should also include a guide to facilities and spaces that are accessible and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Others noted they were looking forward to updating subarea plans and conducting a review of the characteristics of the city’s five identified neighborhood areas.

Regarding the goal of having sidewalks, trails and bike lanes that connect all of the city’s neighborhoods together, some councilmembers said the city should assess the connectivity of bike lanes and sidewalks in neighborhoods throughout Mountlake Terrace.

Finally, the council had previously developed a stated goal of operating a responsible city government through planning, financing, developing and maintaining quality services, infrastructure, and amenities. It includes ensuring the provision of municipal health and safety services, evaluating and updating a litany of city plans along with prioritizing various projects and public infrastructure in addition to identifying the funding sources necessary to accommodate projected employment and population growth.

Some councilmembers said they looked forward to having future discussions about how the city appropriately scales it municipal services as the local population increases and also exploring how technology might be able to provide those services with added efficiencies or conveniences. Another priority noted involves exploring various local and regional partnerships that can help with city infrastructure and transportation projects, and also resident health and safety in the community.

City Manager Scott Hugill thanked the councilmembers for their clarifications and additions to the work plan’s goals and priorities. “It’s very interesting how you all have similar input on the community values consistent across time,” he said. “These values show up throughout the various plans we have,” Hugill noted, adding “you’re on the right path in terms of serving community.”

The city council’s visioning subcommittee will take feedback gathered during the retreat special meeting and further refine the draft of the work plan for further discussion later this year.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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