MLT City Council dives into details of Town Center draft plan

Mountlake Terrace City Councilmembers settle in for Thursday night’s work session, which included an extensive presentation from city staff in response to concerns about the Town Center Comprehensive Plan and Development Plan. (Photo by Mardy Harding)

There was more discussion Thursday night on the City of Mountlake Terrace proposed Town Center plan that would bring taller buildings and greater density to the city.

City staff and consultants were present at Thursday’s Mountlake Terrace City Council work/study session to address questions and concerns raised by both councilmembers and citizens during the past few weeks about the Town Center Subarea Comprehensive Plan and Development Regulations.

In addition, the council in other business reviewed a grant to the city for transforming the Evergreen Playfield No. 1 — now a dirt field — into a turf athletic complex, and heard a presentation by non-profit Forterra on how the organization could partner with Mountlake Terrace to maintain the city’s urban forest.

During discussion about the draft comprehensive plan and development regulations, city staff discussed options to mitigate the impacts of rezoning the Town Center area in terms of light, aesthetics,  parking, civic engagement, building size.

Staff also brought in a real estate investment expert to speak on what the rezoning would mean for real estate market opportunities in Mountlake Terrace. Chris Fiori, who works at Hearland LLC, told the council that it’s a good sign that this much thought is going into crafting the Town Center Plan.

“The plan is an element of certainty and clarity that attracts investment,” Fiori said.

In response to questions about building heights, he said that generally, residential developers may not utilize the maximum height allowed in their zone, but professional developers will.

“The reason to go higher is to look toward the future,” Fiori said. “You’re setting up something that’s logical and will make sense over a 15-year period.” He said the difference between six and 12 stories is unlikely to result in anyone waiting to invest and banking on another change in the future.

Fiori also addressed a question by Councilmember Laura Sonmore regarding those who  homes or property and are deciding whether to sell for development — perhaps even banding together to sell multiple properties. Fiori said that residents will need to talk to their neighbors about what makes the most sense for them and their properties in the the long term.

“If the costs aren’t too high to plan for it, you might as well think about planning for it,” Fiori said.

Navigating how to prepare for the yet-to-be-determined amount of development was the theme of the rest of the meeting. Fiori’s comments were followed by a staff presentation of a series of maps and models showing what development could look like in the Town Center. Bob Bengford, who works for Maker’Architecture and Urban Design, took the council and audience through case studies of other cities and what development there looked like. He also talked about why certain architectural designs, such as “step backs” and courtyards, would be beneficial to the downtown pedestrian experience.

Staff suggested “step back” requirements for taller buildings to avoid creating an urban “canyon.”

Those presentations were followed by a discussion regarding minor adjustments to off-street parking ratio requirements, which are currently similar to other cities. Some councilmembers expressed concern about Town Center parking overflowing into residential areas on the outskirts, but other councilmembers as well as consultant Bill Trimm noted that with the light rail and increased use of rideshare programs, the demand for parking is difficult to predict.

“It’s parking management over parking planning,” said Bill Trimm, who is working with the city on the Town Center Plan. The council agreed to add parking to the agenda for its Aug. 19 meeting.

One of the largest revisions discussed at the meeting was the Planning Commission’s proposal to remove the “lobe,” which is an additional set of blocks in the Town Center Plan. This area would be in the southeastern corner of current boundaries, with a northern border at 236th Street extending east to 54th Street and keeping the southern boundary of 238th Street. Trimm said that because this addition exposes residential neighborhoods to transitional effects on three sides, as well as creates more environmental impacts to evaluate, staff decided not to make the addition and honor the existing boundaries.

Staff’s revised zoning suggestions eliminated the southeastern “lobe” addition, deleted the southern transitional zones, but kept the northern ones.

Trimm said that while staff disagreed with the planning commission’s recommendation to keep the “lobe” area, it did like the commission’s idea of removing the transition zones on the southern border between 237th and 238th.

“If the Town Center is ever going to expand, I think it’s going to expand to the south,” Trimm said. “If we remove that transition zone then the opportunity to expand exists with the conversion and allocation of single-family properties.” The staff wants to keep the transition zones to the north and east.

A final change that staff presented was the switch of a section of the Town Center from TC-1 to TC-2, reducing the maximum number of stories from 12 to eight. This is because of how the blocks between 235th and 237th Streets Southwest and between 56th and 58th Avenues West bump up against residential neighborhoods, and are not necessarily right next to the transit center.

Public comment covered a variety of concerns on this plan. Some asked clarifying questions, and multiple people expressed concern that many changes were being made to a long-standing plan at the last minute. Some speakersasked that the council hurry up to allow this development to begin, as many who have invested in this area are anxious to see this plan happen.

Victor Eskenazi of Mountlake Terrace reminded the council that they are likely looking at evictions of people in the Town Center area as a result of the plan.

— By Mardy Harding

  1. What does the removal of the transitional zone on 237th mean? Does that mean that the south side of the street can build higher?

    1. Ernie,

      someone can build to the maximum height, at this time, 12 floors, right across the street from you 1 story residential home

    2. It also means that in the future they can and will most likely expand the town center, hence no transitional zone.

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