“What’s coming down the pike is really going to be transformational for the city.”
That’s how Mountlake Terrace Assistant City Manager Stephen Clifton began his presentation about plans for city development during a lunch meeting before the Mountlake Terrace Business Association earlier this week.
Light rail is a driving force behind much of the current planning and development in Mountlake Terrace, Clifton said. “A lot of the economic development initiatives and programs that are underway now really are tied to light rail coming to the city,” he added.
City infrastructure will “set the table for the future,” and Mountlake Terrace is making a concerted effort to invest in infrastructure — primarily road reconstruction and water projects that will serve future growth in the city’s Town Center, Clifton said.
In his presentation, Clifton started with the two-phase Main Street Project. Phase 1 involves the reconstruction of 236th Street Southwest between Interstate 5 and 56th Avenue West. That project will service the light rail station and also feed people from I-5 east into the downtown area. Phase 2 of the Main Street Project will involve reconstruction of 56th Avenue between 230th and 236th Streets Southwest. The city has the money for right-of-way acquisition and design but still has to acquire millions of dollars for construction, which can take time, Clifton added.
The planned Sound Transit Light Rail station in Mountlake Terrace is a major focus of the city’s planning work, Clifton said. The station will be built on the east side of the existing Mountlake Terrace Transit Center parking garage, and he shared photos of the station design with MLTBA members.
A key priority for the design, Clifton said, is to make sure the light rail station’s west wall is made of glass and is see-through. “It’s really important to us to improve the security, but also to be able to see the light rail trains when they are heading north and south, from the roadway. To us it just has a much stronger visual appeal than an 8-foot metal or concrete wall on the platform.”
A major change that people will see “very soon,” Clifton said, is the clearing of trees along the freeway near Mountlake Terrace, to prepare for the Lynnwood Link light rail construction — an 8-mile extension from Northgate to Lynnwood.
You can learn more about the light rail station in our most recent coverage here.
Then Clifton turned the microphone over to City Community and Economic Development Director Christy Osborn, who started by explaining the work of the city’s 11-member Economic Vitality and Town Center Task Force. The task force, which met for nine months, was directed to assist in updating the city’s 2007 Town Center Plan, which was developed at a time when there was no light rail station on the horizon, she added.
The draft plan is still being worked on by the city’s Planning Commission and will also need to be approved by the full city council.
Osborne also shared with MLTBA members the most recent Town Center map draft:
With light rail and associated population growth coming, “we are trying to concentrate growth and development more in that Town Center area in order to protect more of the outlying single-family residential areas,” she said.
A goal of the Town Center Plan is to try to simplify the number of land use districts and their associated zoning “as much as possible,” Osborn said. The pink area, TC 1, includes the tallest buildings (up to 12 stories under the draft plan) and will be adjacent to I-5 and the transit center. Then the heights will be reduced as the zoning gets closer to single-family residential uses.
Building heights in the TC 2 area (blue) would be four to eight stories and TC 3 (green) would be four- to six-story buildings. (You can learn more in our previous story here.)
The planning commission is likely to be finished with its review in June and then the plan will go to the city council. An environmental review and planned action are being conducted at the same time, meaning all the environmental work is done upfront. “So when the development community comes in, the environmental review has already taken place,” she said.
(A planned action involves detailed SEPA review and preparation of Environmental Impact Statement documents in conjunction with subarea plans, consistent with state law, prior to approval. This provides more certainty for developers when proposing projects.)
Osborn showed some samples of what the new Town Center zones could look like based on early discussions for design standards. The first were for TC 1, which would be located along the freeway. Among the considerations, she said: Is the area walkable? Are there multimodal connections for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles “to reach out to the neighborhoods so people can get through and to other areas through here,” she said.
The look of taller buildings is critical, she added, to ensure people aren’t faced with a wall of concrete. Ways to mitigate that — such as with articulated facades — will be taken into consideration during the planning process.
“We’re also hoping these (buildings) are occupied primarily by office-type uses so that there will be more jobs in the community for those who live here, but also for those who are riding light rail,” Clifton added.
Moving on to the Town Center District 2 concept, Osborn described it as a medium-density zone “where we envision…the place where a lot of activity at the ground level in the community is going to happen, where there’s shops and restaurants and a highly activated street-level activities.” City staff are proposing creation of a new 57th Street, which doesn’t currently exist, and the implementation of new city street grids featuring smaller blocks that are more pedestrian focused as opposed to long “super blocks.”
The goal for the new 57th Street is “to create a brand-new retail, restaurant, and arts and culture corridor,” Clifton said. With smaller blocks, “the downtown will have a much stronger, more intimate feel. It will be much more walkable, much more comfortable for the pedestrian,” with 12- to 15-foot sidewalks throughout and street trees, light fixtures and benches, plus parallel parking, he said.
Then Clifton showed a video of a close-by example — Park Lane in Kirkland:
“Obviously the buildings will be much taller (than those shown in the video),” Clifton said.
“But we spent a lot of time on making sure that the design on the first floor and the pedestrian level feels just like that would feel,” Osborn added. “Buildings will be taller but at the street level, it’s very activated, very comfortable, and a lot to do on that street.”
Clifton cautioned that such a plan “will be years in the making. Obviously the city doesn’t have enough money for all of these brand-new streets. They will be constructed in segments as development occurs.”
Answering a question about the availability of parking as development moves ahead, both Clifton and Osborn said that parking would have to be monitored over time to determine whether time-limited and/or paid parking might eventually be necessary.
As for what types of businesses the city could attract, Clifton said the new zoning and developments that follow could appeal to a range of businesses wanting to locate in Mountlake Terrace. Once the Town Center Plan is approved, Osborn added that she and Clifton will be proactively reaching out to businesses about locating here.
“We are not going to wait for people to come knock on our door. We are going to be actively marketing our city and trying to get folks to know that we’re here and what we have to offer,” she said.
“With this Town Center Plan we’re creating a lot of new opportunities because of the new blocks that will be created,” Clifton added.
Answering another question about whether the new TC2 zone could accommodate a Sprouts-type grocery store, Osborn said that “it very well could. I know that’s a big ask from the community. Everybody wants a grocery store.” However, she cautioned that to attract such a store, Town Center needs more residential density.
Clifton recalled the advice given by experts at an economic development panel sponsored by the city last summer: “The number-one thing that they said was, ‘Focus on residential first, and retail and commercial and restaurants will follow.'”
Finally, Osborn talked about the Town Center District 3, “the north and east perimeter as we transition heights down to four to six stories.” This is an area of the Town Center where ground-floor commercial was previously required, but now it’s optional and development can also be strictly residential, she said.
Overall, Osborn stressed that the goal for the new Town Center Plan is to create design standards for buildings that are “visually pleasing and welcoming for the community.”
— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel