Plans for MLT development will be ‘transformational,’ business association members told

Mountlake Terrace Business Association President Justin Elsner of the Elsner Law Group welcomes attendees to the May 15 meeting, held in the interim City Hall Council Chambers

“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 block sizing would be similar to what can be found in Portland, Ore., she said.

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.

City Community and Economic Development Director Christy Osborn answers a question during the meeting.

“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


  1. Teresa Wippel has written a terrific unbiased article. Thanks for a clear and concise summary.

  2. Maybe I missed it in the article, but how does the city expect the businesses to move in? District 1 looks like it could have close to 100 homes, is the city hoping they will all sell to a development or are they getting eminent domain-ed?

    1. Businesses will move in as the market dictates….. and the city manager has discussed marketing to the businesses that we want to see move in. It is planned economic development.

    2. If one lives in an SFH within a high-rise zoned area, one will be paying taxes for which the land portion of assessment will be at the developed rate. Only a fool would “hold out” instead of selling for a huge profit.

      Economics will clear those 100 single-family homes.

  3. We do need a store in “downtown”, but certainly the density we have now will provide a good grocery business. We DON’T need more density. I would love to see a Sprouts store go in. Also, the comment that parking “will be monitored over time” is a cop-out. Parking needs to be decided and planned for before all this madness starts.

    1. What that means is the plan is to go to pay to park but nobody wants to publicly say that ahead of time because of push back. The city did a study before the first attempt to pass the Civic Center which projects the level of density needed to justify parking solutions.

    2. Unless we want to supersize our roads to provide tons of drive-by traffic, a full service grocery store like Sprouts will not be feasible without more people in the immediate vicinity.

    3. If there were enough people with access, there would already be a grocery store. There are a half-dozen store companies in Central Puget Sound, and all are looking for the next good site.

      Economics rules!.

  4. Mr. DeKoekkoek-your comment on supersizing our roads and more people in the vicinity in order to have a grocery store (Sprouts or whatever) doesn’t make any sense.

  5. Oops Sarah….missed that…who is the “we” in your statement “we want to move in”. Is this being decided by you and the city manager? Just wonderin’.

  6. I am a BIG proponent of having a grocery store in the downtown corridor. I do not like to here what officials and planners say. They rarely listen to the peoples voice. It’s all about $$. Most folks want a small grocery store back.

  7. Andy, it doesn’t have to be small grocery store either! It’s just a load of crap they are trying to feed us. And you’re right, its not about the residents who live here and have for decades, its all about the money.

    1. Everyone in my neighborhood said the right grocery store would work for them. Tired of the drive to the surrounding stores. Build it and people will come. Especially new developments, and those are here to stay

  8. I am a bit disappointed that we’re still talking about mandatory parking minimums well in to the 21st Century and within walking distance of a rapid transit station that as a region we are spending $50Bn on. Land use needs to be maximized not squandered with large parking structures beneath every building, and the transportation emphasis should be on walking and bicycling, and allow developers to add parking as they see fit. Over time (e.g., the time scale of re-developing our downtown), parking will be less needed as 1) local traffic shifts to walking and bicycling and 2) ride share and driverless vehicles increasingly come in to play. If anything, the City could always build a centralized municipal garage if there is ever a parking shortage. Which I tend to doubt as most of the regional traffic draw will continue to be to the north in Lynnwood–nobody’s talking about building large malls in MLT in the foreseeable future.

    1. Hi Brandon,
      Here is what i see. Since bike lanes have become the “in” for cities, i have rarely seen those in MLT used so for me it’s Back to the basics. Most people want to drive. As buildings go up there needs to be infrastructure build and improved around cars on the road. People want to drive and having transit around MLT is only good if have more time. You cannot force people not to drive by making roads and parking unsuitable for that environment. I will tell you I do walk to the transit center for work but, would prefer to park close to where I am eating, shopping etc. Developers and the city need to make sure parking is mandatory and available based on the retail space and types of venues

      1. You have it exactly backward. You can’t have “eating, shopping etc.” close by unless you have high density. Sure, a FEW people can have those things; the FEW directly adjacent to the mega-shopping centers that driving development creates. And those FEW will have to walk across the parking lot dodging the resentful MANY who HAD to drive there.

        1. Driving is not resentful for those who enjoy it. What I am saying is mandatory parking and infrastructure for driving should be the first priority. You cannot force walking and biking for a community that does not support it with a majority.

          1. If the “majority” of MLT residents are unwilling to allow high density development around the Link station — and that implies limited parking IN THAT AREA only — then the station should be deferred until such a time that they are.

            Lynnwood is destined to be a “successful” station simply because it has such great bus/rail integration. Thousands of bus hours per day spent on I-5 and the surface streets of downtown Seattle will be eliminated by its opening.

            No one yet knows what CT will do with the millions of dollars saved per year as a result. It might increase the frequency of the buses serving the Link station in hopes of attracting even more commuters away from driving, it might increase local service throughout the day and on weekends, or it might cut the tax rate and reduce overall service.

            But there will be no concomitant savings from opening the Mountlake Terrace Station, because you already have the mid-freeway station at which many of the Seattle- and UW-bound buses already stop. If there is a recession between now and 2023 when Lynnwood Link opens it would behoove Sound Transit to configure the trackage to support building a future station there but defer actual construction until later if there will not be an increase in ridership from close-by development.

            That’s the “deal” that the other suburbs have made to get Link stations. They up-zone the area right around the station(s) in their cities in order to ensure all-day, every-day use of the system.

            Mountlake Terrace needs to do the same, and from what I can tell the council is trying but meeting resistance from residents. Until that changes ST has a clear opportunity to save some money there.

          2. You make excellent points. There are plenty of us generally supportive of city efforts to increase the development capacity around the light rail station and into our Town Center.

      2. I regularly see the bike lanes on 212th get used, even by some large groups of bicyclists riding single file. And by teenagers–children. Your mileage may vary, but I’m just grateful I can pass them without putting anyone’s life at risk. Depends how direct of a route it is and what else it connects to. Just the same as some streets are just busier than others, depending on how “useful” they are, perhaps? For example I’m not at all surprised to see the ones on 236TH east of 56TH not get used because 1) the construction going on, and 2) they don’t connect all the way to the transit center or the Ballinger Park path. Not many motorists would use a street that stops at a dead end and requires you to park and walk the last half mile either.

  9. Economics do rule, I agree, but is that what we, the citizens, want in MLT? People don’t take bikes, ride share and driverless vehicles to our city to seek out businesses, apartments (guests), shops, etc. Mandatory parking needs to be required for all new development at the expense of the developers. They are the ones getting most the money for this anyway. There is now so much overflow from the transit station into neighborhoods that its hard to get a parking place at the library, especially on days there are meetings/activities being held there!

    1. But you see, it ISN’T “at the expense of the developers”. It’s at the expense of the renters or purchasers. And though I’d agree that in a place like Mountlake Terrace, every unit will almost certainly have at least one car, providing parking for ONLY one car should be just fine. If there is not at least one of the wage-earners in a household moving into a building within a short walk of the new Link station who works in the U-District, at Boeing Everett or in downtown Seattle, well then, they should look elsewhere and leave the “TOD” to someone who will use the train. Period.

      So one parking for car and one only for buildings in such a prime location.

      1. This. Any developer who does not provide any parking is probably either 1) decades ahead of his/her time, or 2) has a bankruptcy wish. But requiring developers to build the same excessive minimum parking as 50 years ago when MLT was a much different place just results in excessive “parking craters,” like what you see up in Lynnwood. I for one do not want 236TH ST in MLT to look like 196TH ST in Lynnwood. That’s why I bought in MLT not in Lynnwood. Developers have a good sense of the parking needs of their prospective tenants. Let them use their best judgement, and let the free market do it’s thing. You can still have a *minimal* minimum parking if you’re really worried that zero parking Apodments might be coming to MLT, but I seriously doubt that is the case.

          1. Is there an actual parking shortage at that complex? I’m honestly not familiar with it, but haven’t noticed when I’ve been in the area. The more significant parking issue seems to be with the transit center and overflowing to the library. I suspect low income seniors don’t need as much parking as say middle class multi car families with children in school. And with Uber/Lyft and other options, definitely less than some committee sat down and determined back in the 1970s. Rather have the housing than half empty parking lots/garages.

    2. Unfortunately, requiring excessive private parking won’t address your (legitimate!) concern about transit center and library parking. Private parking will TOW you even if their lot is half empty. The City can easily implement 4 hr daytime zone parking or something similar, like most cities do, to weed out the transit center overflow. But let the developers decide how much parking they realistically need for their clients/customers, and at least consider centralized municipal parking. Nobody is saying don’t have parking—I live in MLT and I drive a lot too! I also know from experience people are using rideshare and walking and biking around MLT. And transit stations do tend to increase this. It’s coming, build for it.

  10. Thanks for the great conversation thus far. All points welcome. I guess my point is growth will come and that is ok but, you must have the infrastructure in place to accommodate the traffic. A two lane road with a center turn lane along 236th will get hard to manage. Most people renting have more than one car. While they will take light rail to work, or the bus, it’s other times where it could become a problem and will most likely drive more traffic to residential neighborhoods as a work around.

    1. Two lanes with center turn lanes can handle a lot of cars, especially if the signalization is done right and there are bike lanes so bicyclists don’t have to “take the lane” and slow traffic flow. It’s really big box store shopping centers and malls that have regional draw and cause a lot of heavy traffic during non peak hours–just look at how Lynnwood is. We may disagree on some things, but I’m pretty sure none of us wants our 236TH ST to look anything like 196TH ST in Lynnwood.

      1. Even though I am bias because they would tear down my neighbors houses to add a street between 232nd and 230th, the cost alone to imminent domain 6 or more houses to add a street that ends at 61st ave w and is only a few blocks long does not make sense.

        1. Most of the conversations around these new street connections seemed to indicate that new streets or alleys would be a condition of development so nothing would happen until they are redeveloped. I don’t think the city will pursue eminent domain but we’ll see.

  11. There goes our quaint neighborhood…. Those pretty photos of possible building samples on the town center subarea plan is only a partial truth. What’s really going to happen in zone #2 &# 3 is that developers are going to buy up single family homes and put up those cookie cutter town-homes in and as many as they can on one lot in the name of urban density, ruining the neighborhood.

    Your neighbors cute little 1950’s house with a big yard will turn into 5-8 skinny town houses with windows looking directly down at you blocking sunlight right on the property line. Just like what is happening in Ballard and now Lake Forrest Park.

    The seller, developer and the city gets paid. Leaving the rest of us left behind with a lower standard of living with of course less parking..

    1. I get my hair done on 232nd and they face the new townhomes and that is exactly what is happening. You can see the one house with the new townhomes being built right on top of them looking right into their windows.
      No one wants to live like that so people are being pushed out whether they want to go or not.

    2. Townhomes will not be allowed in TC1, TC2, or TC3. I live in the neighborhood and townhomes are allowed to be built right behind my property in the transitional zone but I’m excited for these changes. I welcome more neighbors, safer wide sidewalks, new businesses and less empty parking lots.

  12. Are you sure Townhomes are not allowed? Above on the cover of the District 3 Concept shows a photo of Townhomes along with photos of apartment buildings.

    I am also for new business and an urban environment that benefits us all but lets concentration on the empty parking lots and developing new businesses in the downtown core before they start rezoning full chunks of city blocks of residential houses.

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