Public hearing set for proposed changes to intersection of 56th Ave. W. and 236th St. SW.


City of MLT logoThe public will have its first opportunity to weigh in on some proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan with regard to the intersection of 56th Ave. W. and 236th St. SW. during a Public Hearing at the July 14 Planning Commission meeting.

An amendment to the Town Center Subarea Plan “Building Prototypes Map” would change the designations of parcels at the intersection from Subdistricts C, D and E (which allow two- and three-story buildings) to Subdistrict B, Medium Mixed Use (5) District (which allows five-story buildings).

Currently, the four corners at the intersection are designated Medium Mixed Use (5). The proposed amendment would incorporate some abutting parcels currently designed on the Building Prototypes Map as two- and three-story buildings into the Medium Mixed Use (5).

City staff said that the goal is to allow all quadrants of the intersection to have equal development opportunities and to facilitate redevelopment of what the City deems to be a key intersection.

City staff cited as reasons for the amendment:

  • Future development of remaining quadrants will serve as a vibrant, compact and well-designed activity center and a secondary gateway into the City’s downtown.
  • As a result of the newly constructed Arbor Village at the southeast quadrant of the 236th Street SW and 56th Ave. W. intersection, it is important for the City to incentivize the development potential on the other three quadrants of the intersection.
  • The Arbor Village site was an aggregation of parcels equal in building district designation. The other three corners currently contain a mixture of unequal building heights, types and intensities that constrain development opportunities. The current zoning distributions of the three remaining quadrants at the intersection are unequal to the area zoning for Arbor Village.
  • The intersection is viable to transit-oriented development because it is a direct link to the transit center, freeway station and future link light rail.
  • Creating an equally designated building district at the intersection would encourage quality development at the intersection.
  • Complementary development at the intersection could add new opportunities for high quality housing.
  • Additional commercial facilities at all four corners would concentrate business, which is desirable for shoppers and would expand the City’s tax base.
  • The intersection, when fully developed, could attract visitors to the Downtown and could serve as a pivotal development area in the Town Center.

An amendment to the Town Center Subarea Plan Map would be considered a Comprehensive Plan Map amendment and would need to follow the applicable procedures and public process.

The City Council likely will consider the amendment and the Planning Commission’s recommendations at a work session and also would hold another Public Hearing before voting on the matter.

For more information contact the Community and Economic Development Department at 425-744-6207 or email: [email protected]



  1. More like giving the small businesses a chance to sell at a nice price. No reason the mechanic or convenience store couldn’t move a block away, etc., or continue as part of a bigger retail spot.

  2. Wow this amazes me. At Arbor Village after two years there is only ONE business occupying a space. Its just a bit obvious that this isn’t working. Please don’t turn our awesome town into an overcrowded mess.

  3. Whether technically precise enough for engineers or not, I believe Ms. Jones is relating a sentiment held by many living in and around the downtown district. I’m interested to hear how the incrementalism we were promised wouldn’t happen is now nonetheless a great idea. If 5 stories is now a good idea for all four corners of 236th and 56th, how large will the expanded quadrants become?

    As reported on page B-4 of the Seattle Times of June 24th, the city of Seattle just increased the urban density for 10 blocks surrounding the Mt. Baker light-rail station. Since all of this momentum to up-zone more of MLT is really about preparing us for the impacts of light rail’s arrival a decade hence, why doesn’t the city just cut to the chase.

    If every parcel within ten or 12 blocks of the light rail station is or soon will be fair game for increased density, that’s over 50% of the whole city. Let’s get it out in the open now so we can all know exactly what’s really in the “Plan” and how many of the council members who supposedly represent us are for such a radical rework of our city’s facial features.

    The lone “NO” vote in the Seattle matter came from the only council member, Bruce Harrell, who actually lives in the Rainier Valley. I’ll be interested to see if there is really ever a council discussion here that includes reasoned disagreement about major issues.

  4. Dustin, I don’t think anyone ever expected you to get it. Your home is not going to be put in the shadows of those buildings blocking the sun. You don’t have to worry about those parking in front of your house every night like they do because parking at Arbor Village cost to much. You don’t have to leave flyers on cars telling those that go into Arbor Village the next time they park in your lot they will be towed. You don’t have to worry about those blocking the sidewalk ramps with their cars so those in wheel chairs/children cannot safely cross the street. These are all things that need to be considered before they increase the story’s of these building.

  5. I think that whether the City’s proposed action materially affects businesses in that quadrant will depend on two things:

    1. How much the property values are affected by the change – does the increased development possibility make the affected lots substantially more valuable than they are now?
    2. Are the businesses on those lots run by the owners of the lots, or by commercial tenants?

    For a commercial owner-occupant, the proposed changes will have no effect unless the owner decides that the enhancement of the property value makes it worthwhile to cash out of the property so that it can be developed. That decision would be under the control of the property owner, and the owner might have the opportunity to move a few blocks away or even lease space in a newly-developed property. While I’m on the subject of commercial space on that corner, I’ll point out that people should realize that it is very, very likely that all corners will have mixed-use, and the ground floors will be commercial. There will be MORE businesses, not fewer, on that corner if all four corners undergo substantial redevelopment. It might not be a minimart or a coffee kiosk, but there are minimarts and coffee kiosks four blocks north, and four blocks south. Yes, Mr. French, I know that Arbor Village has leased only a small minority of space on their commercial floor. They’ll drop their asking price, the economy will continue to grow, and the spaces will fill with quality commercial tenants.

    For a commercial business leasing space, if the leased property is to be developed, that tenant might be displaced, or ‘squeezed out’ if you prefer, although perhaps a move of only a few blocks might result. If one looks at the map, the east side of 56th between 236th and 244th is pretty much all commercial, and the west side of the map between 240th and 244th is all commercial. So there are opportunities very, very close to the corner in question. The ‘squeeze’, if it happens, won’t be major. If I count correctly, there might only be four businesses directly affected by the current proposal. At least one of them is owner-occupied. The NE corner lots are already on the market.

    The City’s actions are quite predictable, and the reactions of those who don’t like it are quite understandable. There’s another City Council election soon enough.

    As I look at what might happen, the people I think who should be most concerned aren’t those in the shadows of future 5-story buildings on that corner. I think the people who should be most concerned are the residents of 58th Ave W, who will see their street become more of a thoroughfare as a result of the 56th congestion to come. I already take 58th about a fourth of the time, to avoid what’s beginning to happen on 56th. The Gateway Connector will likely increase traffic on 58th even more. I don’t think I’ve read anything about long-term plans for 58th. Maybe someone might want to ask a question about projected traffic flows 5 and 10 years from now.

  6. I’ll assume that 5 story buildings don’t fit the residents perspective of our city. While most aren’t paying attention either.

  7. As population density via more floors of apartments with or without street level commercial stretches further into the neighborhoods within close proximity of the two new light rail stations slated for MLT, it won’t only be 56th and 58th that will be more congested.

    FYI, I have asked about future traffic flows on all downtown arterials. You won’t be surprised to hear that despite the expected increased traffic flows, it isn’t considered a problem. Long-term traffic planning here is more about bike lanes and sidewalks than arterial throughput of vehicle traffic. Welcome to our daily challenges, Mr. Kramer.

    Solutions to foreseeable traffic problems resulting from future (“long-term”) development are called mitigation, whether those “solutions” actually mitigate the expected problem or simply explain it away instead. The likely menu of “solutions” among those who do not view congestion and alternative peak hour routes cutting through our single family neighborhoods as a problem is different than mine. Maybe we should remove all on-street parking within 1 mile of I-5 and replace those parking areas with bike lanes now so its clear how we expect all those future apartment dwellers to get to the light rail stations.

    • A couple of comments about on-street parking. I’m going to assume you are alluding to the elimination of some on-street parking due to the Main Street project. The elimination of much of the on-street parking is not due to wide sidewalks and bike lanes, it’s due to turn lanes that are being added. Another reason there is limited parking in the plans is because there so many driveways. Once properties along 236th and 56th are developed, many of the existing single family driveways will be consolidated which will open up more street parking.

      Street parking is an important part of the streetscape for not only automobiles but for pedestrians. Parked cars provides a buffer between pedestrians on the sidewalk increasing the perception of safety and comfort of those walking. And cars entering and leaving the parking spots cause some friction which helps slow down traffic when needed and forces drivers to be more aware of their surroundings, creating a safer environment for everyone.

  8. Why wouldn’t anybody want to improve that intersection? There is one coffee stand and a mini market. For someone that drives and rides a bike there all the time, I would love to see it grow

  9. When the Downtown Plan hatched, ostensibly attractive features of dense development, such as a larger tax base and street-level ambiance from a variety of walk-to businesses were the emphasis. Neither has yet proven true.

    We’re not even sure that one of the two moniker projects, Vineyard Park, will even have street level leased space despite the promises made to sell greater density downtown. The contribution the city (that’s us) has already made to the necessary infrastructure will take many years of many new projects to financially justify. I have read how “tax yield” is a legitimate form of land productivity to some, but it is hokum in the real world, meant only to justify more of the same public costs it is supposed to defray.

    Although most won’t focus on such arcane feasibility math, virtually everyone can already see what Robert Kramer keeps biting off in small pieces – the traffic impacts of more people with more cars concentrated at an intersection which has only one lane leading away in all four directions. (Note to NEXTMLT: rush hour traffic in downtown is slow enough already.)

    We’ve barely begun the wholesale reconstruction of our downtown which will in the next decade consume and/or impact most of the old downtown, much of the Gateway neighborhood, all our main arterials and leak ever larger volumes of the cut-thru traffic on other streets which Mr. Kramer has already noted.

    We are supposed to visualize and also appreciate both 56th and 236th as concrete canyons with a light rail station (or 2) at the freeway. Mr. Kramer is too kind when he asks, “I wonder how one lane in each direction will work.” The answer is, it won’t. We don’t have a traffic mitigation plan worth the name. No further mid-rise development anywhere in downtown let alone at 236th and 56th should be contemplated let alone allowed until we do. If you read the staff report for this latest expansion of downtown density, you’ll find the same mumbo-jumbo as in the original Downtown Plan and the subsequent Planned Action Ordinance (PAO). Don’t worry; traffic is somewhere among “applicable mitigation measures.” WHERE?

    For reference, take a quick trip through such nearby communities as Edmonds, Lynnwood, Bothell or Mill Creek. Where you find such developments as Arbor Place, they are located on 4-lane arterials. The extra lanes provide for both more traffic flow and the ancillary developer’s benefit of providing that many more eyes seeing the ground level commercial services which makes the spaces more desirable to business tenants – (note to owners of Arbor Place). Here in Mountlake Terrace, the only plan, (even though still unfunded, it is at least a plan) is to make 56th more beautiful so that no one notices they aren’t going anywhere. Meanwhile that other lane in all directions found in all those other towns will be (and already is) the single lanes on other nearby streets parallel to 56th or 236th. If you live on those streets, you are providing the mitigation which council and city staff otherwise forgot to design into our future.

    To another of Mr. Kramer’s inquiries, none of the expansion of 5-story zoning at 236th and 56th is a product of specific development projects. The applicant/advocate for this is not a developer; it is city staff. Their self-justifying logic is that “parcels along existing commercial streets…have a higher market value and thus require more intensive development to achieve profitability.” They go on to elaborate the obvious; land worth $800,000 per acre will sustain less intense development than an acre worth $1.6 million. They leave out the all important intermediate explanation of how the acre gets to be worth $1.6 million rather than $800,000.

    That would be by re-zoning that 43,560 square feet from 3 to 5 stories. To be more profitable to the land owners, the parcels only require some paperwork known as a Comprehensive Plan Amendment. For our downtown, including the original downtown Plan, all of those Amendments have been done at the behest of city staff.

    While its nice that certain landowners can hit the zoning lotto and the city can look into the very distant future to predict a very uncertain “profit” to the city tax coffers, I still think all of this salutary change should be preceded by a convincing answer to Mr. Kramer’s observations about the inadequate planning which so far has accompanied all the optimistic boosterism.

    • Do not put words into my mouth, Mr. French. I suggested nothing about inadequate planning, and referred only to my own ignorance of the traffic flow planning that has been done in Town Center. To the extent that I am too kind in the ways I address certain issues, my reply is that I am balancing the apparent attitudes of others.

  10. The City Council of Mountlake Terrace, apparently has Ballard envy. What a wonderful place to visit that has become! 20-25 minutes in/out of there, to anywhere. No character; just a mess of people all over the place and on the roads.

    Has anyone really taken a closer look at the mixed use residential/bottom floor commercial model for development in the last 20 years? Seems to me like a smaller city like ours can only support so many Subways? Didn’t Al Gore invent the Internet so that people could order stuff online, instead of supporting their local businesses?

    Perhaps I’m wrong….but I’m having a difficult time understanding how a small business in one of these buildings is going to succeed. It doesn’t matter what city in the US you visit. Everything in this 20 or so year old building model is homogeneous (dictionary definition: the same in structure, quality, etc: similar or identical). How many strip malls have failed over the last 3 decades? Seems like the same will go for many of these uninspired copy-cat mixed use buildings. I guess at least that when one of the businesses fail, they can convert that space to residential.

    We should improve the downtown corridor; I just don’t get why we have to copy every other city and lose our sense of individuality. The new Diamond Knot brew pub is a wonderful example of investing new money in a formerly undesirable location.

    My 2 cents, for what it’s worth.

    • Geoff, mixed-use development has been the primary form of development for thousands of years until the recent invention of the personal automobile and the last 75 or so years of the auto dependent suburban experiment. It was certainly around before the 1990’s. It seems that maybe your’e talking more about architectural style?

      • I understand what Mr. Wood is saying. Personally, up until about 4-5 years ago we visited Ballard frequently for meals and other social activities. It was a fun place, and probably still is, if you’re not traveling to get there. The change I have noticed is on Market heading west from 15th NW. Some might call it an envelope but in my opinion it has become an imposing and enclosing gauntlet of multistory buildings that clog the view and spew so many vehicles and pedestrians into the street that traveling through there has become a big hassle. We avoid it, now. Fortunately there are fun places, like Diamond Knot, that are still easy to get to.

        The difference between Ballard and MLT is that Ballard is about a square mile of rapidly built-up mess, while MLT’s development is in an area of about 4 blocks on each perimeter. So I don’t expect to see massive gridlock, although I do expect to see relatively quiet streets near MLT Town Center become not-so-quiet as people who usually take 56th and 236th try to avoid the congestion that may occur as development proceeds. Whether that’s good or bad is debatable. That it’s not being talked about much, until now, is somewhat of a concern. The additive traffic effects of the increased Transit Center presence, the Town Center mixed-use developments not yet conceived of but apparently being planned for, and the hoped-for City Hall/Civic Center complex might be substantial. We should be talking about them, in my opinion more than we have thus far.

  11. Though Mr. Kramer has never put the two words “inadequate planning” together, he is nonetheless doing us all a service by continuing to mention the subject, whatever you call it. The report about the Planning Commission’s deliberations being continued sounds a hopeful note. “The Planning Commission’s August 11 work session will include a more detailed look at traffic, parking, and transitions to abutting residential dwellings.” Maybe Mr. Kramer’s insights are having an impact.

    Specifically , “Gotta say, I do see a corridor of boxes along 236th west to the freeway, and I wonder how one lane in each direction will work. Envelope or not, that’s just not a very wide road.” I think the obvious answer is one lane in each direction won’t work. He also wrote, “I don’t think I’ve read anything about long-term plans for 58th. Maybe someone might want to ask a question about projected traffic flows 5 and 10 years from now.” I agree. In his most recent response he said, “That it’s not being talked about much, until now, is somewhat of a concern. The additive traffic effects of the increased Transit Center presence, the Town Center mixed-use developments not yet conceived of but apparently being planned for, and the hoped-for City Hall/Civic Center complex might be substantial. We should be talking about them, in my opinion more than we have thus far.” I agree, but talking without corresponding curative actions is not mitigation.

    And I totally agree with one of Mr. Wood’s observations, “I just don’t get why we have to copy every other city and lose our sense of individuality. The new Diamond Knot brew pub is a wonderful example of investing new money in a formerly undesirable location.” The right of every town to have its own unique identity is a long-time favorite theme at this address.

    Trying to find some perspective on the justifications for the recent development trends here, I have read a number of Mr. DeKoekkoek’s recent recommendations found at his blog They recount a philosophy which I doubt most of us understood even existed. I found The Geography of Nowhere written by James Howard Kuntsler in 1994 to be particularly instructive. Mr. Dekoekkoek’s’s response to Mr. Woods sounds like a lecture taken straight from those pages. No matter that 20 more years of our bad habits are virtually untouched by Mr. Kunstler’s remedies, we all now know our familiar auto dependent suburban development is a mere experiment in the longer span of civilized time.

    Kuntsler’s commentary is important since it reflects the themes to which such believers as Mr. DeKoekkoek subscribe. When he quotes Mr. Kunstler at page 131 of his book, “There is little sense of having arrived anywhere, because everyplace looks like no place in particular”, this is by way of deploring the old “mechanistic” sameness of every where we arrive in our automobiles. Without a whit of irony, the solution is not, as Mr Woods might believe, the individuality of each community’s answer. It is instead a new sameness defined by nodes of 4-story residential buildings over street-level commercial along narrowed pedestrian-friendly streets. It is now somehow right that each “place” is sacrificing its pre-existing individuality to fashionable regional planning imperatives.

    There is also no irony in the contradiction of recommending more dense development in the name of “tax yield” while decrying density’s natural suburban companion, more vehicle traffic. Somehow the message about our auto dependent culture being a mere failed experiment hasn’t reached all those folks still desirous of easier vehicle ingress and egress to these new nodes. Just because streets are narrower and traffic slower cannot compel apartment dwellers to forsake their cars. Ask Arbor Village who is renting out at $75 per month virtually all of the spaces not occupied by the missing commercial tenants.

    One of the other senses which it is hard to miss in Mr. Kuntsler’s analysis is the conspicuous condescension of which his analysis reeks. Speaking at page 122 about another observer of the auto-dependent culture who in 1989 had reconciled himself to “a great deal of commonness”, Kuntsler made the following observation. “What J.B. Jackson appeared to lack, it turned out were critical faculties. So caught up was he in the empirical dazzle of his observations that he seemed unable to make judgements about what he was observing.”

    Read further to learn that what Mr. Jackson’s judgement lacked was the capacity to come to the same conclusion as Mr. Kuntsler. Such people “altogether give up the responsibility for making value judgements.” Such inferior judgement as Mr. Jackson’s or mine for that matter cannot comprehend the virtuous importance of “connectedness.”

    Connectedness to what, the intellectual circuitry from which all this superiority flows? One exercise of personal research by Mr. Kuntsler says it all. One day while interviewing tourists at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, he tried mightily to get his preferred response from mere mortals on the subject of what made the place so attractive to them. Not a one of them knew they were supposed to say “the absence of cars.” A woman eventually asked him, “What do you think of our place?” At this point exasperated he “couldn’t help blurting out my true feelings: ‘It makes me ashamed of my civilization’.”(PG. 200) Self-loathing is a critical faculty.

    One of the “value judgements” a fair-minded observer might make about our MLT situation is that, despite begging for years at every other level of government, we are still many millions of dollars short of the money necessary to pay for “Main Street”, let alone mitigation measures which might actually help solve our predictable traffic problems. Even though there is no money for the necessary mitigation, planning for yet more congestion continues because it is blessed by all the right thinking people who know better than we do what’s good for us.

    Pack ever more people into concentrated areas suitable as feeders for a new light rail system which nonetheless has no hope of removing most commuters from their cars anytime soon. By Mr. Kuntsler’s own admission, it is also a concept which is everywhere “mathematically unlikely to attract enough riders to pay for itself.” (PG. 192) Our “experimental” auto-dependent commuter culture won’t disappear. It will just be supplemented by an even more expensive commuter conveyance which is a favorite of those possessing the “critical faculties” necessary to make correct value judgements.

    Am I the only one here who remembers that a central focus of the 1990 Growth Management Act was the principle that before development occurs, solutions to easily foreseeable traffic impacts of increased population, particularly at critical intersections, had to be considered, designed and paid for? That is the essence of mitigation. It doesn’t require an abundance of critical faculties to know that talking about it is but the first step.

    • Mr French,

      be sure to show up at the public hearing!

      and maybe, speak with the mayor and council members – before then

      and, maybe, just maybe….

      help the rest of us come up with responses to . . .

      “we need more tax dollars”


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