Refining the design: Citizens and officials fine-tune MLT Gateway Plaza plans

The second public meeting to consider the Mountlake Terrace Gateway Plaza design concepts got underway Tuesday evening as consultants and city officials huddled with more than a dozen interested citizens to work on refinements to the plans first presented in December.

“We’ve taken your ideas from last time and incorporated them into the concepts you’ll see tonight,” began Curtis LaPierre, senior landscape architect for Otak, the city’s design consultant for the project. “Tonight you’ll see new information on landscape planning, signage, water features, benches and paving, all based on what you told us last month, and all consistent with the unifying project theme of using mountains, water and terraces to reflect the identity embodied in the city’s name — Mountlake Terrace.”

LaPierre then went on to recap the findings of the December meeting, in which the overall sentiment was to not have a large overhead sign or the large “M” sculptural feature, to include a water feature but not a formal one that overwhelms the site, and to include benches with backs and arms, a variety of plantings and a large community tree.

He then presented the new alternatives reflecting these sentiments.

The upper renderings show the two signage alternatives presented Tuesday evening. Of these, the participants preferred the one on the left showing the Olympic skyline. The paving alternatives offered a single concrete slab textured to resemble pavers, or individual pavers. Consensus was for the single slab.

For signage, he proposed a curved wall that would support either a stainless steel one-piece sign reflecting the Olympic Peaks skyline or individual channel letters, both including LED lighting and saying “Gateway Plaza, Mountlake Terrace.”  Group discussion ensued, and the predominant opinion was in favor of the Olympic skyline design, and that the individual letter concept looked too much like something from an office park.

Three water feature designs were presented, two of which employed 16-foot towers of stacked granite blocks on which the water would cascade down, and one lower fountain surrounded by benches.

The three water feature alternatives comprise a set of large granite blocks creating a face for water to flow from top to bottom, a lower fountain that would spray water up, and an offset granite block design offering a variety of water flow patterns.

“One goal for the water feature is to have it visible both from the train platform and from outside the park,” explained LaPierre, “which is why the granite block designs are proposed to be 16 feet tall.  For the lower fountain, this would be accomplished by shooting the water stream up to that height, but overspray could be a problem, especially on windy days.”

Consensus among the citizens was to go with the offset granite block concept, because of the variety of water patterns it produces: freefalling, spiraling down steps, and running down granite faces.

LaPierre also presented alternate paving designs. One used large single slabs of concrete etched to resemble pavers, featuring a smooth perimeter with exposed aggregate in the central portion.  The other would be comprised of individual pavers, which would offer more variety in finishes, but would be more susceptible to becoming uneven due to shifting and settling of the underlayment over the years.

For these, the group favored the single slab concept, feeling that a “less busy” design would be better in the relatively small space of the plaza, but also due to the lower ongoing maintenance needs of this design.

Three basic bench designs were presented, including traditional-style steel powder-coated radius benches with backs and arms, organic design twig benches with partial backs, and plain slabs.  LaPierre suggested that the radius benches would complement the area surrounding a community tree, providing comfortable seating and encouraging users to pause and enjoy the ambiance of a large shade tree. The twig or slab benches, meanwhile, would help showcase planting beds featuring low-growing, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant conifers.

Group discussion brought out common themes of creating community-oriented spaces and conversation nooks, where people can face each other and talk. Consensus was that the twig benches were preferred over the slabs in the open areas, and that the radius benches would be the best alternative for around the large tree.

Final audience comments included a suggestion to incorporate wayfinding signs pointing directions to downtown, Veterans Memorial Park and other nearby areas, and a mosaic compass set into the pavement as an interest feature.

For those who missed the meeting and want to provide input, the project website provides for online suggestions and comments.

Next steps include review by the city leadership team, finalizing the design, and additional informational meetings. Construction will be done by Sound Transit, which will coordinate it with building the light rail station, anticipated to open for service in 2024.

For additional drawings and information, see the open house PowerPoint presentation and view the 3-D animation of one possible design configuration.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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