Lake Ballinger rezone (click to enlarge – PDF)

Last week, the Mountlake Terrace city council gave its nod of approval (PDF) to a small rezone proposal in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood, an area less than a mile away from the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center at I-5 and 236th St SW.  The rezone is modest– an increase in height limit of 35-feet (3-story) to 50-feet (4-story).  There are already existing four-story structures in the area, built prior to code revisions in 1995 and which have since been grandfathered in.  The amendment once again permits four-story construction that would be conforming to code.

The approved proposal was actually the result of a compromise between the City and some area homeowners, who raised typical NIMBY concerns of traffic, views, etc.  Public testimony against the amendment was sufficient enough to force a revision of the original rezone and require that only properties in the north half of the zone be affected.  According to the City, the compromise protects views from the single-family areas to the east, which are ironically situated between the rezoned district and the freeway station.

More below the jump.

While the rezone makes for a nice gesture to density, it is far from any inkling that resembles a move towards true transit-oriented development, considering the likelihood of the a future light rail station being sited at the transit center.  If anything, the compromise approved by the council is much more emblematic of a desire to preserve the single-family neighborhoods to the east, which are much closer to the freeway station.

At any rate, Mountlake Terrace is in a bit of a pickle if it’s proclaiming the need for density while at the same time approving rezones in odd places.  The challenge with the zoning amendment is that it lacks support for the primary tenets of true TOD build:

  • Significant increase in allowable construction, which is stymied by the modest revision in height limit and no change to other dimensional requirements (PDF), like lot coverage, setbacks, etc.
  • Proximity; from Lakeview Drive, the properties at the southeastern-most edge of the rezoned area are still seven-tenths of a mile from the freeway station with an uphill climb to boot.
  • Station access; made difficult by classic suburban street hierarchy and an incomplete grid, as well as a lack of dedicated pedestrian and bicyclist facilities.
  • Decreased parking requirements, which were not considered under the amendment.  Existing parking minimums of 1.0-2.0 spaces/unit plus additional visitor spaces reflect auto-oriented residential housing patterns.
Downtown Mountlake Terrace to the east of the freeway is situated on a more gridded street pattern, as opposed to the curvilinear geometry surrounding Lake Ballinger west of I-5.

While the impetus for the rezone was not primarily for increasing transit-oriented housing, planning language in the amendment documents (PDF) that gives a nod to to transit can confuse the city’s conception and execution of future TOD, which has to be far more aggressive than rezones in neighborhoods like Lake Ballinger.  The downtown area, on the other hand, offers a far more promising microcosm for growth (PDF), albeit small and undeveloped in its current state.

For Mountlake Terrace to pursue a future that is truly transit-friendly, long strides still have yet to be made.  While the Lake Ballinger rezone is a modest nod toward much needed density, it remains insubstantial to the effort that is warranted if the City truly wants to catalyze an impending arrival of rapid transit.

26 Replies to “Mountlake Terrace’s Quest for Density”

  1. I would hold out more hope for the other side of I-5. The houses there are primarily 900 sq ft cinderblock circa WWII. Upzoning that area, as compared to Lake Ballinger, with it’s more traditionally suburban mid-century split levels, should have far less push-back, and they also are much more proximate to retail.

  2. Many commenters on this blog have noted the excessive climbs down to DSTT stations and the limited walksheds of future Link stations like Roosevelt and Northgate. Mountlake Terrace is truly a marvel in both these regards. From 236th to the platforms it’s about a quarter-mile walk over the freeway. And that’s to a street with positively nothing on it. Given the footprint of the freeway and its ramps, what of significance could ever be located in its walkshed? There’s a golf course to the southwest and a cul-de-sac neighborhood to the northwest, so the best we can ever hope for west of the freeway is a bridge from the cul-de-sac (for the small amount of good it would do its neighbors would likely oppose it bitterly). To the east is an abandoned elementary school and woods that help shield nearby neighborhoods from freeway noise. I have a feeling any development there would be pretty controversial, too.

    1. The difference is that Roosevelt and Northgate are actually IN THE CITY. I don’t think many have much real hope/expectation for better walksheds and development in the suburbs.

      1. I don’t see why our light rail stations in the suburbs shouldn’t be sited for the best walksheds and development potential possible. Bellevue and Redmond are at least trying. Even Lynnwood is talking the talk despite the severely compromised location where we’re building its station. Anyway, dividing cities against suburbs on the basis of municipal boundaries is silly, particularly when the area around Northgate was built out before it was annexed by Seattle. Even many “core” neighborhoods of Seattle have suburban elements, and “urban” considerations like density and diversity of land use within a walkshed are also important in the suburbs.

        So it does matter that the existing bus stop is hard to walk to from anywhere. When we build the train station will we try to build a connection to the west or focus on development to the east and make platforms easy to access from there? What goes in the old elementary school space? Will there be a good pedestrian connection between there and the train station? Will it feel like a public space that people are comfortable walking through? Will there be good pedestrian connections to the east and south, providing efficient walking routes to the station from the Gateway area and nearby residential areas to the east that don’t exist today?

  3. MT needs to seriously upzone the downtown area, especially 58th W. I went walking around there to see the potential. There’s a path through the park to 58th, ending next to the library. I don’t remember the exact time but it was around 10 minutes. Disabled people would have to walk on the street (58th, 236th), which is still doable. MT has a minimal civic center plaza next to the library, and had plans for a modest (2-story) development there, although the funding measure failed in the last election. The blocks around this area are very 1970s; pretty much all one-story. It looks like how Crossroads and Overlake did when I was growing up, but in MT it’s unchanged since then. If it were all rebuilt at 4, 3, or even 2 stories it would put a lot more within walking distance of the station.

  4. It’s important to have a good amount of housing next to light rail stations, but also important is to have good bus connections to the surrounding area so I am hoping for more improvements to the transit center and far more bus routes to get to it.

    1. Thanks to the terrible design described by Al above, there will never be such a thing as a “good bus connection” here.

      Good bus connections happen when the platforms are located directly above or below the cross street. The Seattle area missed that memo completely.

      1. Ahmen!
        Lynnwood Link is going to generate 50,000 daily boardings, with 15,000 at Lynnwood TC alone. So the other 4 stops will average nearly 9,000 each, or twice that of Westlake or Seatac Airport of today.
        Just think how many more it could have been without the crappy freeway locations.

  5. I really don’t get why we are building a rail station here. There are far more interesting, denser locations with more opportunity for upzone elsewhere.

    The citizens of Mountlake Terrace should be given a simple choice: upzone, and risk the possibility that some of your SF homes will be replaced with dense, livable mixed-used development up to 10 stories–or–rail will bypass you and you will be able to connect to it by riding the bus to it.

    Frankly, I hope they choose the latter, Mountlake terrace seems like a terrible place for a rail station.

    1. So… until recently there wasn’t even a freeway bus station here, just a little P&R. The flyer stop allowed a lot of express bus service to be consolidated into 511 feeders, resulting in doubled frequency of the 511 during the day. That’s a pretty good accomplishment for a bus stop with zero walkshed.

      So if you’re going to Lynnwood you stop in Mountlake Terrace for the same reason the 511 does: because it lets you run a more efficient transit system with improved mobility outcomes. The question is why we’re going to Lynnwood and the answer is apparently because they deserve something for their property tax money… of course if we couldn’t build exurban freeways without meeting subarea equity requirements… well…

      1. What I really don’t understand about the freeway station is, we spend some $35 million building it, then decide that the 30 seconds it would take for the 510 to stop there on the way to Everett is too much. So we skip it, and as a result, trips between Mountlake Terrace and Everett that should take 15-20 minutes, instead take at least an hour.

      2. @asdf: Ha. Ha. Ha. Yeah, every time I think something makes sense in our mass transit system clearly I’ve forgotten something. Maybe they don’t have the 510 stop at Mountlake Terrace because it would make Lynnwood jealous.

        Anyway, I’m not exactly shedding crocodile tears for Mountlake Terracians. They’ll probably have a rapid transit connection to Everett before First Hill has one to anywhere.

      3. First Hill already has a rapid transit connection to Everett, or at least it does if you’re willing to do a 15 minute walk downtown first.

      4. “we spend some $35 million building it, then decide that the 30 seconds it would take for the 510 to stop there on the way to Everett is too much.”

        Those are two different decisions made in different contexts. The Mountlake Terrace TC is a pre-existing investment, so the choice was either to leverage it or abandon it. Mountlake Terrace much preferred a freeway station with P&R over a downtown location or Hwy 99 location, and ST decided to prioritize Mountlake Terrace’s interests rather than Edmonds’s and Hwy 99 users’ interests.

        The 510/511 situation was a decision made long ago, I think when the routes were created, and ST hasn’t been convinced to revise it. It probably parallels the 577/594 situation. People were so fed up with the 194-transfer-to-500 and the 358-transfer-to-101 situations that they demanded separate routes to the endpoints (Everett, Tacoma) and the midpoints (Lynnwood & MT, Federal Way). Now those routes are established and ST doesn’t want to incur the wrath of 510 and 594 riders. Except when it can’t afford to run one of those half-hourly (510 Sundays), so it runs the 512 instead. All our pleas to convert the 510s to 512 (to give combined 15-minute frequency with the 511) have been ignored. But maybe someday ST will reconsider. I’m hoping, when the Lynnwood Extension opens, the 510/511/512 will be converted to a 15-minute Lynnwood-Everett route. (And there should be enough hours left over 15-minute Lynnwood-Mukilteo and Lynnwood-Edmonds routes too, just sayin’.)

    2. So what’s the difference here between Federal Way and Mountlake Terrace? :-p (yes I know, sub-area equity… sigh)

      1. What are the implications of your question? FW and MT have roughly similar station areas. FW (320th) has a mall but it’s a slightly longer (?) walk from the station, and no nice forest to walk through. Both have P&Rs so they’re equivalent there. FW is an endpoint, equivalent in concept to Lynnwood but located further out. (Lynnwood and Highline CC are about equidistant from Westlake.) FW is at the far end of a long section in King County, so it’s stuck in South King’s subarea with three unbuilt stations before it (320th), and South King is the poorest subarea. Is there anything else about how they compare?

  6. For all the talk about densifying working class neighborhoods like Northgate, it’s really all the rich enclaves and mansions around Seattle that could probably be redeveloped into 4 or even 10 times the housing then now contain.

    For that matter, the University of Washington campus.

    1. Just like in Doctor Zhivago! And didn’t that work well for your grandparents, my “progressive” friends?

    2. No troll here, that’s the truth. Plenty of prime Seattle real estate is occupied by large homes filled with empty-nesters and their collections of vintage Jaguars or whatever. If they’re willing to pay for those locations it’s their right to do so, but it gets to be a little much when they throw their considerable resources into opposing every tiny change within a mile of their homes.

  7. Unlike its neighbors Lynnwood, Edmonds, Shoreline, and most of Seattle, this piece of Mountlake Terrace is ideally located for a circulator jitney to meet Swift and the I-5 flyer station, plus separated bikeway on the two hillclimb overpasses (which I occasionally used as a kid bicycling to MLT parks and pools). The question is, will residents commute to the same destinations where transit goes?

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