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.
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.