The City of Mountlake Terrace is working through a subarea planning process to update the city’s “town center” as light rail begins its reach to the community. The area was first designated in 2008 as part of a planned action ordinance. Work to update the subarea, however, would in some ways expand the boundaries of the town center and supersede existing zoning.

Existing zoning regime in the town center. (City of Mountlake Terrace)
Existing zoning regime in the town center. (City of Mountlake Terrace)

The central area of the town center in focus is an area north of 237th St SW, south of 230th St SW, and west of 55th Ave W. Mountlake Terrace Station for its part will be located near 236th St SW at I-5. The town center core area, therefore, is planned to emanate within a 10-minute walk of the station.

Blocks closest to the light rail station would be rezoned to District 1, which would allow buildings ranging from six to 12 stories. Current zoning in those areas either comprise single-family zoning or considerably more modest heights of five stories or less. Realistically, the city will have to hope that cross-laminated timber helps development reach those heights, though six-over-two building provisions could help, too. In the traditional town center, new districts would also be created allowing building heights to range from four to eight stories.

Draft zoning for the town center. (City of Mountlake Terrace)
Draft zoning for the town center. (City of Mountlake Terrace)

The subarea plan had envisioned a notch east of 55th Ave W earlier on. However, in December, staff agreed to remove the notch of District 3 zoning north of 232nd St SW. Those properties are already developed with commercial uses. Areas beyond the town center boundary would act as transitional zones, a buffer to single-family areas.

The draft subarea plan describes the intent of the three zoning districts as follows:

  • District 1 will primarily provide professional office space. Retail, restaurants, lodging, and other service uses are complementary with ground floors of buildings containing active uses. Multifamily is allowed as part of mixed use, but standalone multifamily is expected to be limited.
  • District 2 is expected to be mixed-use with active ground floor uses. Standalone multifamily is expected on non-retail block frontages.
  • District 3 is expected to primarily consist of standalone multifamily development, though ground floor retail is encouraged at key intersections and along 56th Ave W.
Draft block frontage designations for the town center. (City of Mountlake Terrace)
Draft block frontage designations for the town center. (City of Mountlake Terrace)

The city intends to create design standards that are tied to the frontage designation type. Landscaped frontages will encourage heavier landscaping areas near the front of buildings and residential stoops to soften them in respect to single-family areas. Secondary frontages could match that of landscaped frontages or storefront frontages.

As the town center builds out, Mountlake Terrace hopes to construct a new north-south public street between 58th Ave W and 56th Ave W and new east-west public street between 232nd St SW and 230th St SW. This would create a relatively small block network. A new pathway would also extend from the western terminus of 235th St SW to the transit center.

The city planning commission is still in the process of reviewing the town center subarea plan, which should result in clearer regulatory changes, such as design standards, bulk regulations, parking requirements, landscaping standards, and incentives. The city is also consider implementation of a new Multi-Family Tax Exemption program and categorical exemption of projects in the town center from the State Environmental Policy Act. The latter could streamline approval processes for projects and speed up permitting.

In March, a public hearing on the subarea plan is expected before the planning commission. A recommendation could come thereafter and a final subarea plan could be adopted later this year.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.


  1. Here’s the problem I see: all those lot lines in the draft zoning map. They’ve overlaid scores of 7-8,000 SF single family home lots with 4-8 story zoning. Ownership is highly fragmented. Unless there’s greater assemblage activity than has been the case to date, I don’t see how it’s possible to develop individual 7k-8k SF lots with mixed use 4-story buildings while providing parking, landscaping, pedestrian activity zone, and all the rest. The only lots big enough to provide all this are already commercial or churches. They can draw these nice quarter-block mixed use buildings in the promo material, but without a radical rethink of parking and other requirements, I would predict nothing happening over most of this area. After another 12 years, the city authorities can convene another panel to review why so little development took place, as they have in regard to the underperforming 2007 plan.

    • This is not an uncommon circumstance in dense urban areas to have fragmented ownership. It does make it more challenging to acquire property efficiently, but there are tools out there to assist in this. Citybldr has been trying to solve this problem for property owners and developers. I’d point out that Roosevelt has been highly successful in seeing small lots convert rapidly to denser development. But you’re right that small parcel ownership can be an obstacle to larger development.

  2. Thanks for covering this. There are a lot of folks in Mountlake Terrace that are excited about the prospect of a more vibrant Town Center and more housing choices with good transit access.

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