As housing preferences continue to trend towards compact, mixed-use neighborhoods you might wonder what makes Mountlake Terrace different from many of the other communities that are hoping to see some revitalization. A recent article by Robert Steuteville at Better! Cities & Towns highlights why inner-ring, postwar suburbs built from 1946 to 1965 (like Mountlake Terrace) could be the key to suburban revitalization.
He highlights several examples including nearby Bothell, WA. These neighborhoods are generally great candidates for redevelopment as walkable, mixed-use areas.
Steuteville lists ten reasons why these types of suburbs are good candidates for repair. Here are reasons 1-5 and why Mountlake Terrace, in particular the Town Center neighborhood, is a good fit.
Most suburbs built in the 60's and later are a group of disconnected cul-de-sacs and sub-divisions. Fortunately, Mountlake Terrace has been able to avoid this type of development pattern for hte most part as our streets are generally well connected. This is especially true in the Town Center neighborhood which consists of small blocks in a grid layout. This later form of more disconnected development has cul-de-sacs that feed residential streets, which feed local arteries, which feed thoroughfares, which ultimately feed freeways. What is wrong with this type of development? Smart Growth America says it well: "This system concentrates motorized traffic on a limited number of large roads, which causes longer, indirect trips and limits opportunities for alternate routes. Such a network makes it difficult for people who might walk, bike, or take public transportation because the indirect routes lengthen their trips and force them onto roads that are usually not designed for their safety or comfort. Public transportation also has a difficult time serving isolated neighborhoods with only one or two entry or exit points. So, people end up driving, even for very short trips."
Narrower, more walkable streets
We have a great network, especially in the Town Center, of narrow, walkable streets. Most streets have sidewalks and traffic is generally slow and fairly low-volume. This provides a comfortable environment for walking, cycling, as well as driving. What we need now is destinations to walk to.
Closer to downtown
As an inner-ring suburb, Mountlake Terrace is fairly close to both Seattle and Everett, about halfway in between. As mentioned in the article, inner-ring suburbs close to jobs and transit are poised to keep their value more so than newer suburbs. More and more, people are choosing to live closer to the urban core of cities. With light rail coming to our city in about 10 years Mountlake Terrace is in a good position to appeal to those who desire a more urban lifestyle but with a little more breathing room.
Inclusion of low-value commercial strips
If you've driven through the Town Center neighborhood recently I'm sure you've noticed that it is full of low-value commercial strips. Additionally, most of the single-family properties that are now zoned for mixed use are 60 or more years old and not in great shape. These properties are fairly inexpensive for developers to acquire since the existing structures have little to no value. There are certainly some properties that will take a considerable amount of capital to develop. For example, the Calvary Fellowship property in the "super block" was just listed for close to $10 million. But we have seen several projects already in the Town Center neighborhood where a developer has bought up 2 or 3 single family residential lots and redeveloped them.
Rich in small-lot housing
The outer suburbs and exurbs have plenty of large lot housing. In the article Steuteville mentions that most market analysts predict that small lot and multi-family housing will continue to be undersupplied. Mountlake Terrace Town Center zoning allows townhouse, condominium and apartment development and these are the types of housing that will be in high demand. As the neighborhood is revitalized, I think we will additionally see more use of accessory dwelling units (mother-in-law apartments, granny flats, etc.) and redevelopment of surrounding single family properties that aren't necessarily in the "Town Center" (Community Business Downtown) Zone, but are within a short walk or bike ride.
In the next post we'll take a look at 5 more reasons why Mountlake Terrace is prime for revitalization. Read part 2 here.