Transit Oriented Development in Mountlake Terrace

Conceptual rendering of the future light rail station at 236th The Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce recently published an article titled "Mountlake Terrace is thinking TODs ASAP". DJC real estate reporter Nat Levy quotes several people from the Colliers International team marketing the Calvary Fellowship property. The Calvary Fellowship property is a key piece of property in the Town Center neighborhood business district and is for sale for nearly $10 million.

The article is for paying subscribers only so for those unable to access it, here are a few quotes from representatives from Colliers International:

We are looking to find the right buyer who will align their vision with the city. This is a unique opportunity to create the epicenter of a city.

The main thing development-wise that will give this area a sense of place is getting more bodies down there. This kind of town center is a live, play, near-work location.

The article also quotes Shane Hope, economic development director for Mountlake Terrace.

[Shane Hope] said the city has known for some time that the area near the transit station needs to be better for pedestrians. The city has drafted a development guide and changed zoning to allow more density. Much of the area allows three- to five-story buildings, but a few parcels, including the one Colliers is selling, can go up to seven stories.

Shane's first point is key. In order for our neighborhoods to get the most out of the existing transit station and the future light rail station, the pedestrian experience in the immediate vicinity of the transit station needs to improve and draw pedestrians in to the Town Center business district or the future Gateway business district.

Transit oriented development is often described as development within ¼ mile walking distance of bus transit service or within ½ mile walking distance of rail transit service. This article argues that transit oriented development requires more than just transit and development and that it is most successful when the development is truly oriented toward transit and not just served by transit:

The design process of orienting the development to transit requires more.  For instance, there must be adequate density and a walkable environment; the densest, most walkable portions of the development should be placed closest to the transit stop; commercial and mixed-use buildings should also be close to the stop, with their primary entrances highly accessible to transit passengers, to facilitate multi-purpose trips; buildings and public spaces should be designed to make the area around the transit station or stop feel inviting, comfortable, and secure; design should make it easy for transit and bicycle transfers and vehicle drop-offs; single-family residences may be placed a bit farther away; and so forth.  While placing development near transit is good, orienting the development to the transit is better, and more effective for creating a sustainable, well-functioning community.

A report recently released by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy said that the most important factor in the success of transit oriented development is strong government intervention. From the Atlantic Cities article on the report:

Only when strong government intervention occurred was a transit line assured of generating a great deal of TOD success. Rezoning a corridor to encourage mixed-use development, creating a comprehensive plan for the area, actively reaching out to investors, marketing the program, offering financial incentives — these elements of a strong official involvement directly predicted TOD success.

Fortunately the city has taken the lead and done a lot of planning to make transit oriented development possible in Mountlake Terrace. In that DJC article, a representative from Colliers International described the city as "pro-development" and said that a lot has been done to encourage new buildings.

There are several things that have happened in the past few years that will bring us closer to this better definition of transit oriented development: development that is truly oriented towards transit.

2008 Town Center expansion

The first is that in 2008 the Town Center business district was expanded to include the properties along 236th west of 56th to the Transit Center. This stretch of 236th was also added to the Main Street project and we'll soon see wider sidewalks, street trees, bike lanes, and more improvements.

The second is the Gateway connector project and future development of the old Evergreen Elementary property. We know that there are developers interested in the property and in discussions with the Edmonds School District. Ideally, when developed there would be some buildings facing 236th as this is really the only developable area that directly faces the Transit Center. The topography of the school district property may make this difficult as it drops off quickly to the south.

The third is the Lakeview Trail, which will extend west from the Transit Center over I-5, along Lake Ballinger, and connect to the Interurban Trail near the MLT/Edmonds border. This will provide a safe route for pedestrians and cyclist to access the Transit Center from the west and provide better transit access to the improvements coming to Ballinger Park and the new Senior Center location.

If you use the Transit Center now you know that accessing it by foot is not the most pleasant experience. In order for the city to get the most benefit from the Transit Center and future light rail some work needs to be done. Fortunately, the Main Street project, Gateway Connector, Lakeview Trail, and continued development in the neighborhood will get us closer to where we need to be to get the most use out of the region's transit systems.

For further reading, here is Sound Transit's analyses [pdf] of the potential for transit oriented development near the potential light rail stations at 236th and 220th.

What is that giant mound of dirt?

Three Neighboring Properties For Sale With Calvary Tabernacle Property