Midtown District plan now in City Council’s hands

SNOHOMISH —  The city’s volunteer planning commission last week formalized its recommendations to the City Council for the upcoming Midtown District, a proposed specialty zoning area along much of Avenue D intended to promote modern, high-quality redevelopment.
The commission’s decisions included maximum building heights, parking lot placement and design guidelines.
The City Council will begin its final review in the coming weeks to ultimately establish the development guidelines for the corridor into city planning code.
The district boundaries are along Avenue D from Sixth Street north to the Highway 9 bridge. The city’s catalyst behind the zoning plan is to prepare the county’s 10-acre former public works site, which the county plans to sell for redevelopment.
Planning commissioners are recommending maximum heights are capped at 35 feet in the entire district except for a small section along Bonneville Avenue that would allow building heights of 45 feet tall at the former county public works site. A 35-foot-tall building would yield three stories at most, but can be built into a one- or two-story building depending on the market.
The Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend the 35-foot height limit.
Building heights drew the most debate: Some say that to attain dense development, developers may need flexibility to build large buildings to make a project financially feasible.
In other words, “(developers) need enough building space for it to make sense,” commercial Realtor Kyle Stevens told the commission.
Opponents, though, argue that people do not move to Snohomish to live in a town lined with big buildings.
Commissioners went contrary to a recommendation from an ad hoc Midtown task force to allow 45 feet for the southern section and 55 feet for the northern section.
The city sees the Midtown District as a future population growth area. A larger-picture discussion on affordable housing became intertwined with the talk on building heights. Only bigger buildings might bring about the affordable housing apartments which elected officials want to see more of, a minority voice on the planning commission said.
The Midtown District has design regulations which require using higher-quality building materials and architectural features. It also looks to limit strip mall developments to instead turn it into a more pedestrian-friendly corridor.
One guideline in Midtown places future buildings right on the corners of key intersections. These are at Avenue D and Tenth Street (Jimmy John’s / Alfy’s Pizza), Avenue D and 13th Street (Safeway / Shell gas station) and Avenue D and 14th Street (Snohomish Square).
“It’s to provide a sense of place,” city planning director Glen Pickus said at the commission meeting.

Under these regulations, for example, if the Shell station was redeveloped, any new building would need to be positioned close to the corner with one of the entrances facing the sidewalk.
The Midtown regulations would have mandated parking be placed at the side or rear of the building. The commission decided to allow a row of parking in front of all new commercial developments along Avenue D.
Traffic capacity would need to be increased to accommodate growth, the recommendations say. While improving the road, bicycle and pedestrian access would be emphasized.
Other proposed regulations for Midtown include:
• Limits on using concrete and cement siding, and a prohibition in using vinyl siding for buildings.
• A restriction that “corporate architecture” features ­— where a building is identifiable by a company’s look, such as what’s used by many chain restaurants — must be detachable for if the tenant changes, and
• A new prohibition on new single-family detached housing.

• Warehousing operations would still be a disallowed use; the planning commission did not lift this restriction.
Last week’s meeting was a public hearing which had a half-dozen public speakers.
Representatives for the county public works yard site advocated for taller buildings and showed examples of what the site could be redeveloped into.
Garry Clark, the CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, also advocated for taller building heights to make it more feasible for developers to justify pursuing redevelopment in the area.
Adam Dempsey, who works in construction estimating, noted that the material design standards would drive up costs for redevelopment.

To read the full plan, visit the city’s Midtown District webpage: www.snohomishwa.gov/706/Midtown-District


This story has been updated online. There is a prohibition against new mobile home parks in the city's commerrcial zoning area, and there are special allowances for single-family detahed homes in the commercial zone. The storty reported that Midtown would allow mobile home parks and continue to prohibit single-family housing. The Tribune regrets the errors.

Michael Whitney
 michael@snoho.com / 360-568-4121