Preparing for light rail, Lynnwood City Council grapples with growth

LYNNWOOD – More than a decade ago, Lisa Utter and her fellow former city council members set out to make downtown the “heart” of Lynnwood.

Instead, they found downtown to be more like a “grenade,” she said.

“He has no heart and he has no skin,” said Utter, who served from 1998 to 2009. “When I was knocking on doors, people were like, ‘I really sleep here. I don’t pay attention to what’s going on in Lynnwood. There’s the mall and that’s it.

At the time, city council members began preparing the 250-acre downtown “sub-area” for growth, as the city then considered becoming a transit hub with a new station. of light rail by 2024. They raised the height limits of buildings. They approved the streetscape plans to be more pedestrian-friendly. And in 2012, the council passed a Planned Action Ordinance – speeding up the approval process for around 3,000 new homes in the city centre.

Recently, the area has started to attract mixed-use projects with shops and restaurants on the ground floor as well.

“We are at this turning point,” said downtown program manager Karl Almgren. “We wanted it to keep moving forward.”

But the momentum has reached a speed bump with some current city council members this year, as first reported by The Urbanist. Patrick Decker, Shannon Sessions and Jim Smith have expressed reluctance to move forward with staff recommendations to increase pre-licensed housing and commercial space. Some Lynnwood residents had similar reservations.

“How many units do we need before someone says stop?” Lynnwood resident and former council member Ted Hikel asked the council.

After a “massive study” concluded this year, Almgren said, city staff and the planning commission suggested doubling the number of homes, adding additional offices and building more hotels in the area. of planned action. The recommendations would align Lynnwood’s standards with those of other towns in Puget Sound.

After the public hearing in April, the city council sent staff back to the drawing board to answer questions about “safety concerns” in response to a growing population. Board chairman George Hurst hopes to deliver the recommendations to the board before the August recess. If council members don’t adopt it, growth won’t stop, but it will slow down.

“I’m a little surprised to have read or heard from board members ‘It’s all happening at once’ and ‘It seems pretty intense’ and they want to slow down,” Utter said. “In all fairness, light rail, to really make it work, requires a fairly high density to support it.”

As an example, look at the Northgate Link stop which opened last fall. Around 2012, planners began redesigning the North Seattle neighborhood with a light rail station.

“It’s a great place to find accommodation because people can really incorporate the transit option into their daily lives,” said Geoffrey Wentlandt, land use manager at the Office of Planning and Development. Seattle Community Development.

An architectural firm hired by Seattle examined the potential for high-rises and compact development that could help transform the area from a former strip mall to a “complete neighborhood.”

Simon Property Group, the mall’s owner, led part of Northgate’s redevelopment. The mall’s transformation into Northgate Station began in 2018, when Simon announced plans to demolish part of the mall in exchange for 1,000 apartments, nearly a million square feet of office space, two hotels and over an acre of green space.

In 2019, the area was “renovated” to comply with a city code update requiring more affordable housing.

In 2021, an $80 million Seattle Kraken hockey practice facility opened near the mall.

And last October, light rail arrived at Northgate.

The hope is that one day people won’t have to own a car anymore, Wentlandt said.

Some of Northgate’s amenities were dictated by the market and the arrival of light rail. But to see a true transit-focused community, local governments have a role to play in “priming the pump,” he said.

“The municipality defines the vision of the type of community they want,” Wentlandt said. This could be investing in a “safe walkable environment”, such as parks. “People want to live near these amenities.”

In downtown Lynnwood, some of the most significant changes take place in at least a decade.

“It starts in different phases,” Almgren said. “Right now, the phase is residential. But (it) brings new members of the community to the site, which in turn will drive new investments for these restaurant components, retail components and these new investments. … When the light rail opens, we expect the next phase to happen maybe a little faster.

Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link was only released in two years.

By 2026, more than 47,000 passengers could take the train every day.

Downtown Lynnwood will be the northernmost light rail stop until at least 2037, when the train line is expected to reach Everett.

In the meantime, the new Lynnwood light rail center will be transformed.

Goodwill should house a new park. Northline Village will transform 198th Street SW into a Southern California-style promenade lined with shops, cafes and offices. Alderwood Towne Center, now a 1980s strip mall, could be replaced by businesses over 100 feet.

“I hope my children and my grandchildren can come to Lynnwood and live here,” said Hurst, president of the Lynnwood City Council. “Right now, if we don’t do a good job of managing growth, also providing housing choices in addition to million-dollar homes…I don’t know if this generation will be able to do that.”

Isabelle Breda: 425-339-3192; [email protected]; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

Jose P. Rogers