Mountlake Terrace council quarrels over growth plan

By Lynn Thompson
Seattle Times Snohomish County bureau


MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, WAŚ The city's attempt to update its plan to guide future development lurched forward last week amid jeering from the audience, angry accusations between council members and a failed attempt by the mayor to have a citizen removed for disruptive behavior.

The council adjourned after nearly three hours Thursday night with only about half the comprehensive plan reviewed. Another meeting will be scheduled to complete the update, required of all Washington cities.

Comprehensive plans address a city's strategy for dealing with issues such as population growth, land use and environmental protections.

Mayor Pat Cordova was attempting to bring order to last week's contentious meeting when she singled out resident Jack Allen, who was sitting several rows in front of people who had been commenting loudly on the proceedings. Although Allen was sitting quietly at the time, Cordova ordered him to leave. Allen protested that he hadn't been talking and refused to leave.

The meeting ended a short time later, but not before Councilwoman Angela Amundson accused the mayor of orchestrating a procedural move to ensure that a vote would not be taken until Councilman A.J. Housler returned from vacation.

Several motions to amend the comprehensive plan during the meeting failed because of 3-3 ties. Housler often sides with the mayor and Councilwomen Jamie Gravelle and Laura Sonmore in support of staff recommendations.

Amundson interrupted to loudly accuse the mayor and Gravelle of purposefully delaying a vote.

"Mayor, you have offended everyone here," Amundson said.

Cordova banged her gavel several times and said, "This will not be discussed."

The city manager and city attorney had both recommended not voting on every goal and policy in the detailed comprehensive plan, but the council chose to consider each section individually.

Cordova said she asked Gravelle in a whisper if she wanted to withdraw a motion that would have required another vote. She said she was trying only to keep the meeting moving and did not mention Housler.

The meeting was not the first this year to degenerate into chaos, nor was it the first controversy over the proposed changes to the comprehensive plan.

The city's planning staff is recommending changes to the land-use designation of 24 properties throughout the city. In some cases, single-family homes along key arterials are recommended for rezones to allow three-story apartment buildings and mixed-use commercial buildings.

City Planner Shane Hope said the changes would make the zoning consistent with adjacent properties and encourage development in the struggling business district.

Citizens have also raised concerns over the future of a park-and-ride lot at Interstate 5 and 236th Street Southwest. The city is exploring the possibility of developing apartments and some businesses in conjunction with a Community Transit parking garage planned for construction in 2005.

The comprehensive-plan map before the council recommends changing the zoning at the park-and-ride lot to allow mixed-use commercial development.

The plan does not rezone property but provides guidance on land use by designating areas appropriate for development. But the comprehensive plan is a necessary first step in zoning changes, which, under state law, must be consistent with it.

The chaotic meeting came just a month after council members attended a special session on Robert's Rules of Order. That refresher course was scheduled after council meetings were marked by interruptions, members speaking without first being recognized by the mayor and general confusion about meeting procedures.

Several times during Thursday's meeting, the mayor lost track of the motion before the council and whether it had been voted upon. At other times the meeting degenerated into arguments among members who had not first asked to be recognized. The audience of about 25 paid little heed to the mayor's calls for order.

The council did give preliminary approval to several elements of the plan, including environmental goals such as air quality, water quality and the acquisition of open space.

The most contentious issue, and the one that drew many residents to the meeting, was the comprehensive-plan map. It identified properties recommended for development. That discussion was also marked by confusion. Eight single-family homes from 23914 to 24304 56th Ave. W. were identified on a chart for the council, but Councilman Doug Wittinger pointed out that there are actually 12 houses along that stretch. The council didn't vote on the map.

Wittinger exchanged sharp words with city staff members when he asked for a definition of spot zoning. Planning Director Hope and City Attorney Greg Schrag responded that it doesn't exist in city or state code but has been defined through years of court rulings.

Wittinger shot back that he would like someone to answer the question, "not tell me why I can't have it."

Wittinger said he was concerned that the city's recommendation of specific properties for long-term development would amount to an illegal rezone.


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