Lynnwood City Council discusses City Center capacity, special event permitting, pavement projects

Lynnwood City Center Project Manager Karl Almgren briefs the Lynnwood City Council on building capacity in the City Center district. (Image via Zoom)

The Lynnwood City Council Monday discussed staff’s recommendations to increase development limits in Lynnwood’s City Center district after a recent study revealed current plans do not achieve the city’s vision.

At its March 15 work session, the council continued its discussion with staff to raise development limits to 12.3 million square feet. According to City Center Project Manager Karl Almgren, the increase would allow the city to develop an urban core with mid-level high-rise buildings.

“We feel (12.3 million square feet) is sufficient for planning the horizon because developments are not going to come in at such a fast rate that we don’t have opportunity to adjust in the future,” he said. 

During its Feb. 1 meeting, the council was briefed on current environmental thresholds, development regulations and the massing study for the City Center. According to the analysis, the current 9.1 million-square-foot building limits within City Center don’t allow for the desired building heights. As a result, the city has run out of allotted space for housing and nearly reached its peak for retail space.

“It doesn’t build the various heights we’re looking for, it doesn’t build the centralized core and it really doesn’t meet the City Center vision that the city has endeavored to lay out in the early 2000s,” Almgren said.

Plans for the City Center district include a downtown hub with retail, multi-family and commercial high rises. Height expectations ranged between 15 and 30 stories. However, a recent massing study showed that too much low-rise development is inhibiting the potential for future mid- to high-rise buildings. Lynnwood has prioritized those taller buildings as a way of creating the urban core the city is aiming for.

On Monday, Almgren reviewed information requested by the council. First, Almgren said based on development projections, redevelopment on 194th Street Southwest can be a long-range project not required by 2035. Beyond 2035, he said it is likely that the street will be required to provide for better transportation.

Next, Almgren said the massing study revealed the existing development capacity would likely lead to primarily low- and mid-rise construction patterns if spread throughout City Center. Additionally, if development was concentrated on fewer properties for mid- and high-rise construction, then the existing regulations would prevent the remaining City Center area from redeveloping due to the 9.1 million-square-feet development cap.

Since the city’s previous designated action plan for housing is now obsolete, that decreases the marketability for building in City Center, Almgren said. This does not stop new housing from coming to the City Center, but any project would be required to be reviewed under SEPA, which Almgren said is less appealing for developers.

Under the new building limits, the allotted space for housing would be increased from 3.6 million square feet to 5.7 million square feet to meet regional demands. Retail would remain at 1.5 million square feet, but with an added square footage dedicated to lodging, which wasn’t previously allocated.

Regarding business office space, Almgren said the new limits would increase from 4 million to 4.25 million square feet, with institutional land uses for educational, religious, social, health care, recreational, and cultural spaces.

Following the briefing, some councilmembers voiced concerns about proposed plans  194th Street Southwest and surrounding properties During the discussion, Council President George Hurst asked how the city planned to redevelop 194th Street without displacing an office building or housing complex. In response, Almgren said current designs do not show displacement of any developments. 

In other business, the council again discussed proposed improvements to the city’s special event permitting process.

Last July, the council was briefed about staff’s efforts to identify ways it can improve the permitting process. Since that process falls under the city’s municipal codes, a council-approved ordinance amending the codes is required. During the Monday meeting, staff presented their recommendations to the council, including a new event determination rubric to determine what constitutes a special event.

In Lynnwood, all events — regardless of size, scope and burden on public rights-of-way — are processed the same, meaning small events like a sidewalk sale and larger events like a street fair currently undergo the same permitting process. Special events can include political demonstrations, large parking lot sales, carnivals and marathons.

However, activities that occur within facilities designed for that use are not a special event. For example, a trade show at the Lynnwood Convention Center is not regulated as a special event, nor is a regular sporting event at a public school. Additionally, events on a residential property with fewer than 100 people do not require a permit.

“This structure doesn’t provide for routine processing and appropriate fee structure for small events for contained commercial events like parking lot and sidewalk sales or private events like drive-in religious services and fundraisers,” said Engagement and Outreach Specialist Misty Burke.

According to Burke, staff are proposing a temporary use permit to cover events that include canopies and cover large areas and events where outdoor cooking and heating take place under a shelter. Also, she said the city wants to maintain the current existing electrical installation permit.

For temporary use permit fee structures and application deadlines, the existing electrical service event permit fee is currently a base rate plus a fee-per-concession rate structure. Burke said staff are proposing a temporary use permit that has a flat rate and low-cost fee.

“We think this permit will become more routine over time and that eventually will be able to process these as a same day or over the counter permit,” she said.

Typically, an event application fee is $170, but last year, the council voted to suspend the $170 application fee to help businesses struggling to recover from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. A refundable $250 deposit is also required and if the same event occurs two or more times in the same calendar year, a $56 fee is required for each additional event.

Since the $250 refundable deposits are typically returned, Burke said staff recommend eliminating the deposit requirement and replacing it with an updated special event promotion agreement condition, as well as the requirement of certificates of insurance.

Now, staff are also proposing adjusting the application fee to either a tiered flat-rate structure or a cost-recovery approach based on actual review and inspection billable rates. She said the benefits of a tiered flat-rate fee is that the fees are known and they’re predictable to permit seekers.

Staff also propose lengthening the application timeline for special events from 21 business days — which is approximately four weeks — to a minimum of eight to 12 weeks to accommodate the review and planning of events. However, staff are waiting for the results of a study conducted by the city’s Development and Business Services Department before proposing fee rates.

“What we’re ultimately recommending is adding a second event permit type,” said Deputy Parks Director Sarah Olson. “So that we would have a special event permit and a temporary use permit that….would have a lower cost, speedier application processing time that can be used more frequently for routine and small commercial events.”

During the discussion following the presentation, Council Vice President Jim Smith said he wasn’t thrilled about the permitting process taking additional time for some events. In response, Olson said applicants would still be able to apply, for example, 10 days before their event. However, they would be waiving their right to appeal if the permit is denied for any reason.

Additionally, Olson said smaller events — like sidewalk sales and Christmas tree lots — would fall into the temporary use permit the city is aiming to process inside of three days. 

“We want to push a lot of those much smaller, site-contained types of events that have very little impact on surrounding businesses to (do) the very quick and easy permit application,” she said.

When asked when staff would be looking to implement the new structure, Olson said she is aiming to have an ordinance and code amendment prior to the end of the year, with implementation sometime in 2022.

In response, Mayor Nicola Smith — along with Council President Hurst — pointed out that some businesses will be looking to host kick-off events once COVID-19 vaccines become more accessible after May 1.

“This whole permit thing to get people kicked back into some sort of wholeness with their business — i’d appreciate you thinking about how that could happen,” Mayor Smith said.

Olson explained that this new process was intended to be a more “long-term” solution for the city.

When asked by Councilmember Ian Cotton how the city’s municipal codes regarding signage would figure into the new process, Olson said the existing codes would remain intact unless the council decided it needed to be updated.

Also during the meeting, the council took a deep dive into the city’s street maintenance and the pavement preservation program. During the presentation, staff briefed the council on recent and upcoming annual paving projects and factors affecting paving costs and selection of projects.

Since 2018,  the city has spent more than $2.1 million a year on paving construction projects, including a 2018 project using chip seal to improve paved surfaces followed by three projects involving grinding the existing paved surface and replacing with an overlay of new asphalt (grind and overlay) and significant amounts of full depth replacement, requiring removal of existing roadway profile and replacement of crushed base materials and asphalt.

Some projects are relatively inexpensive maintenance projects like crack sealing, which costs $3 per foot. Rehabilitation and preservation work — like chip sealing and grind and overlay — cost $15 and $160 per foot, respectively. For full-depth replacement — which includes digging into the street almost a foot down removing everything that’s present and then building it all back from the base — could cost $440 to $485 per foot.

When it comes to repairing roads, looks can be deceiving, said Public Works Director Bill Franz. For instance, he said there are some instances where a road may look like it’s in worse shape than it actually is. 

“As we manage all these pieces of pavement all over the city, we have to make decisions about where to spend the limited money we have,” he said. “They might be in an area that isn’t this critical for traffic flow or things like that, and we might have to make those tough decisions.”

For example, some would say there’s a need for repairs on 36th Avenue West. However, the condition of the road — based on a 0-100 pavement rating system called a pavement condition index (PCI) — 36th Avenue’s condition is rated at a 74, which is considered good, said engineer Amie Hanson.

The area of 44th Avenue West near the 20800 block has a PCI rating of 54, which Hanson said is “fair” condition, is a candidate for a grind and overlay that is planned for this summer.

In Lynnwood, the average PCI is 63 — lower than surrounding cities like Edmonds (72) and Shoreline (82). The national average PCI ranges between 60 to 65.

The briefing also included a look at future pavement projects. This year, there are four sites the city will be focusing on, including 200th Street Southwest between Highway 99 and Scriber Lake Road, which will include full-depth repair. Other work on Scriber Lake Road will include work in the center lane. Planned work includes full-depth reconstruction on two-thirds of 48th Avenue West. The fourth site will be 44th Avenue West, which Hanson said is in good enough condition that the city can do grind and overlay. The work is anticipated to cost $2.135 million.

The council is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the project at an upcoming meeting.

Other highlighted pavement projects include an overlay on 76th Avenue West planned for 2022, which the city is paying for in part with the City of Edmonds since it shares a boundary line. Lynnwood’s portion of the project is estimated to cost $1 million. No projects are scheduled for 2023 at this time, but an overlay/spot repair on Alderwood Mall Boulevard is scheduled for 2024. The overlay project is anticipated to cost $2.4 million and will be partially funded by a grant for $750,000.

The city’s annual budget for road maintenance is $1.875 million. City Engineer David Mach pointed out that all the chosen streets are busy arterials that serve high-volume traffic flow, as opposed to residential streets. While there’s some concern about the condition of neighborhood streets, Mach said limited funding leads to the city having to make hard decisions about what roads need maintenance more.

“Ideally, we would like to pave residential and our arterials but because the funding doesn’t go far enough, we are currently not programming any residential streets,” he said. “We would like to change that if there was additional funding, but we can’t recommend not paving arterials.”

However, Mach said the city has identified four priority residential streets as candidates for grind and overlay work, including repairing 400 feet of roadway on 183rd Street Southwest with either grind/overlay work or a subgrade restoration. Another possible project identified by staff is 204th Street Southwest replacing 465 feet of gravel roadway and adding stormwater facilities. The total estimated cost of the projects is $960,000, 

Later this year, the city plans to hire consultants to conduct another citywide assessment. Following the assessment, staff will return to the council to update them on what they learned and their recommendations for next steps.

–By Cody Sexton

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