Mayor’s State of City address: In face of pandemic, ‘Lynnwood remains strong, strategic, resilient’

Mayor Nicola Smith

Speaking to the city’s resiliency during a year of endless challenges, Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith set a hopeful tone Wednesday morning during the city’s annual State of the City address.

“Through all of this struggle though, I see hope the City of Lynnwood remains strong, strategic, resilient,” she said. “We have many attributes and advantages that are helping to keep our city moving forward to best serve our community, support economic growth and develop and make Lynnwood a community where all are welcome, are supported and we all belong.”

From the financial and health impacts caused by the pandemic, to the political turmoil that threaten the nation’s democracy, to the renewed racial tensions between police and people of color, Smith said the city has faced each challenge head on.

Typically, the mayor’s address is held in June at the Lynnwood Convention Center, where the city’s elected leaders invite city employees, community partners, and other organizations to learn about the city’s accomplishments from the prior year and its plans for the future.

This year, the address was conducted virtually due to the pandemic, and marks the final one delivered by Smith, who after two mayoral terms won’t be seeking re-election this year. A recording of the mayor’s address can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page.

During opening remarks, recently elected Lynnwood City Council President George Hurst reminded the community of the importance of local government and the effects it has on their daily lives.

Everyday necessities like water, sewer, roads improvements, parks maintenance and police protection are provided by the city government, which is why a trusted city government 

“becomes even more important for the community members of Lynnwood,” he said. 

However, uncertain times have created great challenges, like financial insecurities, which Hurst said has caused city leaders to struggle to provide these everyday necessities.

Hurst also cautioned that the city still faces potential complications from the pandemic, and he predicted a tidal wave of rental evictions and business closures as people struggle during the economic downturn. He also warned about the pandemic’s impacts on communities of color, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“As the pandemic continues in 2021, we will continue to have financial challenges, the fear of eviction will not disappear and justice for our diverse population will not be satisfied by superficial political promises,” he said.

Mayor Smith began her address by discussing how the city has adapted to working during COVID-19. Since last March, 70% of city staff have been working remotely. Smith also highlighted city efforts to help the community, including distribution of 35,000 face masks to community members, with more still available for those in need. The city has also provided financial support to other agencies, like the Lynnwood Food Bank, Volunteers of America, Homage Senior Service, the Foundation for Edmonds School District, and others who provide direct services to the community, she added.

Smith said the city has distributed more than $1 million in federal CARES Act funds to the city’s struggling business owners and $300,000 in rental assistance through the city’s community relief fund Additionally, the city adopted a COVID-19 utility plan protecting those who cannot pay their utility bill due to financial hardship.

“During a pandemic is no time to shut off someone’s water,” she said. “We’re working with utility customers on repayment plans and not accepting late fees.”

Smith praised the work done by city staff to remain dedicated to serving the community during a trying time, singling out the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department staff who had to completely alter all of their programs and services. New services like Lynnwood Connects Check-In, which offers high-risk residents weekly check-in service by phone. 

With sweeping business closures leaving little for residents to do, many people turned to parks for entertainment. During the pandemic, Smith said staff worked diligently to keep city parks safe and sanitized so they could remain open.

Staff have “remained dedicated to keeping connected to our community and provide safe ways for folks to engage, recreate and celebrate,” she said.

Smith also addressed the city’s finances and the negative impacts of businesses closed as a result of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay home, Stay Healthy” order. In Lynnwood, 40% of the city’s general fund comes from sales tax revenue. In response to that revenue loss, city departments were asked to implement cost-cutting measures that saved Lynnwood $6.3 million.

This year, Smith said city staff anticipate a $9 million revenue shortfall. Last July, the council voted to authorize using the city’s reserve funds to address a $2.2 million budget gap. The decision came after multiple council discussions while exploring other alternatives.

“I supported this decision because it allowed the city to avoid deeper and more severe budget cuts that would have resulted in the loss of talent, experience and reduction in service levels,” the mayor said. 

Progress toward a regional model

Next, Smith provided updates on several high-priority city projects, accomplishments, partnerships, and plans for achieving the city’s goals of becoming a regional model.

The official groundbreaking for the Lynnwood Link light rail extension project opening in 2024.

Last summer, the city held a groundbreaking ceremony signifying the start of construction on Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link light rail extension. Since then, crews have made strides in work along Interstate 5 leading to the Lynnwood Transit Center, which is also undergoing a complete redevelopment to welcome the new light rail.

To provide adequate parking, crews are building a five-story parking garage, with 1,600 parking stalls. Once completed, the station will boast 1,900 parking stalls total — 500 more than currently offered.

Additionally, Community Transit plans to bring a new Orange Line route to funnel commuters to and from the light rail station.

“All of these systems will work in sync to ensure the best overall transportation for our community and our region,” Smith said.

As Sound Transit’s light rail expansion stretches toward Lynnwood, the city has been preparing for increased traffic flow and corresponding population growth in the area around what is now the Lynnwood Transit Center. Since light rail is projected to draw 92,000 to the Lynnwood area by 2035, developers have flocked to the city proposing multifamily housing and mixed-use developments.

Most of these developments — like City Center Apartments and Destinations Lynnwood — have been focused on Lynnwood’s City Center district, which is the epicenter of the city’s designated regional growth center. The area is being planned as a downtown hub and will include apartments and office buildings.

Construction is underway along Alderwood Mall Boulevard for Kinect @ Lynnwood, a 239-unit residential building that would use transportation impact fee exemptions (TrIF) and multi-unit housing property tax exemptions (MFTE) to offer low- and moderate-income housing. However, only 20% (or 48) of the units — which will range from studios to two bedrooms — will be offered at a reduced price, while the rest will be listed at market value.

Lynnwood Square is also slated for redevelopment after the city struck a deal with Merlone Geier Partners (MGP), which owns most of the 18-acre site surrounded by 44th Avenue West, 200th Street Southwest and 196th Street Southwest. Located adjacent from the future transit center, the area will include multi-family housing, retail, professional office and entertainment spaces under the name Northline Village. The site will also include a festival street, green spaces and a dog park. 

Kinect @ Lynnwood is a 239-unit multifamily residential unit proposed for Lynnwood’s City Center district. (Rendering courtesy of City of Lynnwood)

To ease congestion in and around the regional growth center, major road improvement projects are slated for 196th Street Southwest and 44th Avenue West. According to Smith, the 196th Street Southwest Improvements project is ready for construction.

The city is planning to spend more than $30 million on a street-widening project for the major arterial that will add two new lanes to the existing roadway, turning the five lanes into seven lanes, and adding a landscaped median and 12-foot-wide sidewalks. The additional lanes on each side of the road will accommodate left- and U-turn lanes as well as bus use.

“This project will help ease congestion, accommodate growth in our city center and create an enhanced pedestrian environment,” she said.

Other street projects slated for development include creating a new 42nd Avenue West that will connect 196th Street Southwest with Alderwood Mall Boulevard. Smith said the Poplar Way extension has been billed as a top-priority project will connect the City Center to Poplar Way 196th Street Southwest to 33rd Avenue West

The city has also made upgrades and improvements to the city’s water and sewer lines near Alderwood Mall to prepare further expansion.

Digital renderings of the proposed seven-lane 196th St. S.W. street widening. (Courtesy of the City of Lynnwood)

Development for Lynnwood Place Phase 2 is underway across from the mall, including a Home Depot and more than 500 housing multifamily housing units. Construction for Home Depot — located across from Costco on the former Lynnwood High School campus — is tentatively scheduled to be completed this summer.

Avalon Alderwood, the mall’s expansion project on the site of the former Sears building, will include two six-story, multi-family apartment buildings with a total of 328 residential units and 90,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor. Construction was briefly halted due to the stay-home order, but crews have continued working to meet the 2022 deadline for opening.

Most recently, Seattle-based developer Trent Development submitted a proposal to construct a new multifamily mixed-use project on a 2.5-acre site located at 19820 40th Ave. W.

Plans for the site propose two eight-story buildings — seven stories of residential above one story of retail — framing an interior courtyard, with more than 350 apartments, parking for 265 vehicles and 9,022 square feet of commercial space, including a child care center. The development would be located in Lynnwood’s Opportunity Zone, which is a federal designation that allows investors to receive tax breaks in return for revitalizing low-income areas.

Other projects near the mall include Alderwood Mixed-Use Project — an 18-story, multi-family residential and commercial building that will replace the demolished Alderwood Medical Building just east of Alderwood Mall and south of the Alderwood Mall Toys ‘R Us.

Edmonds College recently completed work on two projects — Triton Court, the mixed-use retail and student housing project, and Hazel Miller Hall, the new building dedicated to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, (STEM) and Nursing.

Additional projects have been proposed along Highway 99, including a distribution center and two auto dealerships. With all these developments, the city recently finalized the creation of a new department of development and business services. The new department consolidated the department functions of community development, economic development, public works’ development engineering services and the fire marshal’s office. After overseeing the successful creation of the new department, former Economics Development Director David Kleitsch was appointed its new director.

“Director Kleitsch has the historical knowledge of Lynnwood and the professional expertise to continue the movement that we have achieved with regard to customer service and efficiency,” the mayor said.

South Lynnwood neighborhood plan 

To better serve all members of Lynnwood’s community, the city has plans to redevelop the South Lynnwood neighborhood, which includes the areas east of Highway 99 between 196th Street Southwest to 212th Street Southwest, reaching the city limits near both Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. The neighborhood extends east to 44th Avenue West near the City Center district.

Plans for the city’s most racially diverse neighborhood include seeking housing opportunities through various land uses, improvements to transportation access and becoming a model for other neighborhood improvements.

“We understand that our community includes a wide range of residents and households with unique needs and challenges,” Smith said. “Housing and housing affordability has been — and will continue to be — a top concern for our city.”

A complete rendering of “Grateful Steward” by Gabrielle Abbott. (Courtesy of the City of Lynnwood)

Last year also saw the completion of the 36th Avenue West improvement, which included the installation of a second roundabout, another signaled intersection, sidewalks, a bike lane, improved irrigation and landscaping. Public works crews also recently installed new emergency earthquake shutoff valves to Lynnwood’s water tanks, so in the event of an earthquake the city’s fresh drinking water is preserved.

The Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department has plans to improve South Lynnwood by redeveloping the South Lynnwood Park to reflect the neighborhood’s cultural diversity.

The park’s redevelopment will expand the playground, add new picnic shelters, resurface the tennis court, add artificial turf to the park’s soccer field and a new bike station.

The park’s restroom and pathways are being redeveloped to make them ADA compliant and Seattle artist Gabrielle Abbott was commissioned by the city to paint a mural on the back of the park’s restroom building.

Abbott’s design, “Grateful Steward,” was inspired in part by the cultures of Indigenous people, who see themselves as stewards of the land. She said the mural features animals and plants that were part of the daily lives of Indigenous people. The mural also depicts hands made of plants, encircling a mandala, which Abbot said represent the four elements – earth, water, fire and air.

Law enforcement and policing

While the nation watched renewed racial tensions between communities of color and white law enforcement officers play out after George Floyd’s death, Smith said the Lynnwood Police Department has been making strides to foster a strong relationship with the community.

In Lynnwood, officers receive ongoing training in de-escalation, crisis intervention and implicit bias. Smith added that the department’s officers have been invited to conduct training sessions to other agencies across the state.

The police department has also been working to create and participate in alternative avenues for those caught up in the criminal justice system. In partnership with the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s office and the Everett Police Department, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program allow for officers to connects individuals with social services and resources to address underlying circumstances contributing to crime

The department has also partnered with the Community Health Center (CHC) to create a community justice center aimed at providing a “continuation of care” for those with mental health or substance abuse issues while they are incarcerated.

After multiple space needs studies determined that the department, jail and municipal court have outgrown their current facility, city officials decided to renovate the existing building as well as expand east to the adjacent vacant site. It would add a new public entry for safer public screening, another courtroom and a private assessment area.

The preferred draft design of the Community Justice Center keeps the Lynnwood Police Department, municipal court and jail in one complex with a multi-level, shared parking lot between the department and the Community Health Center (CHC) of Snohomish County. (Image courtesy of Mackenzie Architects)

“By providing this additional support, the goal is to provide a path out of the criminal justice system,” Smith said. “This project is specifically built around increased community access and involvement and alternatives to the traditional criminal justice system while maintaining effective levels of community safety in our growing city.”

In recent years, the department has partnered with a social worker to join them while they patrol homeless encampments around the city and offer to put them in contact with support services. 

“They’re conducting assertive engagement,” Smith said. “(They’re) out here every day talking to those in crisis, offering support, offering to walk hand in hand as soon as the individual is ready to seek help.”

After budget cuts nearly forced the department to terminate the Community Health Center partnership, Verdant Health Commission stepped in to offer grant funding that allowed the department to retain social worker services.

Smith also highlighted another key project around the city, the future monument honoring fallen military personnel proposed for Veteran’s Park. Last year, the city was selected to be the future home of a new Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.

In addition to the installation of the monument, Veterans Park will undergo capital improvements to enhance the aesthetic and functionality of the park. The city’s parks and recreation team will work closely with local Veterans of Foreign War Post 1040 on the planned park improvements.

Smith wrapped up her address by encouraging the city to remain resilient as they continue to deal with the impacts of the pandemic. 

“We remain committed to building a model for community resilience to helping Lynnwood see through this pandemic and come out a better stronger community,” she said. “It’s going to take all of us working together to create a Lynnwood we can all be proud of.”

–By Cody Sexton

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