Highway 99 makeover

Big changes expected for Edmonds’ portion of the route
Aug 31, 2017
Courtesy of: City of Edmonds

It took a decade of planning, construction and frustrating road delays, but the city of Shoreline’s wide ribbon of Highway 99 from North 145th Street to the King County-Snohomish County line at 205th Street SW – where Edmonds city limits begins – was completed last year.

(205th is 244th Street SW on the Edmonds side, or Lake Ballinger Way. It’s a complicated county line thing.)

You’ve probably driven that stretch of road many times and marveled at the $140 million transformation from earlier, more sketchy and blight-filled days. Looks a lot better, right?

Edmonds hopes to match or exceed Shoreline’s renovation on a 2.2-mile stretch of Highway 99, and the area around it. Parts of the corridor touch Esperance and Shoreline, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

The Highway 99 plan is one the Beacon has told in the past through many City Council meetings and public hearings. The upgrade has been in the works for some time, but reached a no-turning-back milestone Aug. 25 as the Highway 99 Area Plan and code update took effect.

A part of the plan calls for mixed-use buildings, where businesses are on a prominent part of the site and residences are above the businesses or on another part of the site. Transit-oriented development, where people living or working nearby can easily use transit, is encouraged, while livability and an attractive environment are key themes.

“Highway 99 is such an important neighborhood, and it needs more attention,” Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said. “The new plan and code really sets a vision that will help bring things to the next level. I’m excited about opportunities for affordable housing and great places here.”

The buildings along Highway 99 are mostly highway-oriented, set far back from the road with large surface parking lots in front, which results in an unpleasant and unsafe environment for pedestrians, the city says. Many of the buildings are old and reaching the end of their natural life.

It’s important to note that the city of Edmonds does not own the land on Highway 99 and surrounding area. Its role is to ensure good planning, appropriate codes, walkability, public safety and needed infrastructure, Development Services Director Shane Hope said.

The plan breaks down Highway 99 into three distinct areas:

  • International District: Diverse restaurants, grocers and shops, with a major Korean business cluster.
  • Health District: Swedish hospital and medical offices.
  • Gateway District: Identified by community members as a desire for gateway and distinct transition point in and out of Edmonds.

Affordable housing

With rent prices skyrocketing seemingly monthly, as more and more people squeeze into south Snohomish County and make multiple offers on homes and even rental units, Edmonds residents have let city leaders know of an urgent need for more affordable housing, particularly in the south.

One of those is George Keefe of Edmonds, a member of the Edmonds Housing and Stability Coalition, who has urged the city to increase density at Highway 99 to permit more residential housing, more market rate, more affordable and particularly more low-income housing.

The city’s plan for Highway 99 (or State Route 99 or Aurora Avenue North, whichever you prefer) is similar to one adopted in August 2016 for the Westgate business district: to offer tax incentives to developers to encourage them to create mixed-use developments consisting of business and housing. A development just west of Westgate’s Bartell Drugs, which includes 91 apartments, retail space and parking, is first in line.

The Highway 99 plan includes making all residential portions of building value tax exempt with 20 percent of units provided at median family income.

Edmonds, like most desirable cities, is short on housing that seems affordable to the average person or family and housing that is statistically affordable to households with incomes below a certain percentage of the area median income.

Extrapolating from the latter, from a statistical perspective, a recent study showed that about 38 percent of all households in Edmonds are cost-burdened – meaning their housing costs (whether rent or ownership) made up more than 30 percent of their monthly incomes, Hope said.

At a recent council meeting, Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty said that the definitions of low- and moderate-income households require a change on Highway 99 to the calculation of low- and moderate-income households to be based on Snohomish County median family income, as reported by the U.S. Census and using HUD methodology.

This is not the King-Snohomish metro average, as is the case with existing code language, imported from state statutes.

“This will put the corresponding rental rates more in line with the local market,” Doherty said.

For example, the rent and utilities limit for a two-bedroom unit for a three-person household earning 80 percent of median family income, using state statute definition and method, would be $1,728 a month.

But the rent and utilities limit for a two-bedroom unit for a three-person household earning 80 percent of median family income, using the Snohomish County methodology as proposed, would be $1,543 a month (which includes about $200 for utilities, according to the Affordable Housing Alliance.

Responding to Fraley-Monillas, who questioned the affordability of those numbers, Doherty said: “This is not a program designed specifically to provide the lowest income housing. It is a program to bring projects to a community and for a portion of the project to include housing for low-and moderate-income households.”

Transportation projects that will help transform the corridor over time are identified in the plan. Already, Edmonds has secured $10 million in state funding to begin Highway 99 work. Available is $1 million this year, which is budgeted for a more detailed design and prioritization study and construction.

The scope of the project means the city also will be on the hunt for continued state and federal funding.

“I’m eager to get more transportation funding for this area and to see quality development happen,” Mayor Dave Earling said. “This area provides a great deal of business revenues that help support our whole community, and the benefits are likely to keep growing.”

The new development code, which the City Council adopted to implement the plan, calls for combining two types of commercial zoning into one zone in the Highway 99 area. The maximum height will be 75 feet, with a small part of the zone around Swedish Edmonds able to build to a greater height, the same as it has in the past.

Design standards to guide development and building are part of the updated code. Electric vehicle charging stations and bicycle storage will be required for any new residential component. The hope is to encourage more environmentally friendly options.

“Citizens in Edmonds have been waiting a long time to see positive changes come to this area,” Hope said. “While some parts now are great, many other parts will be improved based on a vision for vitality and sustainability.”

She noted that an information forum will be held later this fall for property owners, agencies, and builders who are interested in developing properties in this area.

At its Tuesday, Sept. 5, meeting, councilmembers are expected to approve a $467,000 consulting contract with Lacey-based SCJ Alliance to develop a transportation improvement plan. To view the Highway 99 Subarea Plan, the new code and related information, go to http://www.edmondshwy99.org/.

 

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