With the passage of the Metro Everett plan, the city is planning for a taller and denser future. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

With the passage of the Metro Everett plan, the city is planning for a taller and denser future. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

A taller, denser downtown Everett gets City Council approval

Two years in the works, the Metro Everett plan anticipates light rail and more residents.

EVERETT — With the goal of revitalization, the City Council on Wednesday night passed a series of development regulations that could radically alter Everett’s downtown.

The changes include allowing buildings as tall as 25 stories, banning new medical clinics from operating on the ground floor of many downtown streets and reducing off-street parking requirements for some apartments.

The council unanimously passed a series of ordinances set out in the Metro Everett plan, which the city has been working on for more than two years. Councilwoman Judy Tuohy was not present for the vote.

“Growth is inevitable, and the Metro Everett plan will help us be strategic as it guides the quality of that growth,” Mayor Cassie Franklin wrote in an email Thursday.

“Quality growth is critical to building and sustaining strong communities.”

The mayor summarized the plan’s guiding principles: placing future residents closer to transit and amenities, routing Sound Transit light rail toward Everett Station, updating parking requirements, and promoting ground floor shops and restaurants.

The plan rezones much of downtown, permitting taller buildings to increase density. An early draft didn’t set height limits along some major streets. A 25-story maximum eventually was decided upon for the center of downtown. Developers can only build to the maximum height if they provide a public benefit, such as public art, affordable housing or historic preservation.

“Without appropriate downtown height zoning, growth would be throttled and limit the city’s function, pushing demand to sprawl,” the city wrote in a news release before the vote.

A major sticking point in a draft plan was whether and how the city should regulate medical clinics and social services downtown. An outright ban was considered.

The council settled on a prohibition of new clinics and social services on the ground floor of downtown streets where the city is trying to encourage mixed-use development.

The Downtown Everett Association said such a ban was necessary to address public safety challenges that stem in part from the high concentration of clinics and social services in the city’s urban core.

The downtown area contains about 40 percent of all the social services that operate in the city, according to Franklin. It covers about a square mile.

Ideal Option, an addiction treatment provider, is one clinic that has pushed back against this ban. They have said it’s crucial for them to be around other social services.

The new plan is preventing Ideal Option from expanding into a new downtown location the company recently leased to keep up with demand. The clinic had asked the council for a three-year exemption so it could occupy the new space. It withdrew the request Wednesday night, after announcing it had found a different space just outside of downtown. A spokesman for the company said it is hopeful the deal will be made final soon.

With the changes, medical clinics and social services already operating downtown can remain, but couldn’t be replaced by a new clinic. These services are allowed in other parts of the city and can be located on the ground floors of buildings in those locations.

“To me this was, is and remains a land-use decision,” City Council President Paul Roberts said during the meeting. “If we are trying to get residential and mixed-use development in the downtown … clinics are not the sort of thing that we ought to have on ground floors.”

Eight people spoke during the public hearing before the vote.

A few residents in the Norton Grand area made a last-minute plea to further lower building heights in areas adjacent to their historic neighborhood. Opponents of the upzones in these areas said the tall buildings would create an overshadowing canyon effect on the old homes.

Councilmembers declined the request.

The Metro Everett plan also lets apartment developers provide less off-street parking across the city. David Stalheim, a city planning manager, has said that will help make better use of land and create a pedestrian-friendly environment. And the city says by requiring less parking it will reduce the cost of new apartments.

Also included is a plan for the Everett Station area to leverage the massive regional investment in light rail.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @lizzgior.

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