Lake Stevens moving foward on overhaul of its city center

LAKE STEVENS — A long-awaited overhaul of the city center near North Cove Park is moving forward.

Officials are looking for a place to lease so employees can move off of the property this spring, interim City Administrator Mary Swenson said. Then City Hall and the permit center would be torn down while plans are drafted for a new Lake Stevens Civic Center.

State legislators set aside $309,000 in this year’s capital budget to help with the civic center. The award is less than a third of the city’s $1 million request, but officials knew it was a lot to ask for, Swenson said.

The $309,000 is for demolition of existing buildings and initial design and site preparation, Mayor John Spencer said. The community center, veterans memorial and library are not going to be torn down. However, Sno-Isle has been looking into building a larger Lake Stevens Library for several years.

A plan for downtown Lake Stevens, including North Cove Park and the city center, is in the works. The city is getting ready to select a contractor and is seeking volunteers for an advisory committee, interim Planning Director Russell Wright said. He hopes the document will be done in eight or nine months.

City leaders aren’t waiting on the plan before they move employees and start demolition. City Hall has been outdated for a long time, Spencer said.

An old commercial building, two houses, two trailers and a modular building have been pieced together to house city services. There’s an ongoing rodent problem in several of the buildings despite regularly scheduled visits from an exterminator. At City Hall, the lunch room is a cramped space with a microwave and refrigerator. Employees wash their dishes in the restroom sink. There’s no air conditioning and half of the windows don’t open anymore, so employees are anxious to get out of there before summer, Swenson said.

“The facilities are totally inadequate,” Spencer said. “And it’ll be symbolic. It’s saying that as a community we’re moving forward.”

The city has made plans for downtown Lake Stevens before but hasn’t followed through, mainly due to the recession, Spencer said.

There’s an increasing need for a civic center and gathering place as the city expands, Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said in a news release.

Lake Stevens is one of the fastest growing cities in the county. The population has climbed from 6,300 to nearly 30,000 people over the last 15 years as the city annexed new neighborhoods. This year, a building boom is adding to the population, as well. Between Jan. 1 and March 15, planners handled 256 permits, more than half of the permits processed in all of 2014 and 40 percent of the 2015 total, according to the planning department. Most of those are for single-family homes.

Rapid growth means growing pains, and downtown development has been cause for concern among neighbors who worry about the beauty and integrity of their once-small community and the lake at its center. The subarea plan will address land use along with maximum height and mass for new buildings, Wright said.

The civic center property is about 2.25 acres and North Cove Park is another 2 acres. The park won’t decrease in size, Wright said.

As for the civic center, the city could use a public plaza for Aquafest or farmers markets. Spencer would like to see a high-end conference center where organizations could have retreats complete with access to the lake, Centennial Trail and local parks. Having a meeting space like that could attract a hotel, restaurants and shops, he said. He’d also like some kind of building for rowers and bicyclists.

The final design could be different, though. It’ll be shaped through a series of public meetings and vetted by the advisory committee, Spencer said.

City officials are looking for money to build the center once it’s designed. That could include grants or a public-private partnership, where a developer or company helps build something that could be used by businesses as well as the city.

“During the drafting of this plan, we’ll be bringing in people who can really invest in it so we can implement it as soon as it’s done,” Wright said.

Twenty-eight volunteers are needed for the advisory committee. To apply or nominate someone, email rwright@lakestevenswa.gov or call 425-212-3315. The deadline is April 29.

Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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