Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

With light rail coming soon, Mountlake Terrace’s moment is nearly here

The anticipated arrival of the northern Link expansion is another sign of a rapidly changing city.

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Spurred by light rail, development is charging ahead in Mountlake Terrace.

This comes as the city plans to absorb up to 15,000 more residents in the next two decades. But closer than a potential population boom is the thing bringing it — the Link.

At the end of August, Sound Transit will open its long-awaited northern Link expansion, with four new stations stretching to Lynnwood. For northbound riders, Mountlake Terrace will be their first light rail venture into Snohomish County, with the stop at 236th Street SW.

Sound Transit is expecting 47,000 to 55,000 riders on the new extension by 2026. A trip from Mountlake Terrace to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will take an estimated 56 minutes.

Riders arriving in Mountlake Terrace will be greeted by a rapidly-changing city looking to go vertical. Anticipating light rail, in 2019, Mountlake Terrace opened the door for more — and taller — development by updating its 2007 land use plan in the Town Center neighborhood.

Now, Mountlake Terrace is seeing the fruits of that move five years ago, as it undertakes a major street revitalization project and new buildings continue to pop up.

“People are just excited,” said Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto-Wright.

‘It means everything’

Mountlake Terrace is not a new, hastily built suburb, with roots reaching back to World War II. Originally a logging clearcut, an airfield was built and used during the war.

Real estate developers bought the land after the war and aimed its building efforts at veterans. The city was incorporated in 1954 and by 1980 was home to over 16,000 residents. Growth since has been slow and steady. In 2020, Mountlake Terrace counted just over 20,000 residents. That grew to 21,543 in 2022. The population is expected to increase to nearly 35,000 by 2044.

Over 11,000 people live in Mountlake Terrace and commute to work elsewhere, according to city documents. Only about 400 people live and work in the city.

But buoyed by light rail, new apartment complexes and mixed-used buildings are going up in its Town Center neighborhood, a rapid change for the quiet bedroom community. That includes a downtown district, anchored by the popular Hemlock State Brewing Company. The city is also working on developing “complete streets” geared toward multi-modal usage.

City officials are excited at the progress. Earlier this month, Matsumoto-Wright and City Manager Jeff Niten took the Daily Herald for a walk around some of the new and upcoming development, as well as a jaunt down to the new light rail station.

For Matsumoto-Wright especially, it’s a feeling of accomplishment after years of work to revitalize the city.

Her work with Mountlake Terrace started on the planning board in 2002. At her first meeting, they discussed a map of what a potential Town Center would look like.

City Manager Jeff Niten, right, and Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright, left, talks about new housing built in the Town Center on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

City Manager Jeff Niten, right, and Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright, left, talks about new housing built in the Town Center on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In 2008, she was appointed to the City Council and has been elected to the position three times since. She was mayor pro tem in 2019 when longtime Mayor Jerry Smith died. She has served as the city’s chief executive since.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council passed the Town Center Plan in 2007, and updated it in 2019. That plan tied together many different aspects of infrastructure and town design. Following the plan, Community Transit built a transit center and Sound Transit followed suit with a freeway station.

“I wanted to still be on the council when light rail came,” Matsumoto-Wright said. “I didn’t want to miss that.”

The city has been waiting years for train service. Now, of course, it will just be a few months until Sound Transit opens its light rail station in town.

“It means everything,” Matsumoto-Wright said. “We’ve been working on this from the beginning.”

‘Creating that walkable community’

We first walked down 232nd Street SW, soon to be the site of major residential and commercial development. Some of that development can already be seen to the north of the parking lot that used to be for Roger’s Market Place, a relic of the town’s past. A sign for the store, demolished in 2019, still stands.

Land to the north of 232nd Street SW is zoned for buildings up to eight stories tall. New city blocks are even on the way, as 57th Avenue W is likely to be extended all the way down to 237th Street SW.

Strip malls near the old grocery store site will be torn up to make room for new road and development. Niten said the city is working with nearby businesses as redevelopment continues.

“They’ve been here for a long time and people associate Mountlake Terrace with these businesses,” Niten said.

Turning right, the city leaders walked down 56th Avenue SW, giving a vision of Mountlake Terrace’s future. Down the road, five story mixed-use buildings stand in stark contrast to the single-family houses dotting the side of the road. One of the newest, Atlas 236, added 151 apartments with retail underneath.

Those include a salon, banh mi shop and pediatrician. Those multi-story buildings are this city’s future.

“We’re creating that walkable community, where you actually walk around and talk to your neighbors,” Niten said. “Where you have fun with them and create a community.”

With a squint and a little imagination, a friendly and hip little downtown within walking distance of a light rail station starts to appear.

Pedestrians and bicyclists cross the street next to the new Mountlake Terrace Link station on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Pedestrians and bicyclists cross the street next to the new Mountlake Terrace Link station on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Speaking of that light rail station, it was the next and final destination west on 236th Street SW. It only takes a couple of minutes to get there from this burgeoning downtown corridor.

The neighborhood closest to the rail station will soon get some height too. A parking lot just south of Veteran’s Park next to the station is slated to turn into dense housing. Another project will run a trail through the park and the new development to get residents to light rail.

South of the rail station, Terrace Station consists of a series of apartment complexes, with another large building on the way.

All told, plans for the town center call for around 3,000 new housing units and 625,000 square feet of commercial space. A sculpture garden and pedestrian plaza will eventually greet light rail riders as they look out the window to the east as well.

A large portion of land that will soon be developed into housing next to the Mountlake Terrace Link station on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A large portion of land that will soon be developed into housing next to the Mountlake Terrace Link station on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mountlake Terrace has a lot to give, city officials feel. The long-awaited arrival of light rail is an opportunity to show that off.

“We want to showcase what we’re doing, because we think it’s pretty great,” Niten said. “And it’s been vetted thoroughly with the community. We have a fully supportive unanimous council behind it, the votes that have been taken support these projects. Everybody’s on board.”

The walk finished with a stroll through Veterans Park and up to a group of municipal buildings that include City Hall, the police station and the local library. The park is wooded and tall trees form a natural barrier around the city campus.

The recently build Mountlake Terrace City Hall on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The recently build Mountlake Terrace City Hall on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

With transit close by and big plans for the neighborhood, city officials believe the future looks bright.

“We don’t want to be like everywhere else,” Niten said. “We’re us.”

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