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Bothell City Council revisits building height limits

According to Deputy Mayor Joshua Freed, Bothell City Council has corrected a mistake made roughly two years ago, voting unanimously at its Jan. 18 meeting to raise building height limits on Main Street, subject to some limitations.

In July 2009, council approved new planning and zoning codes meant to guide the redevelopment of downtown and the planned transformation of State Route 527.

As has been well-publicized, the idea is to promote mixed residential/retail development in the existing downtown, on an extended Main Street and alongside what will be a widened and revamped SR 527.

The scheme recently may have attracted its first new construction project when a Puyallup developer announced plans for a $45 million to $50 million retail/residential complex at the site of what is now an older Safeway store near the intersection of state routes 522 and 527.

When they initially passed the new zoning in 2009, Community Development Director Bill Wiselogle said council made a last-minute change to those codes. At the request of former Councilwoman Sandy Guinn, council dropped building height limits along Main Street east of 101st Avenue Northeast from 65 feet to 45 feet. The height limit remained at 65 feet — roughly six stories — through the rest of the targeted development zone.

According to Wiselogle, the 65-foot height limit was the recommendation of Bothell’s planning commission and seemed to have the support of council right up until the final vote.

For whatever reason, only four councilmembers were present at that July 2009 meeting, just enough for a quorum. Freed said he was the lone dissenter to lowering the height limits, which were adopted along with the rest of the overall plan, 3-1.

“It was the wrong decision,” Freed said. “The whole onus of the plan was to keep Main Street alive.” He said it simply wasn’t fair for the new development along SR 527 to be able to build higher than the same type of development along Main Street. In terms of new development, Freed said height often equals money.

According to both Freed and Wiselogle, following the initial 2009 vote, Main Street property owners began contacting the city, lobbying for the 65-foot limit. Wiselogle said council agreed early on to review its first decision. An initial public hearing was held in November. Freed said comments were overwhelmingly in favor of the 65-foot limit. He said to the best of his knowledge, the city received only one letter in support of the 45-foot limits.

Wiselogle said that even with the change in the plan, 65-foot-high buildings never will abut Main Street sidewalks. He said the plan was and still is to retain the historic flavor of Bothell’s downtown; to make Main Street appear, from street level, to be a two-story environment.

The city’s zoning requires developers to sort of step up to the maximum allowed height. Building facades only will be able to reach a lower height, with additional floors allowed further back from Main Street. Wiselogle referred to the design scheme as the “wedding-cake approach.”

From Wiselogle’s point of view, the height adjustment should be the last major change to the overall zoning package.

“There will probably be some minor tinkering, but there are no big issues outstanding,” he said.

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