Building heights reduced in Bothell

Building height was decidedly one of the main issues on the minds of residents who attended the latest public hearing on plans to revamp downtown Bothell.

According to the newest draft of rules and regulations drawn up by city design consultants, height limits in the downtown were reduced from 54 to 45 feet and a maximum of four stories.

The latest plans call for a three-story height limit where the downtown business district abuts residential areas. However, after so many feet from the property lines along residential zones, the height limit pops back up to four stories, allowing the same building to reach varying heights.

Those so-called “transition zones” between downtown businesses and residential areas were the main topic of discussion during the hearing, held Jan. 23 in front of City Council.

Speaking for design consultants Freedman, Tung and Bottomley, Erick Calloway told council and a packed crowd of residents that in addition to adjusting height limits, the latest plans for the downtown spell out specifically the use of buildings in transition zones, their orientation to new and existing streets, as well as setback and landscaping requirements.

For the most part, Calloway described transition zones as mixed-use districts, but districts with strict zoning regulations. For example, in regard to land use, Calloway said no corner retail would be allowed.

Probably more significantly, Calloway talked extensively about the scale of building in transition zones. Depending on their location along a particular block, the proposed zoning spells out the length of residential and business structures.

For example, if a building sits on a corner lot, it could reach up to 100 feet in length. If it sits in the middle of a block, the maximum length is 80 feet.

Calloway said setbacks in transition zones were increased to a minimum of 25 feet and new rules spell out with more specificity the type of required landscaping buffers. Overall, Calloway said transition-zone regulations are intended to protect residential zones, to prevent new downtown commercial uses from overpowering residential areas. He said many of the rules relating to scale especially are aimed at residential zones containing detached, single-family homes with 60 feet or less of frontage.

For the most part, residents seemed less than impressed with the transition zone schemes. One resident said even with graduated height limits, a four-story building near her home could afford someone a great view of her home’s bedrooms.

As the hearing progressed inside council chambers, resident Eric Hoierman expressed reservations that the height limits might not be all they were advertised to be. He said the codes appeared to some to contain exemptions from height limits for such structures as chimneys.

“Bothell is not Bellevue or Seattle,” said resident Pat Pierce. She spoke out against the height limits set for the downtown zone and talked about protecting the charm and character of Main Street.

Pierce said the old adage of “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” might apply.

After what was reportedly a nearly four-hour discussion and hearing, council took no action on the changed plans, but continued the public hearing until later this month.

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