Raven Review, Special Senior Seminar Edition, June 2020
City of Bothell Development
By Taylor Sibthorp ’20
I was encouraged to research this topic by my senior thesis advisor, Sharon Dunn, and fully embraced the idea because I knew city planning was important and that I lacked a well-rounded understanding of it. In addition, I was interested in challenging myself by trying my hand at journalism, another field of utmost importance.
While I’ve spent the majority of my life in Bothell, this project opened up an entirely new way of seeing my home that I’d never breached before. The research also required me to reach out to, and interview, those involved in the City of Bothell and the Sound Transit BRT. This I found to be the most difficult part of the project as it requires proper preparation and quick thinking. I hope to improve at this kind of journalistic work in the future. Interviewing was critical for the story, as without the City of Bothell’s input, the passion behind the revitalization project wouldn’t have been clear.
I owe a debt to all of my teachers at WMS for the intellectual toolbox they’ve helped me pack. It is with those tools that I have the ability to analyze topics like this in a thoughtful way, and am prepared for college and beyond.
Note: unless otherwise credited, photos were taken by Taylor Sibthorp.
Welcome to Bothell
About 15 years ago, the City of Bothell hatched a plan to revitalize their downtown. Their goal: grow the area into an interesting, populous place that people would enjoy visiting and living in. Fifteen years later, the difference is striking. More is still yet to be done, with important lots not yet purchased and/or developed. The decisions that Bothell has made to reinvent the downtown provides insight into what governments consider when planning for, developing, and building out the areas that we live in each and every day.
In 2005, a decision made by the Northshore School District was what led Bothell down a path to a revitalization plan. The district had decided to sell the property they owned just west of State Route 527 (now decommissioned and named Bothell Way NE). These 18 acres sprawled across an important central location in downtown Bothell, making the property crucial to the functionality and atmosphere of the area. Bothell residents and officials were aware of how development of that area could impact the entirety of the downtown. Some were concerned that the way potential buyers might choose to redevelop the area would be detrimental to the city.
Steve Morikawa, the city’s Capital Division Manager, and David Boyd, a senior planner of the City of Bothell Community Development Department, spoke to me about the reasoning behind the city’s decision to step in.
“The fear at the time with the community as well as the leaders of the community, the council and everybody, was if that large parcel was sold in one big chunk in, let’s say like a shopping mall,” Mr. Morikawa explained, “The city would really remain, it would become less of a downtown with that historical main street.”
This concern was based on real possibilities for that area’s use.
“We did see some proposals for that property that basically would have created a more inward-focused lifestyle mall, maybe something like U Village that would really turn its back on the old 527 and on Main Street,” said Mr. Boyd.
There was a sense that the sale of the Northshore School District’s property could potentially change the nature of the city, and Bothell was interested in using that opening to make something new.
“The city saw that as really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Mr. Boyd.
It was at this point that the city was well-situated to undergo intense reinvention, to bring the downtown forward as a center for vibrant living.
“The plan was to make it a place, an urban place,” said Mr. Morikawa.
Many phases of preparation had to take place before 2009, when Bothell adopted the Downtown Subarea Plan & Regulations, and the Bothell City Council and Board of the Northshore School District agreed to the property transaction. Prior to that point, Bothell had to flesh out their vision. In late 2005 and into 2006, the city worked on authorizing the planning effort, as well as on budgeting and consultation hiring. The Planning Commission was a core group in this work, and through the entirety of the project. Once these preliminary steps had been all sorted out, in 2006 the city was ready to begin the actual planning process. Community outreach began; the city advertised the project and requested applications for the stakeholder committee.
The application called for a letter of interest that addressed the following questions: Why are you interested in becoming a group member? What skills do you have that would be applicable and beneficial in serving on the volunteer group? How did you learn about the group? In a Seattle Times article contemporary to the application process’s advertisement, the Community Development Director at the time, Bill Wiselogle, stressed that being a stakeholder was not contingent on being a business owner in the downtown. He is quoted in that article as saying, “We hope it’s eclectic” in regard to the makeup of the group’s membership.
Fifty-plus applications were submitted. Out of those applications, the 16-member Downtown Stakeholders Resource Group (DSRG) was created to meet and work with the Planning Commission to develop the revitalization plan. The remaining members made up the Downtown Vision Committee. They took part in roundtable discussions with DSRG and the Planning Commission, which the general public was also invited to attend. There were seven roundtables from mid-2006 to early 2007.
The city hired Freedman Tung & Sasaki, an urban design and planning firm in San Francisco, as their lead consultant. The firm would be highly influential to key parts of the downtown plan, such as the multi-way boulevard seen on Bothell Way NE, a one-of-its-kind in Washington state.
Once the Planning Commission and the community had developed the vision together, the city made a concrete plan of how it would be actualized in regard to regulations.
Zoning was a key consideration in connection with those regulations—as it is with every land use proposal where zoning laws exist. As a part of the Downtown Revitalization Project, the downtown was rezoned to fit the designing work the Planning Commission had done. The Raven Review analyzed the updated zoning regulations from 2018 that the city directed the paper to, upon their request for information.
The downtown has multiple different zones with regulations that relate to the zone’s location and purpose. There are also general requirements for the entire downtown subarea, regardless of district. These regulations dictate a vast variety of design choices including, but not limited to, square footage, height limits (includes footage and number of floors), building usage and private frontage requirements (the part of the property next to a publicly used area, such as a sidewalk).
The following downtown building usages are allowed: retail, civic and cultural, office, lodging, residential. These categories break down further. Retail includes pedestrian-oriented retail, neighborhood center retail, corner store retail (more localized than neighborhood retail), business and personal businesses, auto-oriented retail (as in a drive-thru or other retail service people would drive to). There is a distinction made between anchor and non-anchor retail. Anchor retail is generally given more square footage because it needs to be an important store that attracts people to the area. The city has also specified the different kinds of residential structures allowed: multi-family with common lobby entry, multi-family with individual entry, single-family homes, manufactured homes and residencies where occupants also house their businesses.
Depending on the district, there would be different zoning rules and permitted building uses. There are nine different zones in downtown Bothell in addition to four “overlays” which in general follow the rules of their particular zone, but deviate in some fashion. The 18 acres purchased by Bothell from the Northshore School District is now split up into three different zoned areas: Downtown Core, Downtown Neighborhood and Downtown Transition District. The transition district functions as a way to blend the intense development of the Downtown Core and the Downtown Neighborhood into the surrounding suburban area. For example, the Downtown Core has height requirements from 2 floors and 20 feet to 6 floors and 76 feet, Downtown Neighborhood has 2 floors and 20 feet to 5 floors and 65 feet, and Downtown Transition District has 2 floors and 20 feet to 3 floors and 35 feet. The Downtown Core and the Downtown Neighborhood do not have a required setback at the front. The Downtown Core requires 0 feet of setback, with exceptions for retail anchors. In contrast, the Downtown Transition District has a minimum front yard setback of 5 feet. A drainage plan is required for each of these districts, but it transitions from 100 percent impervious surface coverage in the Core to a 90 percent in the Transition District. The Planning Commission is evidently trying to create a cohesive downtown with different zones that work together to meld into the rest of Bothell, and that support a lively downtown.
Previously existing buildings are not required to fit these regulations, but the zoning rules state that these “non-conforming” buildings cannot be built off of or renovated in a way that enhances their non-conformity to zoning rules. This exception can be seen in parts of the downtown where new buildings sit next to older structures or homes.
Critical Undeveloped Lots
Fifteen years into this project, there are still a few prominent lots that have undetermined fates. These lots, pictured in the image in yellow, are known as blocks A, D, E, F, G and P South.
Lot P South has undergone cleanup work and is being monitored with testing wells to determine when the site is “clean” and can be sold. Lots E, F, and G still need to be tested to see if cleanup work is needed. Block D is currently undergoing cleanup work and block A is already on the market.
All of these blocks are important to the downtown because they are either in the Downtown Core or in close proximity to it. There is no public information about interested buyers and property usage proposals, as all offers remain confidential until the property transaction is fully complete, but zoning regulations and the vision the city has conceived for downtown development provides some insight. Block D is zoned for both the Downtown Core and the Downtown Neighborhood, and its uses could be numerous from a single detached home to an office space. The listing for Block D on the website cityofbothellproperties.com states that the city will take into consideration factors about the proposed land use such maximizing the potential of the land and incorporates “quality design and features that celebrate the gateway location of the site.” Block D is a gateway to Bothell because it is directly North of 522 which is a heavily used roadway through many local cities. The development of this property will have a huge impact on the Downtown, and Bothell residents may be interested in watching what happens.
Lots E, F, and G are also in a prominent location, but there is more curiosity about lot D because cleanup work has turned it into an obtrusive dusty lot. Lot P South is also important, but doesn’t serve as a gateway like the other lots.
Lot A is pending purchase, and has a location unique from the other lots. It sits adjacent to the park which makes its zoning regulations important in protecting the property’s neighboring natural land for the sake of environmental health and enjoyment of the park. This lot, which is zoned as a part of the Special Riverfront Overlay (a subcategory of the SR 522 Corridor District) does have some considerations for this. Any new development on this lot will have to keep one quarter of the property’s width from the street to parkland unobscured by any structure so that everyone can enjoy the nature. Impervious surface coverage cannot exceed 70 percent, and if this was riverfront property it would not be able to exceed 60 percent. As with the other lots, a wide variety of property usages are acceptable here, including residential, meaning there are still many questions about what the property will end up looking like.
Sound Transit Bus Rapid Transit Route & Possible Endangerment of the Yakima Fruit Market
Another point of interest regarding Bothell’s future is Sound Transit 3, the transit plan that was passed by voters in 2016. It will add extensive light rail and bus rapid transit to the greater Seattle region. Part of this bus rapid transit (BRT) route will go right through Bothell’s downtown on 522, on the Shoreline to Bothell bus route, which will then connect with the Lynnwood to Kirkland to Burien route on I-405. It is planned to support new passengers every 10-15 minutes.
This will further help Bothell in becoming a connected, interesting urban area, but a concern is the impact the BRT will have on a long-standing, unique Bothell business, the Yakima Fruit Market & Nursery.
While Sound Transit did conduct community outreach for the Shoreline to Bothell route, issues arose about their plans in the summer of 2019 when the Yakima Fruit Market owners were horrified by a tentative plan for the BRT route which would seize parking lot property of theirs up to the front of the building. Stuart and Karin Poage, the owners of the family-run market, which sells local and seasonal fruits and vegetables and had been established back in 1938, feared for the future of their business. Mrs. Poage contended that summer, in her Yakima Fruit Market newsletter, The Grapevine, that their business could not survive in that situation, and an update from April 2020 on the market’s website says that moving wouldn’t work. In August 2019, the market set up a postcard stand in the store for customers to write their thoughts to Sound Transit, so that the market could send them to Sound Transit, to show their importance to the Bothell community.
Because of the unique issues with this stretch of the BRT east of Bothell’s downtown, of which the Yakima Fruit Market is only one, it seems that development has stalled. Other sections of the BRT have already begun building, including the adjacent portion of 522 connecting Kenmore and Bothell, while nothing has yet been done with Bothell. In this connection, Bothell’s Morikawa informed The Raven Review that Bothell is currently waiting for a proposal from Sound Transit, which he believes Sound Transit is getting close to having. He noted that there was discussion at one point about the city partnering with Sound Transit in designing the Bothell section, but that did not come to fruition. Nonetheless, the city has some power since Sound Transit has to acquire certain permits and permissions to build through Bothell, and Mr. Morikawa emphasized the city’s commitment to working with Sound Transit to support Bothell’s businesses, residents and transit. He also talked about the city’s unique perspective on projects like the BRT corridor, “We thought likely the city would be better at it because we know the city…Some of us have worked here a long time and we understand Bothell a lot better than Sound Transit would.”
The Sound Transit BRT planning comes at an interesting time for Bothell. Intense development and change has been the city’s norm during the Downtown Revitalization Project, and as it nears the finish line, after having purchased, gutted and reinvented numerous parcels of land throughout the city; converting roads into peaceable walkable streets, and reconstructing their zoning laws to protect their downtown vision, the BRT opens another door of possibilities. The potential impact of a Sound Transit BRT that cuts through the southern core of the city and along a roadway to the city’s east where multiple Bothell businesses, including the Yakima Fruit Market & Nursery, sit, adds more complexity to an already ambitious city transformation.
The city has been committed for the past 15 years to creating a living and working space in the downtown that preserves and expands on its historical roots as a tight-knit, friendly town, akin to the culture of the Yakima Fruit Market, while bringing Bothell forward into the limelight as a modern, urban place where there is plenty to explore, where business can grow, and where people will come and live. Bothell has proven this balance possible thus far, but can it be maintained if Bothell gains momentum and grows large and expensive? This is unknown.
What we do know is that the state of the spaces we live in are impermanent. Even in the natural world things are never stagnant; roaring water carves out cliff sides bit by bit. Our world, even on a smaller, local scale, can change rapidly like Bothell has. This is undoubtedly not the final version of Bothell. How Bothell will look in 30 or 40 years from now will be dependent on those who care to be involved.