In this Sunday evening photo looking north up Ambaum Boulevard at SW 148th Street, a King County Metro Route 120 bus pulls up to a stop on its way from Burien to downtown Seattle. The new RapidRide H Line will replace Route 120 when it launches in 2022, after construction of new stations near intersections along Ambaum Boulevard.

 

By Nicholas Johnson

The Burien City Council will consider proposed changes to the city’s zoning code Monday evening (Aug. 16, 2021) that aim to complement King County Metro’s new RapidRide H Line along Ambaum Boulevard by encouraging more pedestrian-friendly development.

The proposed changes, which would apply to any new development projects on properties within 300 feet of the midpoint of seven intersections, are based on transit-oriented development principles.

“Our objective in planning for the Ambaum corridor is that we’re really moving toward sustainable and equitable transit-oriented development,” Susan McLain, the city’s Community Development director, told the city’s planning commission Wednesday evening.

“The idea is more compact, walkable development that is more neighborhood oriented,” McLain said. “People get off the bus, shop, walk to their residence, walk to where they need to buy food or groceries or anything else they need. This doesn’t include increases in height and density, but it does focus on pedestrian safety and comfort.”

During that Wednesday meeting, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend adopting the code changes after holding a public hearing in which no one spoke.

“I support all of these changes,” said commissioner Amanda Kay. “I think they’re needed and I think they’re very well thought out.”

The changes would effectively replace a development moratorium – due to expire Sept. 15 – that was adopted in September 2020 for the purpose of allowing city staff time to draw up zoning code changes that would complement Metro’s development of new bus stations and other roadway infrastructure near seven intersections along Ambaum Boulevard. Those intersections include SW 148th, SW 142nd, SW 136th, SW 128th, SW 122nd, SW 116th and SW 112th streets.

Ambaum corridor code changes would prioritize pedestrians 1

This map provided by the City of Burien shows planned RapidRide H Line bus stops near intersections along the Ambaum Boulevard corridor in Burien, from SW 148th Street north to SW 112th Street.

If the city council signs off Monday evening, the code changes would likely be approved and take effect Sept. 20.

“They would be passing it after the moratorium expires,” McLain said, “however, a development would have to come in within those five days and the application would have to be complete, so there’s very little risk.”

The proposed changes emphasize pedestrian safety and accessibility by allowing new buildings to move right up to sidewalks – as seen in downtown Burien along 152nd Street – rather than comply with the usual 10-foot setback requirement, and by requiring vehicle parking to be located behind or to the side of buildings.

Commission Vice Chair Ryan Davis said the idea reminds him of development in the Junction neighborhood of West Seattle, where parking lots sit behind buildings that front California Avenue. McLain said that area is a good example of how parts of Ambaum Boulevard could look in future years.

“This isn’t going to happen right away,” McLain said. “As properties are developed and new development occurs, a transition would occur over time.”

That’s because properties that may not currently conform to the new code are allowed to continue operating as “legally nonconforming uses.” Intended to reduce potential conflict between pedestrians and vehicles, those nonconforming uses would focus on auto-oriented businesses and features such as drive-through lanes, principle-use parking, fuel stations, automobile sales or repair, service stations, storage facilities, RV and boat sales, and auto-wrecking.

The proposed code changes also require street-facing windows and doors, wider sidewalks, street trees every 30 feet and overhead weather protection, better known as awnings.

The city has been talking with a few developers who are looking to pursue projects in the next year, McLain said. Most have been amenable to the city’s proposed changes, she said.

“One is a mixed-use project with some town homes,” McLain said. “Another one is a commercial building, which would be a renovation. There has been a gas station that has come in, and it would not be consistent with that development, unfortunately.”

These proposed changes, which McLain describes as “minimal,” offer a taste of the city’s plan to propose more comprehensive code changes and regulations following the completion of a larger community planning process focused on the Ambaum Boulevard corridor and the Boulevard Park neighborhood.

“We are anticipating that within about a year, we will have some more permanent land use code, or zoning code, amendments for your consideration,” McLain told the planning commission. “We’ll also have some recommendations from the neighborhood in terms of investments by the city and by other entities, including private folks, and actions that can be taken by everybody.”

The city has also launched a particularly innovative way to share information about these planning efforts and engage residents in the planning process: an online interactive map where people can leave geographically specific comments related to future development plans along the Ambaum corridor and in the Boulevard Park neighborhood.

To find that map and more, visit https://burienwa.gov/business/community_development/planning_initiatives/ambaum_and_boulevard_park_community_plans.

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Ambaum corridor code changes would prioritize pedestrians 2

In this Sunday evening photo looking north up Ambaum Boulevard at 148th Street, a King County Metro Route 120 bus pulls up to a stop on its way from Burien to downtown Seattle. The new RapidRide H Line will replace Route 120 when it launches in 2022, after construction of new stations near intersections along Ambaum Boulevard. Photo by Nicholas Johnson