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Our Town Center

Our downtown is coming

Before we in Shoreline incorporated we were a barely differentiated spot of sprawl. We, through our city government, have been working hard to establish ourselves as a real town. We’ll have a downtown eventually, and the Shoreline City Council is setting the rules and incentives for its growth. You have had chances to , and a chance to listen as the plan was . So, what have we wrought and where do we go from here?

First, a city’s downtown is by definition the area densest in office, retail, and residential development; the commercial and cultural heart of a city. The Town Center Subarea is a rectangle from N 170th St to N 188th St and from Linden Ave N to Stone Ave N, centered on Aurora Ave N, and encompasses “…the geographic, historic and civic heart of Shoreline…”, as stated by Planning Director Joe Tovar. City Hall, the Ronald School, Shorewood High School, Town Center Park, retail big and small, and Judge Ronald’s red brick road are all in that boundary, and the Shoreline Historical Museum is just across the street at N 185th St and Linden Ave N.

According to Wikipedia “The following characteristics are typical of (though not always present in) most CBDs, downtowns, or city centers:

  • houses large public buildings such as libraries, churches, stations and town halls.
  • contains specialist shops and branches of major department stores.
  • contains social amenities such as cinema halls, clubs and theatres.
  • contains little housing, but often hotels.
  • contains little or no industry.
  • contains offices and other professional buildings.
  • contains buildings that tend to be taller than buildings in other parts of the city (because land prices tend to be at a premium, making high-rise buildings economically favourable)
  • has high pedestrian levels and the greatest parking restrictions.
  • (often) is the geographical centre of the settlement.
  • (often) is the area with the highest land value.
  • is well connected by public transport, with large numbers of passengers.
  • has high traffic levels.”

Allbusiness.com says “Central Business District (CBD) (is the) downtown section of a city, generally consisting of retail, office, hotel, entertainment, and governmental land uses with some high-density housing.

This area is already our best concentration of business and civic structures. Of course, we’re not Houston or Seattle, so not every aspect of these definitions will be expressed the same way. Our library is across I-5, our only theater is the Crest, in the Ridgecrest neighborhood, most of the hotel space in town is north or south of downtown, and I think City Hall is the tallest building here, except maybe the old King’s School and maybe a steeple or two.

The plan streamlines permitting in the subarea, similar to . It’s encouraging to hear the city reduce parking requirements on new residential buildings. As bus and, potentially, light rail service increases we should do everything to encourage their use and desubsidize cars, and not demand all that extra investment from developers. We can’t force anyone to build here, but we can make it attractive and easy.

Housing is to be densified within the area to preserve single-family densities elsewhere. This is great. We should definitely be housing more people nearer the busiest part of town to reduce their travel, increase their convenience, and reduce their resultant carbon footprint.

And speaking of carbon, the greater the density we can nurture in our core the less we will be spreading out. That translates to huge numbers of trees not cut to build sprawl- both in land clearing for subdivisions and for building materials. The closer people live to jobs and shopping the less fuel and time they need to use and the fewer parking spaces need to be built (what a huge waste of paving, energy, and land!), so sidewalks and green spaces will be added.

The thing I don’t see here is a notable increase in allowable building heights or overall density. The entire expected office development in the Subarea is equivalent to only three City Halls, the expected retail to two Fred Meyers. On the other hand, the housing expectation is equal to two and a half Ballinger Commons.

Sadly, we actively removed our most historic retail buildings along Aurora to clear land for the Town Center Park, booted the Shoreline Historical Museum out of the old Ronald School, and permitted Walgreen’s on 175th to tear up a significant swath of Judge Ronald’s road, the only remaining piece of the original North Trunk Road. I don’t bring this up just to throw darts. It’s a reminder that we have very few overtly historical artifacts and places here, and, like the “baby and the bathwater” it would be foolish to casually discard what makes us distinctive, no matter how wonderful the dream.

Vicki Stiles August 06, 2011 at 04:05 PM
Very insightful article; thank you for your unblinkmg analysis. As is often the case throughout history, we hmans move to a place because we like it the way it is, and then we proceed to change it into something else with little regard for what made it special to us in the first place. Then we move on because it no longer has the appeal thati it once did. Recognizing what gives us our roots and identity, and protecting those aspects from the beginning, instills the sense of well-being and pride that most people want to feel in their community.
Bill Scott August 16, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Great article. Thanks for being an advocate for Shoreline's historical places and artifacts.

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