Mount Baker neighbors grow a community

Check out this great post by Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management (Seattle RDY) from June 10, 2014.  It highlights an important community resource for our Town Center.

Photo of Mt. Baker Village Apartment neighbors at garden

If you drive down Martin Luther King Jr. Way in south Seattle you can’t miss the terraced gardens that tower above the busy street at McClellan. On any given day you can see people going up and down the slopping hill tending to tomatoes, corn, mustard greens, and sunflower plants.

The garden first emerged in the late 1980s when Mt. Baker Village Apartment residents, many immigrants from Cambodia, cleared the hillside next to their parking lot. They removed blackberry bushes, dug terraces using hand tools and supported the hill with scrap materials they had on hand. The neighbors worked together to collect water and hauled it to the hill to keep plants alive. Over time, through physical labor and dedication to reinventing the unused slope, the community was able to create a green haven complete with healthy foods, flowers and a space to connect with each other.

Lam Kong is one of the original elders that helped haul rocks and clear bush to build the garden in the hillside. He said that they built the garden here to have something to do close to home, but the garden brings their community together.

“We share the work and what we grow in the garden with each other,” said Kong. “This is where we come together.”

Today the garden has a water system and new terraces with support of the Mt. Baker Housing Association, the Mt. Baker Community Council, and the Cultivating Communities Program. Here are highlights from my recent visit.


Photo of Hillside P-Patch Garden at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and McClellan Street

Photo of top view of Hillside Garden

Photo of longtime Mt. Baker Village resident Lam Kong who helped build the original garden

Photo of one of the friendly gardening neighbors

Photo of neighbors at gathering spot


Here’s a historical photo of the same hillside garden:

Sick Stadium

The North Rainier Neighborhood Plan: The Community’s Blue Print For Transit Oriented Development

In the early 1990’s, Seattle began a neighborhood planning effort that spanned 38 Seattle neighborhoods.   The plans provided the City with direction on a broad range of subjects important to the neighborhoods, which would be incorporated into the City’s Comprehensive Plan.  The North Rainier Neighborhood Plan was completed in 1999.  During the process, the City recognized the North Rainier Neighborhood as one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the City.   City Council Resolution 31204; North Rainier Baseline Report, City of Seattle, p. 2 (Demographic Summary).

In 2009, the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan was updated to take into account changed circumstances, including the new light link rail service.  The update process engaged a broad cross section of the community.  This update resulted in revisions to the Neighborhood Plan, which were reflected in Comprehensive Plan amendments adopted by the City Council.   Comprehensive Plan, Neighborhood Planning Element, Section B-21, and the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan Update.

A central theme of the Neighborhood Plan was the creation of a vital, pedestrian friendly, “transit oriented development” within the Town Center.  Seattle Comprehensive Plan, Sec. B-21 (including NR-P1).  The Mount Baker Town Center was envisioned as a vibrant neighborhood core, with open space and parks, and development standards to accommodate a vibrant pedestrian environment for people of all ages and abilities.  Seattle Comprehensive Plan, North Rainier Element; North Rainier Neighborhood Plan Update, Goals 6 and 8; and Urban Design Framework for Mount Baker Town Center, p. 5.  These goals and policies were needed to help make the Town Center the “heart of the neighborhood” — an inviting and livable place, where people could gather and engage in physical activity.  North Rainier Neighborhood Plan Update, Strategy 8.2; North Rainier Neighborhood Plan, p. 57 (1999).  The Town Center was to help the blighted area achieve qualities enjoyed by other more affluent Seattle neighborhoods, “where public places and open spaces help create a sense of identity and welcome.”   Ordinance 124513 (high density rezone at Mount Baker Town Center), p. 5.   The plan was to create a sense of place inviting and attractive to residents and to badly needed economic development.

IMG_8451Sadly, the vision and promise of the North Rainier neighborhood has not yet materialized.  As the City invests millions at other more successful neighborhoods and light link stations, the Mount Baker transit area continues to languish.  An amazing ArtSpace building sits at ground zero.   Half the commercial space is empty, and the other half is filled with exciting new businesses and galleries.  Above is a new residential community, populated by a vanguard of residents and families making a go at life in our newest new town center.   But it isn’t easy.   The area that remains dangerous and uninviting.  The vibrant businesses are struggling.

Has the train left the Mount Baker station?   Perhaps not.   We are excited to see SDOT returning to the station with its Accessible Mount Baker project, with an open house on Thursday March 26, 6 pm at King’s Hall behind the light link station.    The Mayor is announcing new funding for major investments to solve the City’s infrastructure deficits.   Will Mount Baker Town Center make the list?   We hope so.   The Mayor’s call for equitable investment in our community is a theme that rings loudly in the ears of those trying to live and work at Mount Baker Town Center.   We welcome the City and other leaders to work together and focus the investment long over due in a Town Center that still only exists on paper, and in the unrealized dreams of the neighborhood planning process.


Presentation-Station-5A-Sketch-ConceptAfter 15 years of study, a bold plan for solving the Mt Baker Town Center mess was unveiled by the Seattle Department of Transportation at the March 26 open house.  See Accessible Mount Baker.  The well attended event included members from throughout the surrounding community, and discussed SDOT’s recommended proposals for improving modes of travel within the Town Center area surrounding the Mt. Baker light link and bus stations.  During the public participation phase the SDOT team received praise and support for its work.   There were also serious questions about an apparent lack of funding to get the key improvements implemented in the near future.   The dangerous area is frequently traversed by students and a growing number of residents and business owners, including those in the Mt Baker Lofts Artspace facility, some of whom spoke that night.  Questions were also raised about Sound Transits ongoing delays in converting surplus properties from fenced off eye sores into useful areas to compliment and support the positive development that was called for in the infrastructure blighted area of the 2014 rezone.

Currently, the area is recognized as an automobile dominated and unfriendly streetscape that is dangerous to pedestrians, including the many students and transit users who try to use it on a daily basis.  Near the intersection of Rainier and Martin0409151241a Luther King Jr. Way, there are more than 10 lanes of traffic to be crossed, just to move east and west within the rezone area.

The Accessible Mount Baker study is designed to conclude years of careful study, and to propose a sound solution that will best serve all modes of travel into the future.  Consistent with the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan, SDOT’s mission is to transform the Town Center core from “an auto-oriented area to a transit-oriented destination”.    Among solutions, SDOT is exploring options for reconnecting the Olmsted Boulevards, which will be necessary to help connect neighboring communities (including Beacon Hill and Mount Baker) with a new mixed zone center.  This reconnection will not only make the area more attractive to residential life and business development, it will also benefit the surrounding communities with an attractive walking and bike route from Lake Washington, through Mt. Baker to the Town Center, Beacon Hill, Jefferson Park and Chief Sealth Trail.

SDOT’s new proposal was well received as an exciting plan for badly needed investment in an area that was recently rezoned to allow mixed use towers up to 125′ high. See  and    The City Office of Economic Development is also stepping up with a stakeholder process.  It is hoped that this process will bring the type of positive focus around the compromised station area that the City has recently bestowed upon First Hill, where a well funded public realm improvement plan was has been developed.

The dense growth needed for a vibrant Town Center cannot be properly accommodated or managed without prompt redesign to preserve and fulfill the promise of a vibrant Town Center.   FMBTC will continue to advocate for positive change to fulfill the vision and promise of the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan — a plan is worth little unless there is the funding to implement it and preserve the opportunities for the area to support the transit oriented development that was IMG_8510intended under the City’s comprehensive plan.  Those living and working in the rezone cannot afford to wait.  Neither can the many children and others who regularly attempt to cross the 10 plus lanes of traffic to simply get from the east to west within the heart of the new neighborhood.

Project Overview:
Accessible Mt. Baker will identify near-term access and safety improvements for the community near the Link light rail station and the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Rainer Ave.  The effort will also develop a long-term multimodal plan consistent with the objectives of the Mt Baker Urban Design Framework and the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan.  The process will engage community members and transit users in coming up with innovative solutions for enhancing the transportation environment for all, regardless of how they travel to and through the area.