Hilltop Subarea Plan Nearing Completion

Work on the MLK Subarea Plan and EIS, renamed the Hilltop Subarea Plan and EIS, is entering its final phases before adoption. 

At this week's City Council study session, City Planning and Development Services staff presented the latest on the plan that will guide and support future growth in the Hilltop.

Hilltop stakeholders identified a vision for the plan: "Restore the HIlltop district as a place where people live, work, and play," and key elements to support that vision, including the establishment of a brand for the area that reflects a positive Hilltop image and identity, and which reflects the community’s past and potential for the future.

Other key elements include encouraging diversity of ages, household types, income levels; a focus on development that is sustainable, human-scaled, mixed-use, and follows an urban form that blends that mix of uses, both large and small, along the neighborhood's transportation corridrs; respect for the history and community culture; and development that includes public spaces, quality architecture and streetscape choices, promotes multimodal transportation options, and connects the Hilltop neighborhood to the rest of Tacoma.

Tuesday's presentation to Council was broad, not delving too deeply into specifics, but we did hear about some details. 

Some key implementation strategies highlighted in Tuesday's presentation included

  • Community Organization - Continuing the momentum and discussions about development coming out of the planning process
  • Educational Effectiveness/Reputation - McCarver Elementary has a remodel coming up, Tacoma Housing Authority has been seeing some good results out of its special education-focued program
  • Dense Mixed-Income Housing Growth - preservation of historic structures will be a focus, as will the creation of new housing, and promotion of catalyst projects and public private partnerships. The focus will be on providing a balance of both affordable and market-rate housing (despite the ULI recommendation that the Hilltop has plenty of affordable housing...)
  • Preserve Key Historic Resources
  • Support Live/Work and Work/Live 
  • Recreational Opportunities - The focus will be largely on enhancing the existing spaces, including parks and streets, both for transit and recreation.
  • Complete Streets - This ties in to the idea of promoting multi-modal transportation options, including making bike and pedestrian commuting a viable option. A map of existing and proposed open spaces shows a couple of interesting potential "green pedestrian connections," one continuing the UWT hillclimb up and at an angle into the heart of the Hilltop Business District, and another connecting the Brewery District to MLK, possibly via South 23rd.
  • LINK Light Rail - This will be a huge part of development in the area, both in terms of the important connections to other parts of Tacoma, and in terms of impacts on the streets it ultimately runs along. The plan puts its support pretty strongly behind the B-1 two way alignment on MLK, rather than the B-2 "couplet" option, which would loop back along J Street. The preference is for the couplet of MLK and J streets to operate as parallel tracks, with MLK operating as the transit corridor, and J Street as the quieter, non-motorized transportation corridor.
  • District-Wide Utility Plan
  • Refinements to Zoning and Standards - Not too many changes here. The primary change is a modification of the mixed-use center zoning boundaries around Multicare, which would bring the whole faciltiy under the same zoning. The plan also argues for reduced zoning for the south end of the subarea - the neighborhood around McCarver Elementary - to be considered for more residential zoning, with an emphasis on pushing larger projects closer to the commercial core.

Some other elements from the plan seem worth highlighting as well.

In the area of bike-related improvements, in the short-term the plan proposes prioritizing bike lanes on 6th and 11th where they cross the subarea, and a bike corridor along Sheridan, just outside the subarea. In the medium- and long-term the plan proposes bicycle boulevards on South J between Division and South 27th and on South G Street, and bike lanes along South 19th, Yakima and South I, Center Street, and South 25th. 

A section of the plan on catalyst projects looks at both current and potential future catalyst projects for growth in the area.

The plan identifies several potential future catalyst projects with redevelopment potential, including the Browne's Star Grill/Pochert Building and the vacant lots at the corner of 11th and MLK, among others. A series of renderings of possible full, fuller, and fullest build-out of the intersection at MLK and Ernest S Brazill provide some interesting food for thought on the future of the neighborhood.

In considering the promotion of these kinds of projects, the plan notes the need to define and market the opportunities, and to educate both developers and the general public on the assets and potential for development of the Hilltop. The plan suggests a list of potential opportunities that could be better marketed to investors.

  • Healthcare related businesses and services
  • Housing targeted to Hilltop area healthcare workers 
  • Businesses targeted toward Hilltop area healthcare workers 
  • Student housing given the proximity of the expanding UWT campus, Evergreen State College’s Tacoma Campus, and Bates Technical College’s Downtown Campus
  • Adaptation of existing underutilized building stock for shared work spaces for offi ce, tech incubators, artists, or small-scale production 
  • Adjacency to the downtown core and all of its jobs and recreation, and to Wright Park
  • Future light rail extension on MLK Jr Way, which will improve the aesthetics of the street, and provide high quality transit access to downtown, the UWT, the Foss Waterway, and the Dome District transit hub

It's a pretty big document, and there are far more details than we can cover here, so it may be worth reading if you've got an interest in where development of the Hilltop goes in the coming years. A public hearing on the Hilltop Subarea Plan is scheduled for Wednesday, January 22, at 5 p.m.

So, what do you think? From what you've seen does this look like a good direction for the Hilltop?

Download the full Draft Hilltop Subarea Plan here.


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