Around the turn of the new year, construction will begin for Woodinville’s Gardens District.
The 20-year, five-phase vision for this project is to expand Molbak’s Garden + Home nursery into an entire community, with apartments plus office and retail office space as well as other not-yet-determined features–-perhaps a hotel or community theater, says Molbak’s CEO Julie Kouhia.
Molbak’s has been able to dictate much of the planning for the development. The current nursery will remain open throughout the construction of the new one.
“There’s a real emphasis on the idea that it’s a city in a garden,” Kouhia said. She said that she wants residents to feel like nature is in their backyard, even though they live in apartments.
“We want this development to feel like it's growing out of nature,” she said. “Which means a lot of these plants are from this area.”
Invasive species will be removed, Kouhia said, and replaced with native ones.
“Right now we're working to say, ‘Rather than having street trees that march down this road, what if there were large gatherings that are more natural, like alder forest groves?’” she said.
Kouhia hopes to break ground on phase one of the development around the end of this year or the beginning of next, and move into the Molbak’s nursery by the end of 2025. Phase one will also have four stories of apartments and 12,000 feet of retail space. It will be located on Northeast 175th Street between 139th Avenue NE and 138th Place NE, which is to be renamed “Garden Way.”
Coursing through the southern end of the lot is Woodin Creek, which Kouhia said will receive a “complete restoration.” Walking paths will be built around the stream and a buffer will filter out debris to clear the water as it passes through.
“All that water in the creek is going to be back to perfect and beautiful,” she said.
As for the new nursery, the size will be downgraded, but the features upgraded. The current Molbak’s nursery is about 138,000 square feet. The new one will be about half that, Kouhia said. “We’re going to have to be really, really efficient.”
Still, the new nursery will have nine greenhouses. The roofs and many of the walls of each will open up when the weather is nice. Walls will be double-insulated, reducing the energy expended on temperature control.
Central to the new store will be the “Treehouse,” a greenhouse with a wooden central support pillar that branches out in all directions to support the roof of the structure.
Kouhia used the term “biophilic” to describe her vision for the Gardens District. The term refers to architecture built with a special emphasis on creating the experience of being in nature for users.
Each building will conform to the U.S. Green Build Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Standard.
In the early stages of the design process, the Green Futures Lab at the University of Washington College of Built Environments drafted two vision concepts for the Gardens District, called Woodinville Vision 2035.
Although the designs looked quite different after passing through the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the City Planning Commission, the Green Futures Lab has continued to work with developers throughout the process.
“They look at, ‘What makes a sustainable community feel so great?’” Kouhia said. “And it’s kind of the balance between nature and the structures themselves.”
Kouhia hopes the Gardens District can become an inspiration for green architecture around the country.
“We were very clear that we were a tenant here, and that we were the main tenant,” she said. “I think that this wouldn't be happening, and it wouldn't be happening in this way, if we didn't say, ‘Molbak’s is staying here. This is our home. This is our new flagship.’”
One cause for concern for the Gardens District, especially during construction, will be the traffic congestion it may bring to downtown Woodinville.
“It's been a real game of Tetris,” Kouhia said.
For phase one, most of the staging area will be within the lot itself, which should help reduce traffic a bit, she said. But people can still probably expect more traffic during construction before the new roads through the development are built, and then an overall improvement in traffic after that.
Molbak’s opened in 1956, founded by Egon and Laina Molbak, who immigrated to the U.S. from Denmark. Originally, the nursery contained just a few small production greenhouses and sold strictly wholesale. Over the years, the size of the nursery expanded and began selling to the public. Today, the expansive nursery only sells retail and has discontinued its wholesale production.
“There's something so restorative about spending time with plants,” Kouhia said. “People come in here and walk around just because it makes them feel good. And we are keeping that character. And we really want to continue to be thought of as a place of and for the community.”