The Edmonds City Council asked for public comment Tuesday night on its 5-2 vote to buy the vacant Skippers restaurant property across from the Edmonds ferry terminal — and boy, did they get it.
A total of 25 people lined up to speak about the decision — made by the council last week — to purchase the property for $1.1 million, an amount that was characterized by those speaking as either a complete waste of taxpayer money at a time when the city is struggling with a significant budget deficit or a good price for a bold investment in Edmonds’ future.
But before citizens even had a chance to add their two cents, Mayor Gary Haakenson unleashed his own set of concerns about the vote, taken while he was out of town — ironically, he said, in Washington, D.C. to meet with the state’s congressional delegation about the difficulties facing cash-strapped cities.
“How are you paying for the purchase?” Haakenson asked councilmembers, then, noting that the council had also voted to approve $100,000 for feasibility studies on the property but didn’t cite a source for the funding, added another question: “Where is that money coming from?”
A greater concern, the mayor said, was the fact that the council has not expressed any ideas about their vision for how the property will be developed. “Is it wise? Maybe — maybe not. Without knowing what it will be used for, and how to pay for it, how to judge?” he said.
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said that when councilmembers were discussing the possible purchase in executive session, they were told that they could not talk about any plans for the property. Her vision, she said, is to turn the building into a tourism center that would serve as a gateway to Edmonds as people get off the ferry. Councilmembers supporting the purchase are looking a variety of funding options besides the city’s general fund, including grant money, Fraley-Monillas said. The bigger issue, she said, is the missed opportunity to buy a piece of land that could turn into yet another fast food restaurant if the city didn’t take control of the parcel. “I think we would be remiss as elected officials of this city if we were not to take a look at this opportunity,” she noted.
Councilmember Michael Plunkett, who also voted for the purchase, said that one possibility would be to turn the property into underground parking, which would generate income for the city, topped by a park. Council President Steve Bernheim, who also voted for the land deal, said the council has a responsibility to “look five, 10 or 20 years out, even if some of you in this room don’t care about it.”
Meanwhile, Councilmember D.J. Wilson — who along with Strom Peterson voted against the purchase — said that it was wrong to mislead the public into thinking that city money would not be used for the land purchase “Make no mistake: This money impacts the general fund,” he said.
Another concern — mentioned by Peterson, the Mayor and several citizens who testified — was the effort by some on the council to blame the city’s budget problems on city employees, who are scheduled to get pay raises this year. Noting that employees took unpaid furlough days last year to ease the city’s 2009 budget crunch, Peterson said that “to try to pin this on labor — that we are overpaying our staff – is absolutely incorrect.”
Citizens’ comments at the podium were decidedly against the purchase, although a brave minority did speak with admiration about the council’s willingness to make a bold move that held many possibilities for future development. One of those was Richard Senderoff, who said the purchase was “too great an opportunity to pass on. If we believe in Edmonds, we must find ways to make investments in our city’s future,” he said.
Ron Clyborne, an Edmonds real estate agent, said he doubted the property was worth the $1.1 million purchase price, despite the claims by some councilmembers that the property had been assessed higher. “Assessed value means absolutely nothing in this market — nothing,” Clyborne said.
“You blew it,” added Jim Page. “The city employees, the people who have sacrificed, they are going to think it’s an ethics issue and an integrity issue,” he said. “Get out of this as quickly and as gracefully as you can and save your arses.”
Haakenson told the councilmembers that they have about three weeks to decide whether they want to go through with the purchase. If they decide to back out within that time frame, $50,000 in earnest money will be returned to the city.
In other action Tuesday night, the council:
– Designated three additional Edmonds parks where leashed dogs will be allowed. The locations include Sunset Overlook Park (the path and grassy strip west of Sunset Avenue), Hickman Park Trails and Haines Wharf Park. The council also heard from 10-year-old Edmonds resident Josh Preston, who requested that Civic Playfield be added to the list of dog-friendly parks so that a dog could be used to keep geese — and their accompanying droppings — away from the property. While the council wasn’t able to grant that particular request, City Attorney Scott Snyder said the city is ready to participate in an interlocal agreement with other cities for goose control, and that Civic Playfield would be added to the list.
-Approved amendments to the Edmonds Community Development Code that will allow the city to implement new traffic impact fee rates for new development projects. The fees are aimed at allowing the city to recover costs associated with providing new roads and upgrading existing roads to serve such projects.
– Adopted a revised Edmonds Community Development Code Chapter on stormwater management.
– Directed the Council Finance Committee to develop two options for a possible levy that could come before Edmonds voters in either August or November of this year. The goal is have the options presented for a council vote by mid-May before the May 18 deadline for getting such a proposal on the August ballot.