While much of the community’s attention has been focused lately on the purchase and possible development of the vacant Skipper’s restaurant property, the Port of Edmonds is hoping citizens will turn their attention to a much larger piece of land — the Harbor Square business complex.
Last week, the Port Commission hosted a community workshop to showcase three different options for redeveloping the aging 14.62-acre complex, which now includes the Harbor Square Athletic Club and Tennis Center, the Harbor Inn hotel and numerous businesses located among five buildings on the site.
All five commissioners were clear about their commitment to actively involve citizens in a thoughtful, deliberate process before proceeding with any detailed planning for the property. “Over the years, many studies have been done (in Edmonds) that sit on the shelf,” Commissioner Jim Orvis said. “Our intent is not to repeat that approach and to talk to the community first, then involve consultants.”
The reason for redeveloping the property, which the Port acquired for in 1978, is clear, the commissioners said. “They are tilt-up buildings that were thrown up by developers,” Orvis said. “Unfortunately, they were never built to last.” Because the structures were constructed without proper foundations, they are also sinking, he added. Maintaining the properties over the long term is increasingly expensive, the value of the property has decreased, and the Port has a balloon mortgage payment of $6.3 million due in 2016.
An ideal redevelopment plan would benefit the community as well as the public sector interests (the Port and the City of Edmonds) and the property developer, said Commissioner Marianne Zagorski.”The Port needs enough money to pay off its mortgage, the developer needs to make money, and the city needs money” — we’re going broke,” she added.
Those attending the May 5 meeting had an opportunity to study a series of story boards on easels that showed three different development options: 1) an office-retail concept that would add square footage but focus on Harbor Square’s current office-retail mixed development; 2) a 35-foot mixed use concept that would include the addition of three-story buildings with retail as well as residential townhouse/condominium units; and 3) a three- to five-story mixed use concept that would feature condominiums/townhouses and retail but would require a city code change to permit buildings up to five stories tall. In all three scenarios, it is expected that both the hotel and the athletic club will remain. (The hotel and the tennis center are privately owned, both with long-term ground leases, while the Port owns the main athletic club building.)
The reason for considering taller buildings is simple, said Port Executive Director Bob McChesney: By allowing more density, they would provide the potential for increased revenue and thus a greater financial incentive for a private developer interested in purchasing the property.
When asked by a workshop attendee whether the taller buildings would disrupt views, McChesney said that work on that issue “will be done in partnership with the city” as the process moves forward.
Following a question during the comment period from Barbara Tipton of Friends of the Edmonds Marsh, McChesney and the commissioners stressed that all three concepts would be sensitive to the environmental concerns surrounding the Edmonds Marsh, which borders the Harbor Square property to the south. The existing buffer area between the property and the marsh would remain, and there are potential “mitigation opportunities” to enhance the buffer, promote native vegetation and possibly daylight Willows Creek, which is now routed through an underground culvert.
The next step is the gather additional community feedback. Citizens are encouraged to share their comments during commission meetings — usually on the second and last Mondays of each month — or via phone or email (contact information for each commissioner is located here.)