Council decides against changes to ‘medical activity center’ neighborhood

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Residents living in single-family homes near Edmonds-Woodway High School and Swedish/Edmonds Hospital — officially known in the City of Edmonds Comprehensive Plan as the Medical/Highway 99 Activity Center — gave passionate testimony Tuesday night about why the City Council shouldn’t change the way development is regulated in their neighborhood.

At issue during the City Council meeting were proposed updates to City of Edmonds State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) regulations that would increase the ”flexible thresholds” — essentially the allowable square footage for construction projects and the accompanying number of permitted parking spaces — along the Highway 99 Corridor and Medical/Highway 99 Activity Center. The area, shown in this aerial photograph here, is a mix of single-family and multi-family homes, businesses and medical facilities, including Swedish/Edmonds (formerly Stevens Hospital).

City staff, following recommendations of the Edmonds Planning Board, also proposed making technical adjustments to the regulations, which essentially hadn’t been updated since 1984. But it was the proposal to increase commercial development limits in the Activity Center that garnered nearly all the attention, including maximum square footage being raised from 4,000 to 12,000 square feet, the number of allowable residential units upped from four to 20, and parking spaces from 20 to 40.

Bruce Wittenberg, who lives in the neighborhood near the Aurora Marketplace on Highway 99, said he that while he supported the concept of encouraging economic development — which was described as the driver behind the proposals  — he urged the council to “build in protections for single-family neighborhoods that surround Highway 99 and the Medical Activities Center.”

Edmonds Planning Board member Todd Cloutier suggested that the changes to “flexible thresholds” be eliminated to remove the controversy surrounding them, and in the end, the Council did just that, asking staff to bring back SEPA updates without them.

Councilmembers also followed up on a suggestion by Edmonds resident Richard Senderoff, who suggested that they first address the concerns of residents in the Medical/Highway 99 activity center about how borders are currently drawn to delineate their neighborhood.  Councilmember D.J. Wilson’s proposal to include a “broad-based review” of the medical activities center during the Council’s discussion of the next Comprehensive Plan update, in 2011, was approved unanimously.

In other action, the Council approved an ordinance creating a seven-member citizen Tree Board, to be appointed by the City Council. The board will be charged with tree preservation and protection, and will also work toward securing Tree City USA designation for the city.

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