Part 2: Why the Economic Development Commission cares about land use

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By Frank Yamamoto, Chair
Edmonds Economic Development Commission

The following is the second in a series of articles that will appear on MyEdmondsNews.com, summarizing the work of the Edmonds Economic Development Commission.

The Edmonds Economic Development Commission (EDC), made up of 17 citizens committed to improving the economy of this City, was constituted by the Edmonds City Council in 2009 to seek ways to improve the City’s financial situation. Over the past couple of weeks, we have described the work the Commission has accomplished in the areas of strategic planning and technology. This week’s column is devoted to our work on developing a plan for how Edmonds can improve the City’s land use plans so that our economic future will be brighter.

Perhaps I should begin by explaining why we are working on land use issues in the first place. Edmonds is considered “built out.” That means there is very little land that has not been developed for residential or business purposes. But some of that land is underutilized as it is currently developed, while other land has aging structures that cry out for redevelopment for both economic and esthetic reasons.

Redevelopment of these underperforming properties could improve the revenue stream of the City through enhanced property tax revenues in the case of residential development and increased sales tax revenues in the case of business development. How can we attract developers with deep pockets to improve these sites and guide them to designs that fit in with the neighborhoods and meet the needs of the community?

It is easier to attract development dollars when a property is already planned and zoned for the kind of development that is attractive – that is, economically viable. If the likelihood of success is questionable, builders will take their money and go to other cities where the communities have already removed legal obstacles and uncertainties. Right now, there is not a lot of building going on, but we want Edmonds to be ready when the economy turns around and money is looking for a place to go. And we want to go further in our work to ensure that the planning and rezoning follows a process that positions these areas for future improvement and redevelopment to provide services for the neighborhoods and re-energize them.

Two business neighborhoods that offer such opportunities for redevelopment are Five Corners and Westgate, so we chose to start with these two. Five Corners has a unique history in this regard since the City’s former Economic Development Director put a great deal of effort into starting the process of gathering public input.

The EDC subcommittee has been coordinating with the City’s Planning Manager to form a partnership with the University of Washington Green Futures lab for development of a three-phase approach for these two neighborhoods. The work will involve three academic quarters of work with a combination of classes, graduate students and two instructors, one of whom is a landscape architect with the Green Futures Lab and another who is a professional planner. The Cascade Land Conservancy, the largest land conservation program, stewardship and community building organization in Washington state, will assist in the second phase, which will focus on public outreach, public meetings, design charrettes and alternatives for what could be done. These partnerships bring a range of skills to the table while providing a substantial costs savings to the City.

In August, the City Council approved a proposal for this work, including a preliminary market study, using funds that were reallocated in the 2010 City budget. Work will begin at the beginning of the academic year and will last about nine months. The end product will be zoning proposals that will go to the City Council for action. With attractive zoning and planning, these two neighborhoods should be well-positioned to become the Edmonds of tomorrow that the community wants it to be. If the future of these two neighborhoods interests you, keep an eye out for opportunities to participate in planning meetings and design concepts in the coming months. Please be involved; your voice is important.

The full commission meets the third Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Brackett Room, 3rd floor of City Hall. The public is invited. If you want to attend a subcommittee meeting, contact me or Stephen Clifton at the City.

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