Edmonds City Council finally passes amended ordinance governing home-based businesses

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It took nearly four months of discussion and reconsideration, but the Edmonds City Council on Tuesday night finally approved an amended ordinance governing home-based businesses. The vote was 6-1 with Councilmember Michael Plunkett voting no.

The ordinance will allow a home-occupied business to have one employee (currently none are allowed); to have one visit by a vehicle per hour between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. (now, no customers are permitted to the visit the site) and require them to prove that they can provide sufficient parking for three vehicles to accommodate those customers or employees.

Business owners are still required to apply for and obtain a conditional use permit for such a request and it requires public notice, with the neighborhood invited to be a part of the decision-making process.

Under the new ordinance, businesses that require a conditional use permit would be able to make that request of city staff at a cost of $585, rather than the current process of going before a hearing examiner, which requires a $1,500 fee.

Councilmembers originally had approved the ordinance by a 5-2 vote on Jan. 4, but on Jan. 18 they voted 4-3 to reconsider it after Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she had received emails and phone calls from citizens who were unhappy about the changes.

Before final passage Tuesday, Buckshnis moved that the ordinance be amended to require home-based businesses to close by 6 p.m. to minimize disruption in residential neighborhoods, but that motion failed on a 3-4 vote after it was pointed out that certain businesses — such as those offering music lessons — usually operate later to accommodate working families. A second try to shorten the hours — this time by Councilmember Lora Petso, who proposed a 7 p.m. ending time — was also defeated 3-4.

Plunkett said he opposed the revisions because they will change the residential character of Edmonds. “I think we are looking at sacrificing our neighborhoods to move businesses into our neighborhoods,” he said.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the Council continued its discussion about whether to put a property tax levy before voters in either August or November of this year. Recognizing that the Council has a looming May deadline to decide whether to place the measure on the August primary ballot, Council President Strom Peterson agreed to schedule another discussion for next week’s meeting, with the idea of getting as many issues on the table as possible before a decision is reached.

Among the concerns and ideas raised Tuesday night:

– Buckshnis said that she can’t support a general operating levy, as proposed by Mayor Mike Cooper, but instead would like to see proposals targeted to projects she believes people will vote for, including street maintenance, the Edmonds Center for the Arts, parks and recreation and the flower program.

– Steve Bernheim express general support for a levy, but said he needed to have clearer picture of city finances and documentation that the financial data is reliable. That concern was echoed by both Buckshnis and Petso, who noted the council is not getting the financial information it needs — especially for Finance Committee meetings. Mayor Cooper noted that with the resignation of Finance Director Lorenzo Hines, the city has hired an interim finance director who is paid by the hour through a staffing agency, so he is trying to manage his time effectively until a permanent director is hired.

– Councilmember DJ Wilson said he believed it was critical that the council “speak with a unified voice” when it comes to supporting the levy, and that it was equally important the council get at least five votes out of seven to put the measure on the ballot

– Plunkett said the city “needs to address escalating labor and medical/dental costs” before he’ll entertain supporting an operating levy.

– Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said she is concerned that the council may be moving too fast to try to get agreement on a levy proposal for the August ballot, but is willing to keep an open mind while ideas are being presented.

– For his part, the mayor said is open to working the councilmembers to develop a compromise that everyone can support.

In other news, the council heard from a report from Todd Morrow of Community Transit, who said that the public transportation agency serving Edmonds is going to have to cut its bus service by another 20 percent by 2011, due to declining sales tax revenues. The agency last summer cut service 15 percent, including the elimination of all Sunday and most holiday service.

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