Edmonds City Council moves toward placing $2.5 million levy on November ballot

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The Edmonds City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to direct City staff to prepare ordinances for three separate levy proposals totaling $2.5 million, with the idea of reviewing them next week for probable placement before Edmonds voters in the fall.

The vote came after the City’s Interim Finance Director, Jim Tarte, reported the result of his most recent examination of city budget numbers: that expenses will exceed revenue by nearly $347,000 at the end of 2012, with the debt increasing further in future years.

Councilmember Steve Bernheim, who introduced the proposals, said he wanted to present voters with the opportunity to approve all, some or none of what he described as “modest” levy measures, including a $1 million proposal for street overlays, a $750,000 proposal for the general fund (amended by the council later in the evening to $1 million) and $500,000 for maintenance and parks. As proposed by Bernheim, all three proposals would sunset after three years. The idea is to earn the public’s trust that the money is being spent wisely, then come back with additional proposals for more money later, he said.

Both Michael Plunkett and DJ Wilson cast the “no” votes, for very different reasons. Plunkett said that he wouldn’t support a levy that put money into the general fund, due to his concerns about labor costs. Wilson, on the other hand, said he was against the idea of proposing three smaller levies rather than one larger one because his past experience as a political consultant shows the public won’t support them. In addition, Wilson said, the $2.5 million proposed by Bernheim won’t get the city out of debt, especially given the sunset clause, and Wilson was skeptical that voters would be receptive to Bernheim’s plan to come back in a few years and ask for even more money.

Next week, the council will have an opportunity to review the ordinances and decide whether to send them on for placement on the November ballot.

Bernheim said he is approaching the process by viewing voters “as part of the budgetary process.” As such, “I’m not promoting a ‘yes’ vote, I’m promoting a people vote,” he said. “Let the voters decide.” If some or all of the measures are rejected, “it’s not a failure,” but a learning experience, he added.

In other action, the council spent quite some time considering a Planning Board recommendation to amend downtown business zones, but decided instead to table the issue so that they could discuss it further at a later date.

34 COMMENTS

  1. …. and a big thank you to Mr. Plunkett for completely mischaracterizing the discussion of the downtown business district proposed changes in a campaign-style email he sent out this morning to his supporters.

    To be clear, there are no proposals for any taller buildings anywhere included in anything forwarded by the Planning Board. Sorry to have to say that, but Mr. Plunkett’s email falsely stated what the topic of discussion was, and went on to endorse the votes of certain Council members (who are up for re-election) as somehow defending the small town charm of Edmonds.

    The vote was to table discussion of Planning Board recommendations to changes to the downtown business zone – all of which were shaped by the findings of the Council-appointed Economic Development Commission.

    From the Council’s discussion, this was probably a good move for a different reason – few of the Council members seemed to have understood the topic sufficiently to warrant a vote at this point. Perhaps a bit more study before the next meeting will serve to keep the debate centered on the actual proposals, vice actively seeking out alarming things to say during a campaign season.

  2. I attended the meeting; the only council member who expressed any concern about expenses was Plunkett. It seems like the majority find it easier to raise our property taxes than to reduce compensation thru concessions and staff reductions as I have suggested many times.

  3. Maybe you should watch the tape. I discussed the need to look at health benefits and that the City of Lynnwood is also interested in looking towards self-insurance.

  4. maybe we should be more concernd with what we do in Edmonds than what other cities are doing. comparisons are not always apple to apple

  5. To be clear, there are no proposals for any taller buildings anywhere included in anything forwarded by the Planning Board. I’m sorry to have to say that, but the only way dowtown Edmonds would ever see 4-story, 35-foot buildings — under the Planning Board’s recommendation, that is — would be if a developer or property owner applied, qualified, and actually built it.

    Repeat: there are no proposals for any taller buildings anywhere in what is now before the City Council. The current code must be changed before anyone could apply for such a building.

  6. It’s too late to express a ‘…need to look @ health benefits ‘ and possibly self-insurance. I would have expected action and not consideration by this time.

  7. Please see below the actual documentation from the Planning Board presented to the Edmonds City Council last Tuesday night. Please note the last line which would allow up to, in BD Zones if Council approves, 35 feet. A taller Building!

    The current code is 25 with 5 more possible. The Plannning Board change would be taller buildings up to 35 feet.

    The following is Planning Board change before the Council:

    4. Development Agreements. Development agreements are authorized in the proposed
    amendments (see ECDC 16.43.030.A and 16.43.050). The language in ECDC 16.43.050 includes sample criteria and authorizes what can be modified by a development agreement. Approval hinges on meeting at least two of three criteria, generally including (1) attaining at least a LEED Gold or equivalent level of green building certification; (2) the development incorporates one or more uses designed to further the city’s economic development goals (such as a hotel, post office, farmers market, or space for artists); (3) the development includes enhanced public
    space and amenities. Development agreements are authorized as an alternative development approval process, requiring public hearings at both the Planning Board and City Council, with final approval by the Council. Notwithstanding the other criteria, a development agreement cannot increase the height of a building to be more than 35 feet. 2011.07.15

    Today they can not go up more that 25 maybe 30. If Council adopts this language taller buildings can be built in downtown Edmonds.
    Councilman
    Michael Plunkett

  8. Planning Board member Todd Cloutier not only voted to send his taller building proposal to the City Council when he voted for “Notwithstanding the other criteria, a development agreement cannot increase the height of a building to be more than 35 feet.”

    Which is 5-10 feet about the people’s heights limit of 25-30 feet?

    Todd Cloutier also voted to remove the three story restriction and allow four stories in downtown.

    From the Planning Board I share the following: “BOARD MEMBER CLOUTIER MOVED THAT THE MOTION BE AMENDED TO DELETE THE WORDS “OR THREE STORIES.”

    Todd Cloutier has again voted for taller buildings including four stories against the people of Edmonds.

  9. Several council members have spoken about development being limited to a specific number of stories. When the BD codes were developed in early 2006 there was discussion about specifying a number of stories. The city attorney at that time, Scott Synder, said we couldn’t do that unless we wanted to define a “story” – how many feet is a story? Council decided not to do that and choose to designate height by number of feet.

  10. Thanks for that clarification, Ron. I was tempted to ask Todd how Councilmember Plunkett has mischaracterized discussions, but Plunkett has thoughtfully demonstrated it himself. You obviously cannot build a four story building without exceeding 35 feet.

    Todd’s thank you was clearly sarcastic, but my thank you is sincere: Thank you Mr. Plunkett for demonstrating how avoid the truth while technically not lying.

    In another message, Councilmember Bernheim said: “Council bickering” is a frequent topic, but folks rarely say what starts it

    Well, there’s one example. Mr. Plunkett has chosen to add heat, rather than light.

  11. I just ran across this interesting article from 9 years ago. Guess who was criticized by then Mayor Haakenson for trying to hold the line on salaries of Edmonds City employees? Councilmember Petso who said:

    But if city salaries had grown only 3 percent a year, or about 9 percent overall the city wouldn’t have to cut jobs

  12. Joe,

    The documents voted on and approved by the Planning Board and then presented to the City Council should be very clear. Understand, the present height code is 25 plus 5 for a total of 30 feet. Now, compare that to what the Planning Board voted and approved and wants the Council to approval.

    Document One: A height increase up to 35 feet is below. See document below and the last line in Planning Board Document:
    Development Agreements. Development agreements are authorized in the proposed amendments (see ECDC 16.43.030.A and 16.43.050). The language in ECDC 16.43.050 includes sample criteria and authorizes what can be modified by a development agreement. Approval hinges on meeting at least two of three criteria, generally including (1) attaining at least a LEED Gold or equivalent level of green building certification; (2) the development incorporates one or more uses designed to further the city’s economic development goals (such as a hotel, post office, farmers market, or space for artists); (3) the development includes enhanced public space and amenities. Development agreements are authorized as an alternative development approval process, requiring public hearings at both the Planning Board and City Council, with final approval by the Council. Notwithstanding the other criteria, a development agreement cannot increase the height of a building to be more than 35 feet. 2011.07.15

    Document Two: Amendment to remove present three story limit from Planning Board Minutes:
    “BOARD MEMBER CLOUTIER MOVED THAT THE MOTION BE AMENDED TO DELETE THE WORDS “OR THREE STORIES.” This motion was accepted.

    Therefore Joe. if this is accepted by Council building heights in BD Zones (downtown) can go from the existing 25-30 limit up to 35 feet. And the present restriction of three stories is removed a building can go up up four stories which is above the present three story limit.

    So Joe, if fighting for what the people of Edmonds want and expect is “heat” then count me in. I stand with the people of Edmonds in our desire to preserve and protect out great little town. And, yes Joe, I will bring “heat” in order to fight for the people the Edmonds.

    Councilman
    Michael Plunkett

  13. Michael:
    I’ll be making a much more comprehensive response to your remarks here, and to your email of yesterday that has lit up the internet, in the next few days. In the meantime I want to reiterated that the code has no height restriction that states 3 stories – the restriction is the 30 feet that you’ve mentioned.

  14. Not only are building heights limited by feet but also by story.

    Please see page 58 of the City of Edmonds Comprehensive Plan where it states, “buildings shall be generally two stories in exterior appearance, design and character.” There are exceptions but none would apply in a zoning change. The exceptions are for site-specific buildings and Council is not being ask to consider a specific building.

    Code and The Comprehensive Plan of Edmonds limites building heights and stories becuse that’s the vision for downtown by the people of Edmonds.

    Councilman
    Michael Plunkett

  15. Mr Plunkett: The planning board documents do not allow taller buildings. They allow City Council (by a vote) to permit an exception. The planning board documents do not allow 4 stories unless the city council approves a 35 foot height exception and a developer somehow manages to squeeze 4 stories into that 35 foot height. That sure sounds like an impossibility to me.

    As one of “the people of Edmonds”, I’d appreciate it you would stop trying to speak on my behalf. While you appear to be fighting for your people, whoever they are, you are not fighting for me.

  16. Rob is a great source of information Ron. Thanks. However, besides Rob of the City Planning Department I’m meeting with the City’s attorney. The taller building proposal for all downtown has- I think- some conflicts that need to be address.

    Council is being asked to increase building heights in most of downtown. This is not about a site-specific building this is a taller building proposal for the core of downtown.

    Very important to the people of Edmonds. A hotel would be nice but, again, it’s not about one building or a hotel. The issue before the Council is taller buildings in the core of downtown.

    Anyway Ron, great talking with you. I’ll see you soon.

    By the way, for the readers of My Edmonds News. This proposal will be before the Committee Servicers Committee on Aug 9th of which AFM and I sit. We will be address Comprehensive Plan, code, maybe amendments and legal aspects of this proposal. All are welcome. 6PM Edmonds City Council Chambers.

    Councilman
    Michael Plunkett

  17. Joe, I again refer you to the documents. Please read the following. Note that the language in the Development Agreement states, “Approval hinges on meeting as least two of three criteria.”

    Note below that none of the criteria for agreement has anything to do with the building being taller. If the developer meets two of three criteria they get a taller building. The Council has no discretion over heights.

    Development Agreement reads as follows: “Approval hinges on meeting at least two of three criteria, generally including (1) attaining at least a LEED Gold or equivalent level of green building certification; (2) the development incorporates one or more uses designed to further the city’s economic development goals (such as a hotel, post office, farmers market, or space for artists); (3) the development includes enhanced public space and amenities.”

    Please Joe, share with me where in the above language do you see where the Council could say no to a taller building?

    Please understand a concept of land-use.

    If a developer meets the standards of this development agreement they can build taller. Yes the Council has a say. But this is what you need to understand. The Council has no authority to arbitrary say no to a development agreement just because Council may not like the building being taller. The developer is entitled to the taller building if they meet the code.

    Land-use is not legislative where Council has full discretion. Council could only rule against a taller building under the proposed development agreement if the developer did not meet the code. If the developer meets the code the building is entitled to go taller.

    If the Council passes this development agreement there will be taller buildings in Edmonds and there will be little if anything the Council can do to stop it. Therefore it has to be done now, upfront.

    I can’t tell you how many times our former City Attorney Scott Snyder has said to the Council and citizens if you have concerns about land-use get it legislated early because you can’t come back and “close the barn door” after land-use code is in place. If the proposal gets enacted builders will have a legal right to build taller as long as they meet the code. Therefore taller buildings in downtown.

    So on advise of our former City Attorney and 15 years’ experience in land-use issues, I can say to you and to the people of Edmonds who oppose taller buildings in downtown, the time is now before this taller building plan is put in place – not afterwards.

    Afterwards Council will not be able to prevent a developer from making full use of a code that allows 35 foot buildings in our great little town.

    We the people of Edmonds stand together to preserve our town now.

    By the way. I enjoyed sharing and reading your opinion Joe. You ask important questions and make good points. I look forward to meeting you at a Council meeting in the near future. When you come to Council please come by and say hello.

    Councilman
    Michael Plunkett

  18. Edmonds

    For more years than I can remember there has been a concerted effort to protect the heart of the City of Edmonds from tall blocks of buildings. I think we new back in 2006 that the zoning regulations made then would rear their ugly head again. Are we at that cross road now?

    Do your research. We should all remember how we accomplished the 2006 zoning rules now being tossed around. They were the result of a lot of compromise and hard work by professional planners, developers, concerned citizens, citizen groups, Council and City staff. Please, I would encourage all to reflect back on those earlier discussions. I would challenge those who are quick to chide the efforts of current Council members’ to protect the character of our little town to bring productive comments to the table. It is really too easy to snipe at the nuisances of building stories and height.

    Mr. Morgan has commented on several other issues in this column. In his comments questioning the City’s involvement in funding for the Easter egg hunt earlier this year I am reminded like him I’m also a passionate believer in open government no matter how difficult or uncomfortable that is for city officials but not at the cost of digressive dialogue. There are pressing issues yet to be resolved. I encourage all to attend the Council meetings. The vote to table the PB proposal was 5 to 2 with Councilman Wilson and Peterson voting not to table. Would that indicate that Coucilman Wilson and Peterson are in favor of increased building heights?

    As I understand it the discussion on the Planning Board proposal to allow for taller buildings was tabled so the Council could move on to the levy discussion. The PB proposal before the Council was convened as a public hearing so will there be discussions, possible revisions and action by Council outside of the public hearing forum? What is fair game given it was a public hearing? Back to the Planning Board for action? Per Councilman Plunketts notes the PB proposal and action on it by Council is not done. I ask Councilman Bernheim, who made the motion to table and Council President Peterson for a reading on how this action proceeds.

  19. John:

    I remember very well accomplishing the 2006 zoning rules, but I’m also well aware that not a single new building has been constructed since they were implemented. There’s got to be a message there.

  20. Mr. Plunkett: It’s entirely possible I’m wrong about council approval. I hope someone on the planning board can tell their side of this story.

    I do appreciate the fact that once the rules are in place, you must allow construction that conforms to them. Careful scrutiny of those rules is warranted. The expensive failed attempt to prevent the gutting of Old Milltown is a testament to that.

    But I’m frustrated when building heights are used as a political weapon to divide people. I’ve seen you do that many times in the years you’ve been on the council. All things being equal, I don’t want tall buildings downtown. But all things are never equal. I don’t think building heights are the most important thing to worry about when it comes to deciding what kind of changes we want downtown. The transformation of Old Milltown is tragic and ugly. (And mostly vacant, I should add.) Yet it was in complete conformance to our building heights restrictions.

    The Windermere/Tullys building is a visual delight. If raising building heights encourages more like it, I’m all for it. I think if the upper floors are set back, you can go a little taller and maintain good aesthetics. Four stories is too much because a four story building would be over 40 feet tall. But such a building would not be allowed downtown by any proposal ever brought before council.

    I hope the council can evaluate the PB proposal as a whole without being derailed by zero tolerance building heights rhetoric.

  21. Is it possible Mr. Morgan that some people just simply believe we should not have taller buildings downtown. If a candiate belives that should they not run on that principle and tell you and all the voters how they feel. You sir are a strong advocate for what you believe. You are good at making your points. I believe you hold your postions becuse you believe in the. I accept you are speaking from principle not politics.

    Is not standing up and saying what you believe in what a candidate should do. You have made note – and rightfully so – that some candidates running for City Council say nothing. Mr. Morgan, the Council makes these decisions. I want to know how each and every candidate stands on this issue.

  22. Joe – In the downtown (and also on other sloped lots, I believe) the City uses a four-corner average to determine compliance with height zoning. The developer in question has stated that with 34 ft. it is possible to build four stories. And, the elevation on the downhill side would likely approach 40 ft.

  23. “If past local history is any guide, the usual characters will trot out the same tired issue of building heights at some point in this election, even though the issue has long been settled.” Dave Earling, 7.28.2011.

  24. Thank, John for the insight on 4 stories and how that can work on sloped property.

    I can imagine a somewhat long building cascading down a sloped property that measured four stories from the bottommost story to the top. Yet such a building could fit a neighborhood with two story buildings if the height of the street facing facade on all sides was kept to a 25 foot maximum from the ground at that portion of the building.

    That’s another example of why mindless adherence to certain height rules can stop reasonable projects.

  25. Mr. Plunkett, I appreciate it when you stand up for the principle of keeping the charm of downtown Edmonds. I really do. I don’t appreciate when you attempt to stifle the creativity of others (such as the Planning Board) by mindless adherence to minutia. If your arguments were based more on how to balance charm and development and less on rhetoric, I might find them more compelling.

  26. Joe Morgan:

    I haven’t swooned over you lately so, let me do it here! Thank you for for putting some logic into this discussion. SWOON!!

  27. Joe, appreciate your comments. To some extent I know what you are saying; however, insofar as we are talking about land-use issues the City Council must address “adherence to minutia” so as to not be open to law-suites. It’s the nature of land-use.

    If it is not exacting then it will not stand up in court. The reason Old Mill Town is gong and a square box is up in its place is because the old development code it was build under lacked “adherence to minutia.” I understand your point but your concern about “minutia” is exactly what development agreements and zoning is all about. Sorry if you don’t like it but it’s the nature of land-use. And, as this discussion goes forward at Council you will hear a lot of “minutia” so you may have to get use to it.

  28. I think you are well aware that by “adherence to minutia” I was not referring to the attention to detail that is clearly necessary to craft good legislation. If not, you are now.

    As to getting “use to” minutia being used as a political wedge, I am certainly prepared to see more of it. Some things are hard to change, but I’m a patient guy. I know it’s going to take more than dismissive comments like the quote from Mr. Earling above.

    I do want to take a moment to sincerely thank you for participating here at My Edmonds News. I think citizens are always well served by dialog with our representatives. I wish more of the council would participate. There’s great political risk in coming here and I appreciate your willingness to take that risk.

  29. After reading through these comments it is quite obvious the same old building heights subject is once again rearing its ugly head. So much of our elected and appointed officials’ time is taken up with this seemingly perpetual issue and involves only a very small part of our city.

    What a waste of time! And now here comes a gaggle of downtown building heights candidates led by Earling to once again stir things up and waste our resources, and recreate the same sick old controversy for the benefit of a very relatively few owners and developers.

    While observing my favorite city for the past 42 years I believe we will be far better served by leaders who take an approach involving the whole of Edmonds, and not just a small and increasingly less significant part.

  30. The politics of the building heights issue is simple: if you mention anything vaguely related to building heights, Councilmember Plunkett will make you sorry you did, and others on the council will condemn you for giving him that opportunity (without saying so directly).

    If I stood up before the Council and told four stories about buildings, my words would be twisted, and soon a group of angry citizens with pitchforks and torches would run me out of town for trying to allow four story buildings in the heart of downtown Edmonds.

  31. Ray:

    If you would have taken the time to collect facts first you would have learned from Dave Earling’s website that he supports maintaining “the status quo on building heights”.You do everyone a dis-service when you spread propoganda.

  32. Ron,

    I also saw that rather startling statement by Mr. Earling. As a result I’ve been on high alert for impending news of multiple lightning strikes north around Talbot Rd.

    It would be wonderful if he spoke the truth when he said that. Then we could instead be asking questions about the level of taxes and spending that occurred while he was a controlling council leader.

    Concerning “collect facts first”; Dave Earling once stated at a Council meeting that on the subject of building heights citizens need to “compromise”.

    On another occasion he praised the city of Kirkland for their waterfront building heights.
    And further stated Edmonds needed to be more like Kirkland.

    Those are “facts” seared into my memory while attending Council meetings.

    My suggestion to you is: Be skeptical about a politician’s one time utterances, especially when it is contradicted by his/her other statements and actions!

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