Letter to the Editor: Who is drinking the Kool-Aid?

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I feel the need to respond to Councilman Michael Plunkett’s email to several citizens that condemns the Planning Board’s proposed changes to the BD (business district) zones, and asked those citizens to “please don’t drink the developers’ Kool-Aid.” 1) Mr. Plunkett says that some of the people who spoke in favor of taller buildings at the July 26th public hearing have property on Main St. and want to go taller. And people on the Economic Development Commission own downtown property. Is any of that surprising? Isn’t it often that the people who have a direct interest are those who speak at public hearings? Regardless of the desires of the speakers, the height of a project may be increased by only 5 feet for a limited number of uses, and each project would have to be approved by city council. By the way, the only property that I own in Edmonds is the condo that I live in. 2) Mr. Plunkett says that he recalls in the past that two developers said that if they weren’t allowed more height they can’t build. When denied the extra height they went ahead and built to code. Isn’t it possible that the resulting projects were sub-optimum and also caused the city to lose the opportunity for more sales tax and property tax? 3) Mr. Plunkett says that the council could approve a certain use, like a hotel, but council could not legislate that the building be a hotel forever, so the developer could soon change the use. Now is that really a realistic risk? If the hotel is successful, why would the owner want to go to  great expense for a major remake of the building? If the hotel is not successful, wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to make a change? 4) Mr. Plunkett says that taller buildings do not equal economic development. I believe that statement to be untrue, but that’s not what the Planning Board has proposed anyway. They have not proposed any blanket increase in building height. They have proposed allowing an additional five feet for a few specific uses — condominiums is not one of those uses. 5) Mr. Plunkett says that if there were twice as many condos in our downtown the city would only collect an additional $360,000 in property tax revenue. I don’t know the relevance of this to the Planning Board’s proposals, but I do question the accuracy of that number — show us the math. This seems to simply be part of Mr. Plunkett’s anti-condo attack. He’s obviously drank the Lora Petso Kool-Aid. For example, where would we be without the revenue generated by the Point Edwards condo development? It has generated massive sales tax, property tax, and real estate excise tax. And has helped Edmonds meet the Growth Management Act’s population growth target. Life is full of choices. Wise people evaluate the pros and cons of each choice before making a selection. Ron Wambolt Edmonds

7 COMMENTS

  1. A hotel in Edmonds would be great.

    However, those who want the hotel are drinking the Kool-Aid of, “Please Council rezone all the downtown for taller buildings” so I can have a hotel. A hotel great, but do it with a contract rezone, not by rezoning all of downtown with taller buildings.
    Some of the people who support taller buildings downtown own the downtown property. As a Councilman I could not vote to increase heights of my own property because it would be a conflict of interest. But people can be on boards and commissions and actually vote to increase the value of their land with taller buildings in downtown Edmonds.

    In this case the taller buildings would be 5-10 feet above current code.
    Council is also told that if we don’t rezone downtown for taller buildings then nothing will be built. In recent years Council has had several development projects come to Council that were voted down because the building plans called for taller than allowed by code. The argument used was that the development would not occur unless Council allowed for increased heights. But what happened – the developers built them anyway – to code with no height increase. Just what the people of Edmonds want! So buildings can be built and built to code with developers attaining their goals.

    Council is being told that we should rezone downtown with taller buildings for one project – a hotel. Great, I like hotels. Come to the Council with a site-specific contract rezone and Council would be happy to consider a site-specific project. In this case, the developer is saying if we allow the buildings to be taller downtown they will put a hotel in their taller building. In this case it would be four stories. But for how long? Council has no authority over what the use would be for any period of time.

    The proposal before the Council is called a development agreement. The proposal includes amenities in exchange to build. However, nowhere in the agreement does the Council have authority to say “no” to taller buildings. If the developer provides some amenities they have right to build taller, i.e., “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

    The 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.”

    So where in the Development Agreement above do you see approval hinges on heights? If the developer meets several of the above criteria they have a right to build and build taller. This again is not site-specific this would occur in all of downtown, i.e., taller buildings in downtown Edmonds.

    Taller buildings do not create economic development. Based upon the studies done for potential Harbor Square development we would have to actually double the number of condos downtown in taller buildings to increase property tax revenue to the city by around $300,000. Property revenue to the city is now $16 million. So we could double the number of condos downtown, build taller, make no appreciable impact on city revenue and destroy our great little town.

    A hotel sounds great; bring Council a site-specific contract rezone for Council consideration but the people of Edmonds will not drink the Kool-Aid of rezoning downtown for taller buildings for one project.

    Councilman
    Michael Plunkett

  2. Councilman Plunkett:

    The development agreement incorporates more uses than hotels, as you have stated above. A post office is included because the first floor needs to provide access for tall trucks; a higher than normal first floor takes away height available for the higher floors.

    Perhaps the two criteria that must be met must include one of the listed uses.

  3. Councilman Plunkett, You are correct that you cannot vote if you have a conflict as the council is a legislative body and boards and commisions are not. I believe all the citizens serving on the CEDC and Planning Board would disclose if they have a conflict of interest. I emailed you 3 questions of which you have not answered.

    1. Which bldg.s are you talking about that were built to code.

    2 . Which membersof the CEDC &Planning Board own property in the downtown BD zones

    3. I asked If you could send me a copy of real economic developement.

    I would appreciate your answers to the above questions

  4. The problem w mr.plunketts argument is he keeps saying 5 ft taller buildings will ruin the small town charm of Edmonds..well when I was growing up here I could walk out of my grandparents house w a straight path to the beach..only the old crowe’s hardware store in my path..since then development has included the old Safeway, harbor square,condos, etc..does that mean all of these developments contributed to plunkett’s definition of small town charm? Mr Plunkett does all of us a disservice when he says buildings are what gives Edmonds its small town charm. I say it is the people of Edmonds..the fact I can walk to Starbucks from my office and say hi to 10 people by first name..the fact when us old timers walk into petosas and can chat w my dad about all things Edmonds. The refrain “no new building heights” worked to scare those who voted for Mike in the past, but I think all of us realize we are the charm of this great town. I say if a hotel needs 35ft and it will bring over nighters here..great. I say if Microsoft needs 35ft to build a west on I5 office..show them harbor square w welcome arms. We need to develop an economic base, one that is not dependent on rising property taxes and levys on every ballot. Mike..if you dont want 35ft buildings simply give us a better reason why, like it will block ur view or your afraid of heights..but please stop w the small town charm malarkey..

  5. Hello Don,
    Thanks for speaking to the City Council last Tuesday. You are one of those folks who are always willing to get in front of Council as well as chat it up on a computer. I respect those who show up and tell the Council what they think. And more importantly tell the Council what to think.

    But, I have to admit, I was always afraid someone would ask me if I don’t want taller buildings in downtown then what would my vision be for economic development. So, as I have said before, I don’t believe taller buildings equals economic development. But I do believe in the city’s Economic Development Commission and have a vision for economic development for our town.

    I’m not sure Teresa (My Edmonds News editor) will like all this but here goes.
    The answer to your questions on economic development is:

    My vision of economic development is base, upon an economic vision and strategic plan for the future. My vision supports and promotes 1) land-use policy that preserves and protects the charm and character of downtown and 2)enhance tourism, arts, parks, festivals, beaches, walking and biking to attract residents, visitors and shoppers and 3) low tax policy to encourage and enhance local business.

    LAND-USE POLICY THAT PRESERVES THE CHARM OF DOWNTOWN
    • Voted to require that buildings our core have 12 foot first floors.
    • In 1998, I was the only member of the council to vote for the concept of placing a
    public parking garage under the new Public Safety Complex for residents & visitors.
    • Opposed separating office from commercial space in downtown.
    • I created the Edmonds Historic Preservation Commission which works to preserve the character of downtown which is so important to attracting visitors, shoppers, and tourist.
    • Support Sound Transit’s commuter stops in downtown
    • Support the urban village concept by improving the outside eating/lounging/walking.
    • Working to make sure that downtown parking is for shoppers and visitors.
    • Voted to create the master plan for old Unocal lower yard as future commercial zone.
    • Voted on a land issue that made Bartell’s Drug store possible for South Edmonds.
    • Voted to create the Hwy. 99 Task Force that could result in millions additional revenue.
    • Vote to purchased beach front and park land that attracts visitors and shoppers.
    • Support placing an economic element into the city’s comprehensive plan
    • Support a pro-active and citizen involved planning on how to improve the economics of Firdale Village and Five Corners.
    • Voted to stop Brightwater sewage plant and encourage development that results in $361,000 of new property tax revenue to the city per year.
    • Voted for additional parking in new 2007 downtown plan
    • Voted to support the City’s fiber-optic program

    ENHANCE TOURISM AND THE ARTS/BEACH/PARKS, FESTIVALS, TOURSIM TO ATTRACITVE VISITORS/SHOPPERS:
    • In 1998-2006 I and a couple others led the effort to build the Edmonds Performing Arts Center in Edmonds. I was advocating and writing about a performing arts center when others were saying “it could never be done.” When completed, the Edmonds Center for the Arts will provide 2.4 million dollars of economic benefit to the each year.
    • I endorse the new vision for the Fourth Avenue Arts Corridor that will result in a lively commercial & arts corridor.
    • Support the redevelopment of the Edmonds waterfront with mixed use development
    • Wrote Adaptive Reuse Incentives to Adaptive Reuse codes for the new 4th Ave Corridor that will help create a lively commercial and arts center while preserving the character of the neighborhood.
    • Voted and support the Team Edmonds marketing of Edmonds for four years.
    • Lead the effort for lights on Main St. to enhance the downtown streetscape
    • There are twenty festivals in Edmonds annually
    • Vote to hire an Economic Development Director for the City
    • Brackett’s Land South and North Park improvements
    • Waterfront seawall and walkway from Brackets landing to the Port of Edmonds
    • Marina Beach improvements
    • Port of Edmonds walkway improvements
    • 5 & Main Intersection improvements
    • Voted $100,000 toward an strategy economic plan for Edmonds

    LOW TAX POLICY TO ENCOURAGE AND ENHANCE LOCAL BUSINESS:
    • Successfully led the effort to encourage City Council to reduce the property tax rates from 6% down to 2% – before it was required by Eyman initiative.
    • In 1998 I opposed the effort to place B & 0 taxes upon Edmonds businesses.
    • Opposed the effort to place a square foot tax on our merchants.
    • In March 27, 2001, I voted for a 30% reduction in the utility tax due to Enron.
    • Vote to create the Office of Economic Development.
    • Support results Orientated permitting for more efficiencies
    • Utilizing the city high speed fiber optic cable for the benefit of business & residents.
    • Voted to move ADB upfront to reduce cost and uncertainness for business construction
    • Amended new Design Guidelines to direct and meeting within 30 days of application 2007

    Please note Don, I wrote, “but people can be on boards and commissions and actually vote to increase the value of their land with taller buildings in downtown Edmonds.” “Can be.” I just think there should be a conflict of interest policy somewhat like that of Councilmembers. That’s all I’m getting at. Yacht Club and the new building just north of ferry dock on Sunset. Both wanted to be taller in one way or another, both were denied an increase. Both are built today both to code.

    Now Don, it’s a great summer afternoon. Patty is out on a boat with some friends and I’ve got a new book to read on the Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900. I think I’ll share it Bernheim when I’m done – he would appreciate it! But for now, I’m taking some time off from My Edmonds News.

  6. Michael, Thanks for your response. Just for clarity . My origional email was in response to your email which read, people on that economic commission own downtown property. Thanks for the clarifaction. Too much to dijest in one sitting.

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