When in doubt, delay.
That could be the new mantra for the Edmonds City Council, at least when it comes to deciding what to do with a proposal regarding the aging Harbor Square Business Complex. After listening to a third round of public testimony Tuesday night, the council voted 6-1 to defer a decision on whether to incorporate the Master Plan for the Port of Edmonds-owned complex into the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Immediately after the vote to wait until next week to discuss further, the most vocal opponent of the idea — Councilmember Joan Bloom — stormed out of the meeting.
An at-times heated Council debate included pointed exchanges between Bloom and Port Executive Director Bob McChesney. Bloom accused the Port of conducting a “seriously inadequate” feasibility study that didn’t include costs for significant items such as earthquake safety and parking. McChesney noted that those types of details would be addressed later, adding that “the feasibility study is not what we are asking the council to approve.”
Public testimony was offered by more than a dozen citizens — some of them repeat visitors from earlier hearings — who addressed what they liked or didn’t like about the idea — with recurring worry expressed about height limits, possible environmental impacts on the nearby Edmonds Marsh, perennial flooding and soil stability.
While not a proposal for an actual project on the current Harbor Square site, council incorporation of the master plan into the city’s plan is a necessary first step toward redeveloping the 14.62-acre complex. One possible result could be the inclusion of buildings heights of three to five stories, up to a maximum of 55 feet.
After citizens had their say, Council President Lora Petso made a motion that the master plan incorporation, which the Edmonds Planning Board had recommended for council approval, be scrapped in order to force the Port to go back to the drawing board for a new approach. McChesney was asked by Bloom and Petso whether the Port would be willing to look at other ideas, including a compromise on the five-story height limit.
Citing three years of public input and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the plan, McChesney said that “from the Port’s point of view, we’re done. We think we’ve done our job. We think we’ve done it responsibly, we think we’ve involved the public.”
When pressed by Bloom about whether the port would continue to work with the city if the plan was rejected, McChesney added: “Of course we always want to work with the city. It’s hard for us to comprehend that any additional fine-tuning will improve the plan that we are presenting.”
Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, while not rejecting the proposal outright, expressed concern that the Port proposal didn’t provide any alternatives to the three- to five-story height limit and that the Port appeared to be unwilling to compromise on the plan.
That prompted supporting Councilmembers Strom Peterson and Frank Yamamoto to vent their frustration over the opposition surfacing following three years of work on the concept. A vote against the master plan incorporation “would throw a lot of good work out the window,” Peterson said.
Meanwhile, Councilmember Kristiana Johnson tried to strike a conciliatory tone, stating that she believed the process could be moved ahead and that the port and city could work together “to achieve common goals.”
When it appeared that a vote appeared imminent on Petso’s motion to reject the proposal, Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling stated he was stunned that the council would not even attempt to propose amendments to Petso’s motion. That led to further discussion about options and the need for more time, followed by a 6-1 vote on a proposal by Fraley-Monillas to carry the discussion over to the Feb. 5 council meeting.
Immediately after, a visibly angry Bloom — the only “no” vote — hurriedly left the dais and headed out the door.
The only other action the council took was a 4-0 “yes” vote (Councilmembers Petso and Johnson abstaining) to add gun control the City of Edmonds state legislative agenda, which was immediately followed by a 5-0 vote (Petso abstaining) to support legislation for additional mental health services.