Condos or apartments? The Point Edwards Dilemma
By Gary Haakenson
(Reprinted with permission from his blog, Gary Haakenson’s Random Stuff, which he writes “as a private citizen.” The former mayor of Edmonds, Haakenson now serves as Deputy Snohomish County Executive.)
It was 2002 and I was in my third year as Mayor of Edmonds, a charming, seaside town in Washington. Our not so neighborly county to the south was suggesting that they would like to build their state of the art sewage treatment plant in our city. Never mind that we had our own. Never mind that we wouldn’t be hooking up to theirs. Never mind that they envisioned it on a hill high above Edmonds that possessed views that wouldn’t quit.
On the site was an abandoned oil tank farm owned by the Union Oil Company of California. They were in the process of cleaning up the hazardous site to meet federal and local standards. And of course they were interested in selling the parcel. As mayor, I was “uninterested” in having a sewage treatment plant on this great piece of property. The citizens of Edmonds banded together to join the fight.
Hope showed up with the arrival of a developer who had a grand plan for building a series of condominium buildings on the slope above Edmonds. On any given day, a condo developer would not be welcomed with open arms into this community. But this day was different. The proposed project would keep the evil emperor from the south from building his x-large porta-potty in the city. It was a well designed project with nice amenities and as I mentioned, spectacular views.
Before the oil tanks had been removed, I met with the developer, the property owner and city staff on the hillside. I climbed to the top of the tallest tank to the south of the property. I was on a very thin narrow metal ladder attached (I hoped) to the side of the tank. It was a clear, brilliant, blue sky day and I could see for miles. I looked in all directions, except down When I reached terra firma again, I proclaimed that I would love to live on that very spot, when I retired.
I was thrilled that this project would be built. The city’s planning and design boards approved of the plans, the City Council asked for more open space to be included and the developer agreed. This project was approved with a vision from all who reviewed it, that it would be a very well done condominium project in the city. Buildings were spaced appropriately. Landscaping would be complimentary to the buildings. And each of the buildings took advantage of the views. In addition there would be pocket viewing areas for all to sit and enjoy.
Parking was carefully planned. Looking up from the city below gave one a look at what would appear to be a resort on a hill. The purpose was dual, build a nice project and keep sewage out. It was a common vision shared by Edmonds residents, the developer and elected officials. It may have been the only time in the history of anti-condo Edmonds that people joined together to support such a project.
Through some bumps in the road, and the economy, the project was built. By most accounts it was a success in its dual purpose. The treatment plant was not located in Edmonds and a nice residential development was built. The downturn in the economy left one building pad unbuilt upon. The tank that I climbed to check out the view just happened to be located on this pad. In my estimation, one of the prime locations on the site.
Recently I have been following the story that a new developer wants to use that last, best parcel to build apartments rather than condos. I can understand why. More units=more $. And I think I remember that maybe this development was built under a master plan that allows a certain number of multi-family units to be built. And even with the addition of the proposed apartments, that number would still be under the allowable threshold.
But I struggle with the rationale of the addition of apartments into an all-condo residential neighborhood. I can’t help but wonder how many condo owners would have not bought in the development had they known that apartments would have been added to the mix later on.
I know that the original developer had a vision for Point Edwards. Planning staff and city council had a vision for Point Edwards. I know that I had a vision for Point Edwards. We all shared the same vision and it did not include apartments. That empty parcel should have condos that match the rest of the development.I hope that the original, well thought out vision will see the light of day. After all, I am getting close to retirement and I still remember the view from the top of the tank!
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