Edmonds Council rejects move to scrap Harbor Square proposal; city staff to tackle revisions
Edmonds City Council President Lora Petso’s proposal to reject a Port of Edmonds plan for redeveloping the Harbor Square business complex failed on a 3-4 vote Tuesday night. Instead, the port’s concept will be sent to city staff for modifications based on council input, with the goal of bringing it back to councilmembers for their review by March 19.
Later in the meeting, the Council also voted to withdraw Edmonds from participating in the Regional Fire Authority, following an analysis by Finance Director Shawn Hunstock that showed RFA membership would cost Edmonds taxpayers $3.5 million.
The decision to move the Port’s proposal to staff for revisions followed several weeks of deliberation, including three separate public hearings. Voting against Petso’s proposal — and in favor of amending the plan to address concerns raised by councilmembers and the public — were Diane Buckshnis, Kristiana Johnson, Frank Yamamoto and Strom Peterson. Joining Petso in supporting the proposal to scrap the plan were Joan Bloom and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas.
Bloom reiterated her strong opposition to the Port’s request to incorporate their proposed Harbor Square Master Plan into the City’s Comprehensive Plan, stating “I don’t see any way to make this proposal work.”
Yamamoto said he saw no point in going back to the drawing board when the city could reshape the plan to better reflect the council’s vision for the project. “To start over is a major disservice to everyone,” he said.
The Council voted 6-1 at last Tuesday’s meeting to defer the decision a week, to provide more time to study the matter. The issue drew opposition from those who fear that the port’s plan would eventually open the door to three- to five-story structures in downtown Edmonds, as well as residential development on unstable soil.
To address those concerns, Buckshnis said she had several ideas for modifying the project to make it more acceptable, including reducing building heights, eliminating residential use, and incorporating buffers to protect the neighboring Edmonds Marsh.
While not a proposal for an actual project on the current Harbor Square Business Complex site, council incorporation of the master plan into the city’s plan is a necessary first step toward redeveloping the aging 14.62-acre complex. The current site includes the Harbor Square Athletic Club and Tennis Center, the Harbor Inn hotel and numerous businesses located among five buildings on the site.
The Port’s original vision was to transform business park of tilt-up buildings, which the port acquired in 1978, into a mixed-use transit-oriented development that could include up to 358 residential units, 50,400 square feet of retail, 9,784 square feet of office, 123,410 square feet of recreational health club uses (including tennis courts), 3.8 acres of public open space, and 1,091 spaces of off-street parking. The Port first introduce the idea to the public in 2009, followed by the formation of a steering committee of interested citizens, several public meetings and workshops, and a public hearing prior to the Port Commission’s unanimous adoption of the plan in June 2012.
Following the Council vote Tuesday night, Port Commissioner David Preston told My Edmonds News that the Port recognized all along that the council was likely to make changes to the plan, and the commissioners were comfortable with that idea. “I look at it like this: The Port’s run a race and they’re done with their section and they are handing the baton to the city council,” Preston said.
In other action, the council:
- voted unanimously to formally withdraw Edmonds from the Regional Fire Authority planning process, although agreed with Finance Director Shawn Hunstock’s recommendation that a city representative continue to attend meetings — with the idea that at some point in the future it may make sense for Edmonds to participate.
The RFA Planning Committee has been meeting for more than a year to evaluate the feasibility of forming a regional fire authority to consolidate fire and emergency medical services into one department to serve all of south Snohomish County. Nine jurisdictions initially participated in the planning process: Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo, Woodway and Snohomish County Fire Districts 1 and 7. Edmonds joins Mill Creek, Lynnwood, Mukilteo, and Fire District 7 in opting out. As a result of Edmonds’ withdrawal, the Town of Woodway will also not be able to continue its participation in the RFA, due to a requirement that all participating jurisdictions are located adjacent to another RFA participant.
The bottom line for the withdrawal: Even though participating in the RFA would save the City of Edmonds about $3 million in general fund expenses (mainly by eliminating its current payment to Fire District 1 for fire services) it would end up costing taxpayers an additional $3.5 million. That’s because RFA formation would require additional fire levy and fire benefit charges to cover the expense of regional operations.
- agreed with an Edmonds Planning Board recommendation to amend the city’s development code to clarify the types of easements that may be retained during a street vacation and add language related to how an applicant is defined during the vacation process.
In addition, during time allotted for councilmembers’ and mayor’s comments, all those on the council and Mayor Dave Earling expressed their gratitude to Hunstock, who announced Monday he is resigning and will leave the city later this month to move closer to his middle-school-age daughter.