Opinion: Harbor Square Master Plan – Why this has been so hard
By Maggie Fimia
I am new to the Harbor Square Master Plan issue, which the City Council is schedule to vote on Tuesday night, but not new to regional and local governments’ struggle to wisely implement the Growth Management Act and their own Comprehensive Plans. I served 14 years on regional and local government councils.
In looking further into the Port’s proposal and the City’s Comp Plan, it is clear that it is not very clear. The Harbor Square Master Plan Exhibit A, which describes the proposal, is mixed in with existing Edmonds Comprehensive Plan Goals, Policies and Strategies. So, it’s not easy to see what is the plan, what is existing land use and what could actually happen there should the Port be successful in attracting a partner to develop it.
I offer the following descriptions analysis with the goal of hoping to make things a little clearer for those of us trying to decipher it all.
SR 104 and Dayton St. and the Marsh and the RR border this Port property, known as Harbor Square. It is zoned General Commercial through a contract rezone in 1979. After a three-year process, the Port is ready to ask the City to adopt a Master Plan development “Overlay.” They are technically asking for an Overlay because the land use there is already designated as “Master Plan Development.” Here is the language associated with that land use designation:
The Downtown Master Plan: …This area is appropriate for design-driven master planned development, which provides for a mix of uses and takes advantage of its strategic location between the waterfront and downtown. The location of existing taller buildings on the waterfront, and the site’s situation at the bottom of “the Bowl,” could enable a design that provides for higher buildings outside current view corridors. Pg. 55, Comprehensive Plan 2011.
So, this Comprehensive Plan amendment puts more definition into that existing land use designation. To add to the complexity, however, the “Downtown Master Plan,” is only one of nine “districts” in the “Downtown Waterfront Activities Center.” So, it is easy to assume that when you read about “Downtown” all of Downtown comes to mind.
In addition, the Comprehensive plan has a list of broad land use designations like, Activity Center, Corridor Development, Mixed Use Commercial, Community Commercial, Neighborhood Commercial, and Highway 99, Edmonds Corridor, Westgate Corridor, four types of single-family residential, high density multi-family, medium density multi-family, Hospital/Medical, Master Plan Development and Public Use or Park/Open Space, Park or School Site.
Within each of those is specifically allowed zoning and uses. Zoning is dictated by the Comprehensive Plan “land-use” designation. You have to change the Comp plan first to change the zoning.
What is clear is that this has been a very long, deliberative process. The Plan has been amended and approved by the Planning Commission with a 6-to-1 vote and is supported by both the Chamber of Commerce and the Friends of the Marsh.
So what exactly is in this Master Plan Overlay? The principles and elements are listed at the bottom.
1. I could not find any language in the proposed Harbor Square Master Plan Overlay that was NOT consistent with the current Comprehensive Plan and Growth Management Act. If the Council majority does not adopt this, they should consider going back and proposing amendments for the next Comprehensive Plan cycle to take out any language that would allow mixed use and higher heights in that area because none would really be feasible.
2. There is no free lunch. In order to implement many of the Comp Plan goals for improving the Marsh, keeping Edmonds affordable, providing transit-oriented development and other important social, economic and environmental sustainability goals, it is necessary to compromise on height limits – and only by a small amount in a small area of the site. That seems like a very reasonable trade off.
3. Slippery slopes: Council can make sure language is included in the actual legislation (“Exhibit A”) that seismic studies will be done to determine suitability of any specific development proposals. Ten to 20 extra feet in this area does not mean it applies to any other area in the Downtown Activity center.
4. Trust goes both ways. The Port and/or the City cannot redevelop property by themselves. If we make it too onerous, too unpredictable and with too many loops back to the beginning with looming unpredictability, no reputable developer will want to do business with us.
5. Be careful what we wish for: I was involved with numerous land use battles where reasonable/responsible development was proposed but opposed by a few adamant neighbors. We ended up with worse development because we couldn’t change existing zoning or require environmental and community benefits.
6. Opposites attract: When you have the Chamber of Commerce and the Friends of the Marsh in agreement it means you’re working to address both environmental and economic concerns. They are not mutually exclusive but mutually inclusive if done right.
Every effort was made to accurately reflect all the documents involved. I welcome any corrections to that effort. I’m no fan of Ballard, Kirkland, Bellevue or South Lake Union. Edmonds is one of the most beautiful and successful places on the planet. I’d like it to improve the areas we didn’t get right the first time and in order to do that, we have to create an atmosphere of partnership with all the stakeholders, present and future. I believe the Port has striven to do that with this plan.
Here are the Principles and Elements of the Harbor Square Master Plan as outlined in Exhibit A of the proposed Legislation before the Council:
1. Create a pedestrian entry and visual gateway at the Hwy. 104/Dayton St. intersection, which is the key link to downtown Edmonds.
2. Create an attractive street front along Hwy. 104.
3. Feature pedestrian-friendly facades and uses along Dayton St.
4. Establish a pedestrian-friendly esplanade with adjacent activities between the plaza and the marsh.
5. Connect pedestrian walkways to linkages around the marsh.
6. Provide vehicular access into the site from Dayton Street.
7. Provide direct pedestrian access to the marsh from Hwy 104.
8. Create a pedestrian focus such as a village green or plaza in the center of the redevelopment.
9. Locate residential development in the SE portion of the site.
10. Locate parking near the western perimeter, next to the RR within a parking structure designed to serve the entire re-development.
11. Architectural character should emphasize a Northwest style compatible with the rest of downtown and feature high quality traditional materials and variety of colors, form and textures.
12. Provide improved vegetation buffers to protect and enhance the Edmonds marsh.
13. Provide for a well-landscaped, Norhwest-oriented small town design theme.
14. Create a village character with pedestrian gathering spaces.
15. Introduce a mix of uses that complement downtown and that provide optimal tax revenue and other benefits to the City and Port, including pedestrian oriented retail and a residential mix (multifamily) geared toward a range of incomes.
16. Keep interior streets narrow to slow traffic and put the emphasis on pedestrians.
17. Provide for bicycle circulation with shared use trails, bike lanes and/or safe shared lanes on internal streets.
18. Create a pedestrian entry plaza to Harbor Square that invites public use and provides a visual gateway to the Marsh from Dayton St. It will serve as a key link to downtown Edmonds, and provide space for public activities such as concerts, performances, fairs or an outdoor market.
19. Create active sidewalk/pedestrian areas with retail spaces that open onto the Dayton Street sidewalk. Small-scale pedestrian spaces should be integrated between the development and the streetscape.
20. Connect pedestrian walkways to linkages around Edmonds Marsh and to Citywide bike and pedestrian routes. Provide direct pedestrian access to Edmonds Marsh from SR 104.
21. Provide a civic/cultural viewpoint interpretive element within the development as a public benefit.
22. Include bicycle connections and facilities in circulation and open space planning.
23. Provide for multi-functional uses that are close to transportation facilities
24. Incorporate low energy and low water consumption techniques to minimize carbon footprint.
25. Employ alternative systems and techniques such as life-cycle cost analysis.
26. Provide improved natural vegetated buffers and building setbacks to protect and enhance the Edmonds marsh.
27. Incorporate low impact development elements such as pervious pavements and rain gardens to reduce run-off.
28. Contribute to day-lighting Willow Creek and improving the site’s ecological value.
29. All structures above 35 feet should not diminish the “human scale” experience of pedestrians or decrease daylight. For every additional 1 foot in height there should be a 1-foot set back from Dayton.
30. The “average building height” SHALL not exceed 45 feet.
31. All development within shoreline jurisdiction is subject to the Shoreline Master Program. Therefore, new buildings and development, including clearing, grading, parking areas etc. will comply with the Shoreline Master Program. Additionally, the Port is committed to improving the ecological health of the marsh and will ensure that new development along the marsh will increase ecological functions.
32. All buildings should employ horizontal and vertical articulation and other architectural methods to maintain the small scale of Downtown Edmonds.
33. Ground floor of buildings fronting Dayton Street should feature “pedestrian-oriented facades and pedestrian-oriented uses.
34. Frontage along SR 104 should feature either pedestrian oriented facades or attractive landscaping sufficient to screen the majority of building facades and all parking areas. There should be a pedestrian path along the entire SR 104 frontage.
35. Building heights shall be limited to 45’ and consideration may be given for heights up to 55’ if the development proposal includes significant public amenities and/or sustainable design certification such as LEED Platinum.
36. Tallest buildings should be placed towards the south and west boundaries.
37. Buildings along Dayton St. should be limited to 35 feet.
38. Plans shall ensure the Public View Corridor down Dayton Street is preserved and enhanced.
39. Adequate parking allowance be made to accommodate all customer, employee and resident vehicles during peak use times.
40. Consideration should be given to enhance street-side parking to support separating human activity from the traffic along Dayton Street.
Edmonds resident Maggie Fimia is a former Shoreline City Councilmember, Metro Councilmember and King County Councilmember. She was one of the founding members of the Westminster Triangle Neighborhood Network (1989) and was appointed by the County Council to serve on the Shoreline Governance Committee, a pre-incorporation citizen-led advisory committee, which studied the alternative forms of governance for unincorporated Shoreline.