Edmonds City Council pulls plug on beleaguered Harbor Square project
After several years of planning, community meetings, discussions, disagreements and delays, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night finally killed the idea of incorporating a Master Plan for the Port of Edmonds-owned Harbor Square Business Complex into the City of Edmonds Comprehensive Plan.
With Councilmember Frank Yamamoto absent as he recovers from heart surgery, the council voted 4-2 to pull the plug on efforts by councilmembers and staff to develop a decision tree for next steps in the project, which has been mired in controversy since it was initially proposed by the Port of Edmonds more than a year ago.
Council President Lora Petso and Councilmembers Joan Bloom, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Diane Buckshnis voted to stop the decision tree process, while Councilmembers Strom Peterson and Kristiana Johnson opposed the idea.
While the Port’s proposal did not include specifics for an actual project on the current Harbor Square Business Complex site, council incorporation of the master plan into the city’s plan would have been a necessary first step toward redeveloping the 14.62-acre complex. The idea of redevelopment drew opposition from those who feared it would open the door to taller buildings on the Edmonds waterfront. 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.
Buckshnis in the past has supported ongoing discussions about renovating Harbor Square, most recently encouraging the council to be open to options that could lead to a compromise, especially if incentive zoning was used, for example, to encourage developers to offer additional amenities in exchange for additional height.
But in remarks Tuesday night explaining her decision to vote to shut down the process, Buckshnis described the council’s effort to find common ground on Harbor Square “perplexing.” She added: “I don’t think we’re ever going to have a consensus and what I believe needs to happen is that we look at the entire waterfront area from Main Street to the (Edmonds) Marsh, and really do a comprehensive review.”
Councilmember Strom Peterson, a long-time supporter of the Port’s proposal, said he was “completely frustrated” with the council’s handing of Harbor Square. While the council may have never reached consensus, Peterson said that the work on the decision tree would have documented the process, so that when new ideas on Harbor Square came forward in the future, “we would have the document that we could look back on and not have this idea of having to start from scratch.”
“I just don’t understand the reasoning behind this, other than there has been a movement by certain members on this council to delay and stop this process from the get-go,” Peterson added.
“This plan was driven by the Port,” countered Bloom, who has long opposed the Harbor Square work. “The council did try to take it to a level that integrated the input we were getting from the citizens, and the Port was really unreceptive of these changes. This will give us the opportunity to have this be a city council-driven process, and a city council with the support and input of citizens to come up with a plan for the waterfront.”
The Port first made its proposal to the council last fall to modify the City’s comprehensive plan concerning redevelopment of the aging Harbor Square Business Complex it owns at Dayton Avenue and Highway 104. The proposal followed several years of study and public engagement activities that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The City of Edmonds Planning Board had endorsed the proposal, with conditions, and it had received support from the Edmonds business community, including the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce.
The Port officially withdrew its proposal in April 2013, citing “the City Council’s inability to substantively review the Planning Board’s recommended decision approving, with conditions, the adoption of the Harbor Square Master Plan Comprehensive Plan Amendment and Council’s failure to consider the City Staff’s recommendation that the Council similarly adopt that Planning Board recommendation.”
But up until Tuesday night, the council had continued to pursue the idea of developing its own plan for the Harbor Square complex.