Two projects under discussion for the Edmonds waterfront took center stage at the City Council meeting Monday night — a proposed walkway for Sunset Avenue that residents fear will have unintended consequences and the longstanding question of how to ensure emergency vehicles and other vehicle and pedestrian traffic have access around the increasingly congested train tracks that divide waterfront businesses and residences from the rest of downtown.
A sizable contingent of Sunset Avenue North residents made an appearance to express their opinions regarding the walkway project, which is included as a component of the city’s 2014-19 capital facilities plan that was presented to the council and citizens for a public hearing Monday. The estimated $1.88 million plan would build a walkway on the west side of Sunset Avenue North from Bell Street to Caspers to accommodate the large number of walkers, runners and strollers that often crowd the roadway to take in the expansive waterfront views.
The biggest concern for Sunset Avenue residents is the fact that the walkway is close to the railroad, and may raise enough safety concerns for BNSF officials that they will build a fence to keep people off the tracks. Residents recalled an earlier successful fight in 1995 against a proposed fence, and were clear that they didn’t want to revisit that scenario.
“We fought this battle 20 years ago and I don’t think we should have to fight it again,” one citizen said.
Public Works Director Phil Williams assured those testifying that the city did not yet have a finished design for the walkway, but said city staff would share ideas with the public soon. There are no plans by the city to build a fence, Williams said, although he admitted that he couldn’t predict what the railroad would do.
Construction of the walkway is scheduled for 2015, pending grant funding. A federal grant was secured for the design phase.
Also included in the capital facilities plan was a discussion of a multimodal transportation center aimed at addressing ongoing worries about train traffic that has the potential to block emergency vehicles and business traffic from making the trip to and from the waterfront. The topic launched a flurry of discussion among councilmembers and Mayor Dave Earling about a proposed “alternatives analysis” that some counciimembers feared was skewed in favor of a project known as “modified Point Edwards” that could involve an underpass in the same location as the original Edmonds Crossing project. That state-proposed project, which would have involved relocating the Edmonds ferry terminal south of the existing terminal site, is currently on hold due to lack of state funding, and is not likely to be revisited again until the late 2020s, according to city staff.
Councilmember Joan Bloom has been an advocate of a simplified emergency vehicle access overpass project that could solve the problem short-term until the state is ready to again address the bigger Edmonds Crossing project. Bloom and Council President Lora Petso noted they met with State Sen. Paull Shinn –who represents Edmonds — about the idea, which drew charges from Councilmember Strom Peterson that such a move was “undercutting” the efforts of city staff to work on the issue. “It doesn’t seem like a great way to go about it,” Peterson said.
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas responded to Peterson that the city administration had done some undercutting of its own by talking to legislators without involving councilmembers until after the fact.
Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling assured the council that there was no hidden agenda behind the alternatives analysis, other than to explore all the options. The bigger issue with the train crossing “is not just the safety issue” of getting emergency vehicles across the tracks,” Earling said. With 80-100 train trips predicted each day within the next 30 years, “we are looking at shutting down the west side of the tracks three to four hours every day if we do not have a solution in mind,” he said. The mayor encouraged councilmembers to look at broad solutions that could attract state, regional and federal funding. “If you want to look at the emergency overpass, fine. Include it in part of the study,” Earling said. “But it’s really a longer-term problem that is not just the overpass…it’s how do we satisfy the businesses, the offices and people who still live on the west side of the tracks.”
In other matters, the council:
— Approved designation of the Charles Larsen residence at 630 Main St. for inclusion on the Edmonds Register of Historic Places.
— Learned from Larry Vogel of the Edmonds Historic Preservation Commission that 2014 calendars featuring photographs of historic homes will available for distribution to citizens starting Tuesday at Edmonds City Hall, the Log Cabin and the Edmonds Historical Museum. The calendars are free this year because the commission received a grant to cover production costs, Vogel added. However, there is a limited supply so get yours as soon as possible.
— Heard a presentation by Economic Development Director Stephen Clifton regarding a proposal to exclude offices from ground floor retail spaces in the core business zones downtown.
Several other items on the council agenda were postponed for future consideration due to other topics running longer than anticipated.