After gathering testimony from more than 20 local residents — including children and teens — who both praised and criticized a new walkway plan for Sunset Avenue, the Edmonds City Council decided to give city staff more time to address potential council concerns about the project.
Among the worries expressed Tuesday night about renovations for the much-loved scenic walking and sunset-viewing spot above the BNSF railroad tracks: the possibility that the city will incur additional costs related to shoring up the bluff between the walkway and the tracks, and the details of design work proposed once the enhanced walkway heads east from Sunset Avenue onto to Caspers Street.
The project, which has been under discussion for nearly a year, would include a 10-foot-wide promenade on the west side of the street beginning at Bell Street on the south, running north along the bank above the railroad tracks, rounding the dogleg at Caspers Street, and finally meeting the existing sidewalk at Third and Caspers. The project design is being funded by a $159,000 federal grant; construction of the walkway is dependent on additional grant funding.
In a brief presentation prior to the public hearing, Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams reminded councilmembers of the project’s main goals: to maximize views; increase accessibility as the current dirt path is not usable for those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers; and to improve safety, since pedestrians often walk in the street next to the path rather than using the sidewalk on the east side of the street. You can see plans related to the walkway design here.
Those testifying were split about 50-50 for or against the project, with a few speakers stating they hadn’t yet taken a position but wanted to offer ideas to consider.
A concern expressed by several was that the new walkway design would severely reduce the number of parking spaces, hampering the opportunity for those who like to drive to Sunset Avenue so they can watch the view from their cars. Williams said that while the current design does reduce the number of parking spaces from 55 to 43 — for a net loss of 12 spaces — “when we get into design and start fine tuning we could probably add back in most,” to bring the total to 51.
In addition, speakers also raised the issue of building the walkway along a stretch that is a known seismic hazard area. Williams noted that it is possible to build in such areas (much of the development along the Seattle waterfront, including the city’s sports stadiums, is located in seismic zones). “It’s just something you need to pay attention to during the design phase,” he said.
Speaker Kimberly Wade of Edmonds said the current layout of Sunset allows both drivers and walkers to enjoy the view regardless of the weather, noting that when she made a visit to Sunset in her car on that rainy Tuesday, she saw 23 cars and four pedestrians. “Keep it the way it is,” Wade said. “Why allocate resources to an area of Edmonds that seems to be working?”
On the other side were Edmonds residents Kirsten Foot and her 8-year-old daughter Elise. Kirsten recalled that when Elise was a baby, she attempted unsuccessfully to take her for a walk along Sunset in a stroller. Elise then took a brief turn at the microphone. “I would love to have a walkway to go down after dinner,” she told the council.
Councilmember Lora Petso requested that the matter be referred to the council’s Parks, Planning and Public Works committee so staff can share with council a comparison of the project’s advantages and disadvantages, after which more public input will be sought.
Also during the meeting, the council heard the 2013 Municipal Court report from Judge Doug Fair. Among the highlights, Fair reported that the passage of two citizen initiatives in 2011 provided clear evidence of how changes in laws affect the criminal system. With marijuana legalization, Fair said he expected to see a drop in criminal infractions for possession, and that did indeed take place in 2013. However, there was in increase in theft cases due to easier access to alcohol, now that it’s available in a grocery store rather than a state-run liquor store.
“I don’t think when we talked about making liquor more accessible, we thought about making liquor more accessible to criminals,” Fair said. “But that’s kind of what happened; they are just like like everyone else. They wanted their liquor, they just didn’t want to pay for it.”