Edmonds Council dives into Westgate, Highway 99 zoning details

Topics like zoning don’t sound very exciting and can often be complicated both to explain and to understand. The Edmonds City Council had a double treat for those attending or watching on TV their Tuesday night meeting, discussing not one, but two, zoning-related issues — one involving a development plan for the Westgate commercial area and the other an Edmonds Planning Board proposal for Highway 99.

The Westgate discussion has been ongoing for some time, and reflects two years of work by the Planning Board and three public hearings, following initial data collection, citizen surveys and meetings, and reports initiated by University of Washington undergraduate and graduate planning and architecture students. Citizens who provided feedback during the survey phased expressed a desire for more public spaces and improved walkability in the area, which is now a collection of strip malls dominated by the busy intersection of Highway 104 and 100th Avenue West.

Tuesday night’s meeting included a list of seven items aimed at addressing questions and concerns raised by some councilmembers, including how and where commercial space would be allocated; uses of open space and provision of amenities; parking standards; building design; and traffic and street setbacks.

As an example, City Planning Manager Rob Chave noted that diagrams indicating the location of Westgate commercial and residential spaces were adjusted to reflect what was practical. There was no reason to have residential spaces placed in the area of the current QFC store, as the intent is to maintain a grocery store in that space to serve the community, he said.

Parking standards were also adjusted to accommodate more residential parking for units over 900 square feet.

Chave noted that the plan intends to continue supporting “large format retail’ such as grocery stores and drug stores. Representatives of Bartell Drug, in fact, have been monitoring the Westgate work and have an interest in eventually reconfiguring their business location to the corner of the property, for increased visibility.

Councilmember Lora Petso said she still had reservations about the plan, and Councilmember Joan Bloom stated concerns regarding parking, which she doesn’t feel will be adequate under the proposed regulations, and the proposed 12-foot setbacks, which she said are too narrow to provide an adequate buffer from busy Highway 104 traffic.

In addition, Bloom said she isn’t convinced that combining residential and commercial space is a good idea, noting that she hasn’t seen it work successfully in Edmonds. In fact, she said, the idea of having a living space next to retail “is a fantasy that isn’t going to work” in Westgate. “I think we are really asking for trouble,” she said.

The council is scheduled to take action on the plan next week.

Councilmembers also had their first look at an Edmonds Planning Board proposal to change the zoning on Highway 99. The idea, which will be the subject of a future public hearing, is to remove a current requirement that all buildings on Highway 99 include some type of commercial use.  According to Chave, the Planning Board’s hope is that by removing this restriction, it will encourage residential development, which in turn would create a sense of community that would improve safety along Highway 99. In addition, residential development could also take advantage of transportation improvements such as the Swift bus route.

The council also discussed but didn’t take action on two other issues:

– Whether to replace the current system of council business meetings (often three times a month) plus once-a-month council committee meetings with a new system that involves alternating weeks of information-only work sessions involving all councilmembers and council business meetings. Nearby cities that follow the work session format include Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. There was a lengthy debate about the pros and cons of each system, and the issue will be discussed further before any vote is taken.

– What type of compensation the Edmonds Municipal Judge should receive. This issue is now under the City Council’s control since the council voted to disband the city’s compensation commission, which used to set salaries for the judge, councilmembers and the mayor. The current Edmonds Municipal Court judge’s salary — which is reimbursed from state court improvement account funds — is set at 95 percent of the salary for a full-time district court judge. The Edmonds judge’s position is a part-time (.55 FTE) position and paid on a pro-rated basis — currently $6,294 monthly. Mayor Dave Earling is proposing that the salary be based on a .75 FTE, since the city’s current Judge Doug Fair has indicated that number more accurately reflects his current workload.

In addition, the council heard a report from Mark Smith of Affordable Housing in Snohomish County urging councilmembers to begin setting goals for increasing the amount of affordable housing in the city. You can see Smith’s entire presentation– as well as the entire council meeting — on video here.

 

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31 Comments

  1. To clarify, I am supportive of residential at Westgate. I am not convinced that residential and commercial in the same building is a good idea. Having living space ABOVE commercial space is what I think will not work well at Westgate as proposed in this plan.

    I apologize if I was not clear. Thank you, Teresa, for your report on this important issue.

    • Joan, In the downtown core we already have several examples of residential above commercial. Seems to work fine. The residential portion serves to give the commercial area more activity…especially after the businesses have closed…and more opportunity for restuarants. The issue with the Westgate plan that I do question is the set back from the street. Seems like every planner in every city now wants new building as tight to the street as possible. What happens in 20 or 30 or 40+ years when Public Works says the street needs to be widened? Is a raft of building going to have to be purchased before the street can be widened? While I am not a believe in “American style” round abouts, (need more lanes to work effectively like they do in EU), Didn’t the new bank at Westgate effictevly block a round about there without the city having to buy buildings?

  2. There are innumerable “urban villages” around the country that mix residential, retail, office, and hospitality space with great success. Far from “asking for trouble,” integrating residential development promotes walk-around behavior and deemphasizes cars. When you can go downstairs to fetch your groceries or collect your dry cleaning instead of having to fire up a vehicle for every errand, you are advancing the quality of life on a hyper-local basis. The downsides of the distributed suburban sprawl model that took hold after WWII, epitomized by the current Westgate layout which discourages walking anywhere (even across the street), are very much apparent. Evolving beyond them isn’t “asking for trouble,” it’s asking for a new lease on life.

  3. I urge citizens to take the time to watch the video of the Westgate presentation at last night’s council meeting. Planning Manager Rob Chave delivered, as always, a very complete and understandable review of this important topic.

  4. Mike,

    Thanks so much for your comments. Please reference a specific address in downtown that you see as having worked well for both retail/restaurant and residential.

    And as for restaurants below residential, there are none that I know of in Edmonds, thankfully, as the cooking fumes would likely be very unpleasant for the condominium or apartment owners.

    The setbacks are an important issue. As is parking. A more comfortable setback would be 30 feet with a 12 foot sidewalk, especially along the very busy SR 104. I would still be concerned with the height of the buildings being proposed, 3-4 stories, even that far from the highway.

    • Copperstone Condo on 4th. The condo south of Becks . #rd and Edmonds (or maybe it is Bell). Smells from a restaurant can be an issue. but can be dealt with in the design phase.

      • Also, the condos above Snap Fitness at 5th and Walnut. Perhaps Ms. Bloom could explain why she doesn’t think living space above commercial space will not work well…

        • Sorry, meant why she thinks such spaces will not work well. (Delete the word “doesn’t”.)

  5. I can think of no area in Edmonds that would benefit from mixed-use developement more than the Westgate neighborhood. Creating density there makes a lot of sense, with several transportation options; bus lines, major thoroughfares, ferry routes and commuter trains. This appears to be a very good opportunity to improve the value of these real-estate footprints, help small businesses find contemporary and modern commercial space with some built-in customers. I feel that this type of development will only improve the charm and appeal of the Westgate junction. I am all for this plan.

    Build it and they will come.

  6. Edmonds is — and should remain — a residential community, not a business development center. The primary focus of elected officials and city staff should always be to keep Edmonds a community for safely raising families and living in peace and quiet.

    I have lived near Westgate for 20 years and the core of Westgate (the intersection of Edmonds Way and 9th Avenue South) has become more unmanageably busy, clogged and unsafe in those two decades. Drivers sometimes have to wait through three traffic light cycles to turn left from 100th Avenue South onto Edmonds Way.

    Westgate needs less commercial development and less density, not more.

    Edmonds has an area already set aside and ideal for commercial development — Highway 99! There’s plenty of room there for more development. Funnel all business and commercial development there where it is appropriate.

    Keep it out of residential neighborhoods like Westgate. Developers should not be allowed to make money by making the lives of Edmonds residents more unmanageable, crowded, noisy and unsafe.

    Thank you Councilmember Bloom for defending the interests of the clear majority of Edmonds residents.

  7. As noted above, Edmonds has many good examples of mixed development. Just stand @ the intersection of 5th and Walnut and spin around to see a small picture of a well developed area. Older building, in town, are successfully mixed also. In fact, this idea is quite old and tested around the world no less. And Edmonds cannot remain a 1960’s single family community. It’s not efficient, is car oriented, and actually unsafe as such development requires an increasing number of vehicles to allow folks to buy their weekly loaf of bread, sip of coffee, etc. Just pretend you’re in Paris, Barcelona, or anywhere else where you experienced such close-knit communities. It works and must happen in Edmonds.

    • Jim, I agree with you completely.

  8. I invite all to watch the video presentation of last nights Council meeting and listen to Mr. Mark Smith’s (Executive Director Housing Consortium of Everett & Snohomish County) very moving presentation on Edmonds having affordable housing and what that means.

    I think the development as usual has been heard over and over throughout the years by the same people, and perhaps it is time for a change. Maybe this is a wonderful opportunity for the town of Edmonds to do something for the greater good instead of the select few that profit over and over. from the same tired old ideas here. It doesn’t work when one looks at how much development has been done here in the past 38 years, and yet business still leaves town.

    If we want to appeal to the younger millenials to come here to Edmonds , it has been shown now that they care more about the greater good first over short term and subjective profits. Let’s be a town that welcomes new ideas and not a town that lives in the past and thinks that still works, or wants it to work for short term profits for the select few.

  9. Oops… also forgot to thank Lora Petso who is also keeping an eye on the foxes who want into our hen house. Virtually all the citizens of Edmonds want it to remain a residential single-family community, safe from the non-resident developers who want to build their high-density commercial and residential developments and skip town to pay for the even more low-density residential single-family communities where they live. Incidentally, those same developers do whatever they can to keep out the sort of commercial development they want to dump here.

    I can buy my bread and coffee just fine the way it is in Edmonds. We don’t need any increase in traffic, noise, pollution, etc.

    Keep up the good work Councilmembers Bloom and Petso. The vast majority of Edmonds citizens are behind you all the way!

  10. for those of us that don’t want to watch the whole thing…

    could we get just the Westgate presentation mentioned?

    THANX!

    while i haven’t been closely following the Westgate situation, it sounds pretty similar to the Mountlake Terrace – grow downtown situation – except that here, we’re talking about a 2-lane road!

    as i understand it…

    the state has dictated that the county prepare for population growth, and that has been distributed to all of the localities.

    here, in MLT, the idea as i understand it, is to put it all in one, downtown area, and leave the single family residences as are.

    here, they are talking of 5-story mixed use buildings on this little 2-lane road…

    both cities can “look over the fence” and see what the other is doing?

  11. Mark Smith Affortable Housing link has disappeared. Westgate Development and Mark Smith Affordable Housing. It seems that link has disappeared and we have an old link from February 2014. Where is the link to Tuesday nights Town Council Meeting?…..It was here before

    Where is the Westgate presentation??? This was at the end of the article and it did say you can see the Council meeting including Mark Smiths presentation.

    • The links are still there so it’s hard to understand what you’re talking about. As for links to the individual presentations, they are where they always are on the city’s webpage under the meeting agenda for the city Council meeting there are icons for each part of the meeting .

  12. The response to Edmonds’ growth targets is to create, or expand, places in Edmonds to handle our required increment of growth. Such places include along the Hwy 99, Westgate, 5 Corners and other places where it makes sense to plan this way. Additionally, we have an important fact needing a response, that 19% of our population is 65 or over. This is the biggest group of citizens in town. And this was 2010 census data, so I assume the numbers have increased. At some point our seniors will need to be closer to goods and services, will need to stop driving, etc. Remaining a car-dependent community is not going to serve these neighbors and friends. And as we see elsewhere, Millennials desire such close-knit neighborhoods and it has worked well in many Northwest cities (Portland, Bellingham, Seattle, Eugene, etc.).

    These plans and discussions are necessary to respond to the changes underway in Edmonds. Yes, you may already live in a walkable neighborhood, close to many goods and services, as we do (Holmes Corner neighborhood), but much of Edmonds does not. But this is a solvable problem that will benefit many by allowing change and growth to occur in the right places, which includes Westgate.

  13. I’m concerned that if Edmonds sticks to low-density, car-dependent, single-family-home strategy that has characterized American suburbs since World War II, the community runs several risks.

    Less density means more congestion, not less. The traffic snarl at Westgate is the result of 1950s retail design and remote housing colliding with 21st century population levels. As Jim points out above, our 65+ population continues to grow, many of whom do not want to be marooned in a remote house if and when they can no longer drive. As for younger millennials, they are a lot less enamored of cars than their elders; they like mixed-function “urban villages” as Jim says, and square footage and yards are less important to them than proximate amenities; Edmonds home prices are difficult for many to rise to; and after the recession and crash, many are highly, perhaps permanently, skeptical of investing in real estate.

    I don’t think it threatens the integrity and “peace and quiet” of Edmonds’ old-school, car-centric neighborhoods to suggest, as Jim has, that more of the same is not a universal panacea for meeting growth challenges — and indeed may be of limited attractiveness in future as demographics and tastes evolve.

  14. Just read Joan Bloom’s comments in the Edmonds Beacon and it’s nonsense. Her statement that the only ‘destinations’ we should have in Edmonds are the waterfront and downtown is, again, nonsense. This is old thinking about our City and it denies the majority of our population the opportunity to have their neighborhoods thrive, be a center for gathering to meet, eat and enjoy our neighbors and friends. Downtown businesses have opened and closed as long as we have lived here (19 years) . And do remember that downtown sales bring only 20% of total revenues while Hwy 99 businesses bring the other 80%. If we create more neighborhood-based activities, the City’s social life and financial picture will be much better for the effort.

  15. Edmonds “destinations” of long standing include Firdale Village, Perrinville, Five Corners, the Aurora Marketplace shopping center, and the entire Highway 99 corridor in addition to Westgate, and one assumes most serious shopping is done (and most tax dollars generated) in those zones, not downtown Edmonds, which, charming as it is, lacks several must-have retail amenities such as a pharmacy. Edmonds is already a decentralized community in this regard.

  16. A long time ago many commercial businesses used to be below residential apartment buildings in cities across our country. Anyone who is old enough to remember that and actually lived in one would remember well what it is like to live like that……noise, smells, people coming all hours, etc. I lived in one of those briefly in the U-district in Seattle and moved because of that. ……and I was young! New York City and Chicago come to mind today……They have less land and it doesn’t mean people like living like sardines….it’s about the amount of space that they have there. This is the West and we have more land.

    People now buy cars like it is candy and a lot of people seem to have a consumption habitus problem. We have two new families that moved to our block recently and between the two, I believe they have about 11 cars and toys (motorcycles, boats). This isn’t about where we live, it’s about people never having enough for themselves. We are a consumption society. Until that problem is solved, you will still see a trillion new cars, trucks, etc. on our roads no matter what housing we have.

    I would like to see a small amount of attractive well thougt out developement and particularily housing that is affordable in Edmonds. That is something we do not have.

    Again, thank you Town Council for all the work you all do in regards to these big long term issues.

    According to yesterday’s newspaper, Weyerhauser is leaving Federal Way and moving to Seattle. I believe Weherhauser is mainly about real estate now and I hope this isn’t a problem with one of our new directors and building sky high buildings here in Edmonds. The citizens of Edmonds do not want sky high buildings. I say Edmonds is a Main Street kind of town that also has a beach, and that is why people will travel to places like this, not for huge housing units.

    Again, some well thought out and attractive housing ok and some well thought out affordable housing.

  17. Young people do not live that way by choice, they cannot afford traditional residentail housing. It is not how it was when we were young, and anybody could afford to move into a house. I moved into my first house for $1800. and my mortgage payment was $186. a month. Development and Real Estate rules everything now and even high prices on rentals which is just disgusting becuase it appears to be a monopoly. Many people cannot even find a rental they can afford.

    • Many of the young professionals I know, who are smart and making good money, have no interest in moving into “traditional residential housing” as defined in Edmonds, e.g. a detached single-family house with a driveway and a yard. It’s not that they can’t afford it; it’s that they think it’s an obsolete paradigm for living. How will Edmonds appeal to them?

  18. It is premature to assert that the number of business spaces would increase significantly with the redevelopment of the Westgate area. A mix-use design model is residential from the 2nd floor up … so a 3 story mixed use building is residential on about a 2:1 ratio, or even better a 4 or 5 story building with higher ratios. So business square footage might or will increased somewhat from what is already there, the big increase is in the residential footprint on the same land, where there is currently none.

    Configurations such as mixed use are often useful stepping stones for young singles and families, who want to live in a specific city such as Edmonds, but are not yet set up for buying a home here. They instead might be able to buy a condo or rent an attractive apt. while saving for their first Edmonds home.

    Also – I was stunned to hear the argument that the fumes from restaurants will smoke out the residential occupants. We are way past these concerns with architectural, construction and materials development. Councilpersons who continue with petty and unsupported arguments should be called out for it at election time, so that progress and sustainability can happen.

  19. “We are way past these concerns with architectural, construction and materials development”…… That only happens with the reputable companies, and there are many that are not reputable, and they are building very cheap units across the country . Any structure whether house, apartments, condos, etc. is only as good and as the developer and contractor that builds the structure and there are so many now that build on the cheap. ……Even regarding the idea of “green”, I understand that there are many companies building supposedly “green” and laughing all the way to the bank.

    Sooooooooo, the gist of it is, these are not “petty” and “unsupported” arguments. ….. I wish I could count the times I have heard “progress and sustainabiltiy” and see buildings that turn out to be poorly constructed with an obvious short life span. One can see those buildings

    And by the way, I come from a family that has been in the upper level of the construction and building development business going back 70 years with many well known buildings completed in Seattle, so I know of the industry going way back.

  20. Perhaps you could share with us those buildings in Edmonds that have been “poorly constructed with an obvious short life span.”

  21. I have built 10 houses in Edmonds. Just try to get shoddy construction past our city inspectors, They inspected every phase of the construction project and made sure we followed code on every detail. I doubt you can build on the cheap and get away with it in Edmonds.

    • Mr. Page. Yes, there are plenty of good companies and I am not questioning those companies building here and there are also some very handsome structures here and good inspectors. I also assume more handsome structures will be built by good companies here and I am looking forward to that. I just happen to love good architecture, old and new.

      I understood that until recently the building department had been handing out demolition permits just over the counter to contractors demolishing structures here and going on the “honor” system regarding professional asbestos abatement. Professional asbestos abatement is extremely expensive, and to assume all contractors would automatically do this is unrealistic. …..and I have no idea how long this had occured in our town. From what I understand now is that that has changed.

      So, that is at least one very important thing not that long ago was occurring here or seemed to have slipped by I also know of at least one person with a newer home here that joked about not having a final inspection.
      It appears to me that it depends on who you are, and that is just wrong.

      Allowing asbestos to be released or exposed into the environment is an environmental crime and has severe consequenses for our citizens, their children and our environment. This isn’t the 1950s

  22. Perhaps there should be a reward posted to help get the culprits.

  23. Here’s a link to a new essay by a Brown University history professor that may have some bearing on this discussion. He traces the 20th century rise, and current teetering, of what he calls the “middle-class hydrocarbon family” in the US — that is, car-dependent families with children whose housing (and other) choices consume a lot of energy. In other words, people catered to by Edmonds-style development.

    “The environmental foundation of the middle-class American family is undeniably eroding,” he writes. “The challenge lies in how to unwind the century or so of political, economic and infrastructural commitments that have been made to middle-class hydrocarbon living. Can they, one wonders, be easily converted into the foundation of something different?”

    http://www.salon.com/2014/08/30/cataclysm_in_suburbia_the_dark_twisted_history_of_americas_oil_addicted_middle_class/

    Those concerned about macro forces from climate change to income inequality to the economic prospects of our young people might helpfully add their perspective to local planning discussions like this one.

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