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.