Edmonds City Councilmembers spent nearly half of their meeting Monday night in the weeds — literally — as they drilled down into specifics about the best ways to protect the city’s critical areas, which include wetlands, streams and geologically hazardous and frequently flooded areas
The State Growth Management Act requires jurisdictions to review, evaluate and, if necessary, revise their critical areas ordinances. The City of Edmonds’ update is due in 2015; it will be the first time the city’s critical area regulations have been revised since 2005.
Much of the council’s time was devoted to proposed changes that would allow for new development in a previously developed footprint of a critical area buffer and development within a “physically separated and functionally isolated” buffer. (One example given Monday night for allowed development was a site separated from a critical area by an existing road, trail or other structure that is 12 feet or more wide.)
The required width of the buffers in critical areas was also discussed, with City Planner Kernen Lien noting that in some areas of the city it may make sense to allow more flexibility, permitting 50-foot buffers rather than the usual 100 feet depending on the impact and/or level of mitigation involved.
But several councilmembers stated heir concern about reducing the size of buffers, especially given the city’s recent focus on restoring salmon habitat in local streams, such as the project planned to daylight Willow Creek through the Edmonds Marsh. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis suggested that any decision made by the City’s Development Services Department to reduce buffers from 100 feet to 50 feet should have to come back to the City Council for final approval to allow for “a check and balance.” Councilmember Joan Bloom added that in her opinion, Development Services Director Shane Hope should be required to sign off on any waivers to the city’s critical areas ordinance criteria.
“It seems counter-intuitive if our goal is to daylight Willow Creek and make it the most successful salmon habitat that we possibly can. I don’t know why we’d start out with a reduced buffer,” said Councilmember Kristiana Johnson.
Mayor Dave Earling said it was clear that given the number of questions raised by the council Tuesday night, an additional study session was needed on the topic.
Detailed information on the city’s critical area regulation update is available on the City of Edmonds website at this link.
Another hot topic of discussion for the council Monday night — which met a day early to avoid a conflict with Tuesday’s general election — was whether the city should increase its traffic impact fee, the amount that it charges developers for traffic impacts from a new project like an apartment or office building. The updated fee calculated based on projects in the city’s just adopted 2015 Transportation Plan, is $5,530 per trip, about a five-fold increase from the current $1,049.41 per trip. Edmonds now has the second-lowest traffic impact fee of eight comparable cities, with Mountlake Terrace at the bottom at $714 and Kenmore the highest, at $8,350. (For comparision, Lynnwood comes in second at $7,944 and Shoreline third at $6,124.
Councilmembers debated the merits of phasing in the increase over time, versus levying it all at once. A decision was made to hold a public hearing to allow both developers and citizens an opportunity to weigh in.
The council also:
— Held a closed record review and upheld by a vote of 6-0 (Councilmember Lora Petso abstaining) the City of Edmonds Hearing Examiner’s decision to grant a variance to Swedish Edmonds for placement of a sign at 216th Street Southwest directing people to the hospital’s new emergency room. The variance allows the sign to be placed within three feet of the public right of way instead of the 15 feet prescribed by code.
— Approved 6-0 (Petso abstaining) a contract with Snohomish County Public Defense Association to provide Indigent Defense Services.
— Heard a report from City of Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams on his department’s 2016 budget request. Among the items included were additional staff members to address the department’s growing workload, including two new construction inspectors and returning an additional custodial employee position cut during the 2011 economic downturn. Williams noted that the engineering department will have more than $21 million in capital spending for a variety of projects — “that’s more than we’ve ever done.” Another big ticket item is continued road repair work, with $1,030,000 allocated in 2016 for approximately 6.4 lane miles or roadway.
— Discussed a request by Bloom to move the public comment section of the council meeting to the very beginning, prior to approval of the agenda. After seeing no support for her idea, Bloom removed the item from consideration.