Council can’t decide on marsh setbacks, OKs Westgate tax-exemption plan

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A map of the Westgate Mixed-Use Zone District, as approved by the Edmonds City Council in April 2015.
A map of the Westgate Mixed-Use Zone District, as approved by the Edmonds City Council in April 2015.
The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night again devoted a large chunk of its meeting to reviewing changes requested by the Washington State Department of Ecology to the city’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP). The council also unanimously approved, following a public hearing, a plan aimed at jump-starting development in the Westgate area by launching a tax exemption program for developers and investors.

Regarding Westgate, Tuesday night’s approval of the multi-family tax exemption program followed the council’s Aug. 2 approval of a “resolution of intent” to start the process. The program not only provides an incentive to build at Westgate, but also offers a longer tax exemption period for builders who include 20 percent affordable housing, City Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty said. That concept had support from speakers at the public hearing, who testified in favor of expanding Edmonds’ affordable housing options.

City staff will come back in a few months with program details for council discussion and approval.

When it came time to discuss the Shoreline Master Program (SMP), councilmembers were able to move forward in two areas, building on progress made at the Aug. 2 meeting. First, they agreed by a 7-0 vote to use the 2016 Ecology Department guidance on wetlands as it relates to the critical areas ordinance. Second, they voted 4-3 to remove the two-year interim zoning designation, Urban Mixed Use IV, which would have applied only to Harbor Square and the former Union/Unocal site. The Ecology Department had called for this designation to be eliminated.

The Urban Mixed Use IV designation is similar to an Urban Mixed Use III designation previously proposed by the Edmonds Planning Board as part of a Port of Edmonds plan to redevelop its property at Harbor Square. However, unlike that plan, Urban Mixed Use IV does not allow residential development, which was favored by the Port of Edmonds.

The idea behind making the Urban Mixed Use IV designation temporary was to allow the city more time to study its long-term impacts, talk with affected parties — including Unocal and the Port of Edmonds — and decide whether to make it permanent or add a new designation. But Council President Kristiana Johnson noted that she had spoken with Port of Edmonds officials and it was clear they had no interest in keeping the designation, so she made a motion that the designation be removed. She was supported by  Councilmembers Neil Tibott, Dave Teitzel and Tom Mesaros.

When it came to the hot-button issue of reducing the size of setbacks around the Edmonds Marsh, the council voted 4-3 to reject a motion by Tibbott to follow the Ecology Department’s proposal that the setbacks be at 65 feet rather than the 100 feet passed by the council as part of the original SMP. (Voting against that motion were Johnson, Diane Buckshnis, Mike Nelson and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas.)

Those supporting the Ecology-required reduction argued that it would be the best way to provide an incentive for an enhanced vegetated buffer area near the marsh, through redevelopment of the Harbor Square area. Approving the larger 100-foot setback “would be an approval on paper because there’s [already] been development in the area” and the larger setback doesn’t exist, Councilmember Tom Mesaros said.

City Attorney Jeff Taraday and Planner Kernen Lien said that maintaining the larger, 100-foot setback would encourage the status quo. “If we leave it the way it is, what’s there now is what’s going to be there now,” Lien explained.

Councilmember Fraley-Monillas, however, questioned whether more development would help or hurt the marsh, a concern that has been raised in previous discussions on the issue.

Council President Johnson then made a motion that the council seek independent advice on the setbacks and spend more time studying it, so the council can make “a defensible and rational scientifically-based decision that the City of Edmonds can live with.”

That motion was passed by a 4-3 vote, supported by Buckshnis, Fraley-Monillas and Nelson.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

– Heard an Office of Neighborhoods presentation on homeless outreach by Sgt. Ian Huri of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department. See our series on that program here. Huri encouraged councilmembers to explore the idea of implementing such a program in Edmonds. He also responded positively to a suggestion from Councilmember Nelson that South Snohomish County cities consider forming a regional task force with police representatives from each agency working together on homelessness. “I think there’s a big benefit to a regional approach to this, when budgets allow,” Huri said.

– Received a presentation from Patrick Doherty on the results of the National Citizen Survey that included a random sample of 2,200 residents from all areas of Edmonds. We’ll have a detailed report on that survey in the near future.

– Authorized Mayor Dave Earling to sign a supplemental agreement with HWA GeoSciences for the Edmonds Fishing Pier rehabilitation project. The council also learned that the “soft opening” planned for the pier this Friday, Aug. 19 has been pushed back two weeks — to Sept. 2 — due to unanticipated construction delays.

– Authorized the City Attorney to intervene as a defendant in King County Superior Court lawsuit filed by the Ronald Wastewater District against Olympic View Water and Sewer District and others. The lawsuit focuses on which district will treat wastewater flows from future development in the Point Wells area of Snohomish County.

—  By Teresa Wippel

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