Council OKs final Shoreline Master Plan letter for Ecology Department

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The Edmonds Marsh after a full day of rain in January 2016, with the water reaching the boardwalk. (Photo by Bill Anderson)
The Edmonds Marsh after a full day of rain in January 2016, with the water reaching the boardwalk. (Photo by Bill Anderson)

The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night by a 4-2 vote approved a response to Washington State Department of Ecology-required changes to the city’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP). Councilmember Tom Mesaros was absent from the meeting.

The approval comes after years of work by city staff, discussion by city council members, and testimony from citizens and Port of Edmonds officials regarding the SMP, which is how the city defines, regulates and protects critical areas such as the Edmonds Marsh. The Ecology Department reviews the SMPs of cities to ensure that they comply both with the state’s Shoreline Management Act and SMP guidelines.

In a June 27 letter to the city, the Ecology Department identified several changes as prerequisites to approval. The council had the option of choosing to accept the Ecology Department’s changes or submit an alternate proposal, but Ecology officials have been clear that the city must provide its rationale for any deviation from department requirements.

The letter approved Tuesday night by the council does just that, both summarizing the council’s changes and its justification for making them.

The most controversial of the council-approved changes was creating a 110-foot buffer and a 15-foot setback for the Edmonds Marsh. The Ecology Department had recommended changing an earlier council-approved 100-foot buffer in its original SMP to a 50-foot buffer and 15-foot setback, stating it’s more consistent with the Edmonds Marsh Category II wetland classification.

Before approving the letter Tuesday night, the council did make one amendment to the letter, following a motion by Councilmember Dave Teitzel. The change suggested by Teiztel removed the second sentence in a paragraph related to the council’s opinion that residential development in the Urban Mixed Use IV environment wasn’t appropriate, since current zoning at Harbor Square doesn’t allow it. Teitzel argued that making such a statement was premature, indicating that the council may be prejudging an application for a project that could come before it in the future — “and I don’t want to do that,” he said.

Teitzel’s motion was seconded by Councilmember Neil Tibbott, and when it came time to vote, Councilmember Kristiana Johnson voted along with Teitzel and Tibbott to approve it. Councilmembers Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Diane Buckshnis and Mike Nelson voted against the amendment, leaving it up to Mayor Dave Earling to break the tie, which he did by voting for approval.

When it came time to vote on the amended letter, both Tibbott and Teitzel reiterated their belief — expressed during earlier meetings — that the wider 110-foot buffer will actually do more harm to the marsh by preventing any type of restoration through redevelopment. “Although I would love dearly to see the marsh be restored, I’m concerned that this letter, if adopted, won’t result in that,” Teitzel said. “It will result in decades of status quo.”

The final letter and supporting documentation was approved 4-2, with Teitzel and Tibbott voting no.

The next step is for the Ecology Department Director Maia Bellon to review the city’s response and issue a final ruling on the matter. Citizens who have testified at past council meetings in support of changes to the SMP again showed up at Tuesday night’s meeting. Serving as the group’s spokesperson, retired fisheries biologist Joe Scordino assured the council that citizens are already in engaging with the Ecology Department about the need for wider buffers to protect the marsh. The group also has proposed formation of a task force of business owners and citizens “to prevent further degradation of the marsh and to enhance the marsh for future generations,” Scordino said.

The council also:

Heard the first of several presentations from city staff regarding the city’s 2017 proposed budget. Public Works Director Phil Williams outlined major projects planned by the department for 2017, including $14.7 million to install or rehabilitate water and sewer line citywide, $1.1 million for street repair projects, and $300,000 for capital improvements to city buildings neglected by years of deferred maintenance. You can see his entire presentation here.– Listened to a Diversity Commission presentation, with Commissioner Pat Valle making the report. Valle summarized the commission’s accomplishments so far, including development of a four-point mission statement and sponsorship of several activities, including an April 6 diversity forum, marching in the Edmonds Fourth of July parade and an Oct. 12 forum on refugees and immigrants. Future plans include a World Cafe Community Cultural Conversation in late fall and a Youth Diversity engagement event mid-winter next year.

– Heard the 2016 annual report from the City’s Hearing Examiner Phil Olbrechts, who outlined the five decisions he has issued since his last report in December 2015. You can see his full report here.

– Moved to next week’s consent calendar approval of an amendment to Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office Salmon Project to develop an alternative tidal channel alignment for the Willow Creek daylighting project, to enhance habitat for fish and other wildlife. Also moved to the consent calendar was a supplemental sgreement with Shannon & Wilson to start the next phase of design work for the daylighting project.

– Received a report on 2016 park impact fees, which the city began collecting in 2013 from new single- and multi-family homes and commercial businesses. The city has collected $671,000 so far and not spend any of it; $500,000 is scheduled to be used in 2017 to support the waterfront redevelopment project next to the senior center.

— By Teresa Wippel

2 COMMENTS

  1. Contrary to comments by some Council Members and one public commenter at last nights meeting, the fact of the matter is you can’t restore habitat if you allow that same habitat to be destroyed by constructing large buildings right up to the edge of the Marsh. The Council’s adoption of the 110 buffer will prevent further encroachment of development into the Marsh both along Harbor Square and on the south side of the Marsh at the yet to be developed old UnoCal site. The Council’s decision to set the 110 foot buffer is based on science to ensure no net loss of ecological functions of the Marsh and that is exactly what the Shoreline Management Act requires that cities do to protect sensitive environments for the benefit of all citizens of the State.

    Unfortunately, the ‘battle’ to protect the Marsh from further development didn’t end with the Council’s decision on buffers; it now has to be approved by Maia Bellon, Director of Wash. Dept. of Ecology. Citizens of Edmonds now need to contact Ms. Bellon (E-Mail maib461@ecy.wa.gov ) and demand that she uphold her agency’s mission to “protect, preserve and enhance Washington’s environment for current and future generations” by approving the Council’s 110 foot buffer (plus 15 foot set-back) for the Marsh. For ‘unknown’ reasons, her staff have taken a non-scientific, pro-development approach to reducing the buffers around the Marsh, and the citizens of Edmonds need to tell Ms. Bellon and the governor of this State that we demand that the law be upheld and that Ecology has no legal alternative but to approve the Council’s scientifically based 110 foot buffer.

  2. Interesting that Councilman Teitzel, Councilman Tibbott, and Mayor Earling all seem to hold out the hope for future development (by striking the clause that residential development next to the marsh was not appropriate). There are a LOT of pro-development forces lurking around the perimeter of the marsh, including but not limited to the Port of Edmonds. Now we know beyond a doubt which council members (and mayor) are in favor of more development around the marsh, maybe even in and on the marsh. Teitzel’s and Tibbott’s terms can’t come up too soon for a vote (their term expires 12/31/19, unfortunately). Please remember their stance on this!

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