City Council considers code amendment allowing unit lot subdivisions

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The Edmonds City Council at its Tuesday, May 9 meeting learned more about a proposed amendment to the city code that would allow unit lot subdivisions in Edmonds.

There will be a public hearing on the proposal at the next council meeting Tuesday, May 16.

Planning Manager Rob Chave explained that this particular code amendment came about via a request from a private applicant, Westgate Woods LLC, which is planning a multi-family project in Edmonds.

The Edmonds Planning Board held a public hearing on that request April 26 and recommended that the City Council approve the amendment.

Although the request was made for a specific project, the code amendment if approved could be applied in the both multifamily residential (RM) and general commercial (CG) zones as well as portions of the Westgate mixed use zone, Chave added.

Unit lot subdivisions provide an alternative form of ownership for multi-family housing but do not change the underlying zoning. Housing units built in this way allow for “fee simple” ownership, Chave said, with lot lines placed around each of the units.

The proposal has already been reviewed by the Edmonds Planning Board, which provided several amendments to the proposal based on citizen comments. Among them was a requirement that a homeowners association and agreements for maintenance are established if the development is done in a way where there are common areas or where there are multiple units in one building.

“I think this really is an opportunity for home ownership,” said Councilmember Neil Tibbot. referring to the “Missing Middle” concept of multi-unit housing types such as duplexes or fourplexes. Notes Wikipedia: “Although many of these are a common feature in pre-war building stocks, these housing types have become much less common (hence the “missing”).”

“It’s a way of doing small-scale home ownership without larger lots that frankly add to the cost,” Chave said. “Some people like this type of development and for them, it’s a little more affordable than if you buy a traditional single-family home on a larger piece of ground.”

Edmonds Historic Preservation Chair Tim Raetzloff thanks the Edmonds City Council for the proclamation regarding National Historic Preservation Month.

The council also heard Mayor Dave Earling read a proclamation regarding National Historic Preservation much, with Tim Raetzloff accepting on behalf of the Edmonds Historic Preservation Commission.

After the regular meeting, councilmembers then broke into their respective committees to study items before them.

In the Finance Committee meeting, Chair Diane Buckshnis and Councilmember Dave Teitzel considered a proposal from City Clerk Scott Passey to adopt a policy that outlines when Edmonds business owners can have late fees for business license renewal payments waived or reversed. Passey noted that in any case, the procedure for business license payments is likely to change soon; a new law passed in 2017 by the Washington State Legislature will require most cities to partner with the Department of Revenue to administer general business licenses. The Finance Committee agreed to move the item on to next week’s consent agenda for council approval.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

22 COMMENTS

  1. If these homes are built do it with intelligent design and quality materials. We don’t want them to look like an urban nightmare.

  2. @Ron W., while I do not sit on the Diversity Commission and grew up in a different decade than you; I find the use of the word “ghetto” to be highly offensive. I suggest you look up the definition in the dictionary.

    • My on-line dictionary says:
      noun
      1.
      a part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups.
      verb
      1.
      put in or restrict to an isolated or segregated area or group.

      Lat night in an episode of “Art Detectives” there was reference to “the English ghetto” in Italy.

      Perhaps it’s a mistake to take offense where none was intended?

      • @ N. Brown. Perhaps you might review the history of Jewish ghettos instituted by Authorities (by decree and force) in Nazi-occupied Europe and for those fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe… as well as other examples where minorities were forced to live in ghettos. As someone who supported the Diversity Commission, perhaps you might consider that some with different experiences than you may be sensitive to the use of the term ghetto, especially during these times when hate associated with ethnicity seems to be spreading in our country. Mr. Wambolt is an educated man and I have no doubt that he did not intend to offend. But I’m sure there are other terms that may have been used to describe the aesthetics and functionality (or lack thereof) of potential residential developments resulting from the proposed development code amendment change.

        • I am fully aware of the implications of the word and have read extensively in the field over many years, and in two languages; but I feel it is foolish to take offense where offense was not intended, and also that we are far too quick to look for things to be offended by. A “slip of the pen” is not an attack on any ehtnicity, and I am certain Mr Wambolt did not mean such.

    • Diane,
      I find you and other Council members forcing a BID “Ed!” down the throats of Business Owners, under falsehood and lies, to be offensive.
      But, then City Documents show you were one person who had full knowledge as to what was about to transpire. You must hate public document requests, they leave a nasty paper trail.
      You are offensive to honest business owners.

  3. So now that we have debated the word “ghetto” let’s debate what is meant by “future” On a time continuum does that mean tomorrow, next year, or next decade, or what?

    The real issue is how we write land use codes, and what the codes will bring in terms of development and is that the type of development we want and why?

    Are codes like the one described going to get us any “affordable” housing or just some lower cost housing? What do we want and where do we want it?

  4. @Brent – I welcome public request and have complied to yours and many others which take a large amount of staff time to complete. Regarding your constant complaint about the BID, I am one of seven and I believe your best advocate who was a former Council Member, a member of the BID and opposed to the BID did her best to stop the process. It has been years now and I suggest you bring your gripe up again as to why you feel this group is operating poorly for the City. There are many BIDs throughout this Country and we did not approve this on a whim and it went through months of public comments and reviews.

    @Ron, I believe I preference my comment to growing up in a different decade and not being part of the Diversity Commission. I do know your intentions to not offend were honorable as you are a highly educated and a connected individual. Having said that, I did receive comments and calls regarding the term “ghetto” causing me to review it and make a simple statement. As you know when any Council Member makes a comment about anything – it then becomes directed to that individual which we saw – and thank you Darrol for putting the issue back on track.

  5. Thanks Diane, I was hoping folks would talk about the issues not each other. The change described just makes it a bit easier and cheaper for someone to own a home. The issue of lower priced house is filled with a lack of common definitions that can be used. At the recent Affordable Housing Open House the definition of “affordable housing was something like “the cost of rent and utilities should be no more than 30% of the median household income. For our area that would be $1000 a month. That’s a tough challenge for Edmonds.

    Recent changes by council to encourage smaller units and more density have provide tax incentives for developers. Even with these tax incentives and smaller units it is unlikely the new units will meet the “affordable housing” standard. Council may have made it easier to create smaller units with the tax incentives it will not go far enough to create a supply of “affordable housing”

  6. ‘Affordable Housing’ is a pipe dream…

    ‘Affordable Housing’ only becomes ‘affordable’ if subsidized by someone else.

    Guess who??

  7. What we need to do is think of ways to build “affordable housing” AH, without a direct subsidy from tax payers. Granting short term tax incentives are a subsidy to be sure. The tax incentives given by council for the Westgate project will produce smaller, less expensive units that can be rented for less but only will the tax rebate lasts. Even with the tax incentives the rents will likely not qualify as AH.

    As an example, if a developer can build a 2 story structure that will “pencil out” that could be the starting point. No subsidies there. Now if we let the developer build 3 more stories in a way that can produce AH AND traditional units and it “pencils out” then we still have no subsidy of cash or tax incentives. The “subsidy” in this case would be added height and density.

    One of the values to the community would be that the property tax base for the 2 story building would be replaced by a 5 story structure. By allowing the larger structure and added tax base it would put less pressure on raising everyone else’s taxes. So the “subsidy” would be height and density while the increase in tax base would help us all.

    Another way would be to let the developer build the added 3 floors and charge a fee for the added height and density. Those fees could be used to “subsidize” AH elsewhere. This would be a subsidy but guess who is paying it… the developer.

    The cost to build a square foot of space is about the same until you begin to divide and furnish the space into something useful. A retail space or an office space is different both in cost to build out and the rent is different that living space. A bedroom cost less to build out than a kitchen. The key to affordability is finding ways to use limited space more efficiently.

    Some examples: 1. Micro units, built off site and transported. 2. Boarding house principles, separate bedrooms, shared common space for other functions like TV watching and cooking. 3. Dorm style with private sleeping and TV areas and a shared kitchen down the hall. These types of facilities would cost less to build and would allow for reduced rents with no outside subsidy.

    We can take shoots at each other or the government or we can try to use our creative talents and come up with acceptable solutions. I would like to think we can solve problems and propose those solutions and make things work. Clinging on to old ideas will not produce solutions. We can do better. Lower cost housing can be affordable and one persons “ghetto or slum” can be another persons dream for a home of their own. Let get our thinking caps on and not become cling-on’s.

    • Good analysis Darrol. It needs to be stressed that housing in Edmonds is relatively costly because of the high cost of land. Taller buildings would help remedy that by providing more units to cover the cost of the land. For example if the cost of the land is $1 million and there are 10 units the cost allocated to each unit is $100,000. But if there are 20 units the allocation is reduced to $50,000.

    • Excellent response and informative – thanks!

      I believe one “objection” could still be aesthetic. In the context of what we want Edmonds to be, some regard needs to be toward attractive, well-built structures. Attractiveness is of course subjective (though low-income families should access to attractive surroundings, which is not always the case) – the latter not so much: one problem in the UK has been that AH housing has been so badly constructed that it rapidly decays to the point where it ceases to function well and becomes a eyesore, and degenertes into slums.

  8. When you incent a developer to put the AH units right in the same building as the regular units the look and feel would be the same for all units. So instead of building a 3600 sq ft unit for one family it can be divided into 4 units of 900 sq feet. More people in the same space.
    Adding to Ron’s point about spreading the cost of the land look what happens if you do only 2 stories on a $1m piece of dirt. $500,000 per story. Spread across 5 stories, that same land cost is $200,000 per story. Sure cut the cost down.

  9. Don, I am not advocating greater density, taller building, more people, more cars, and more taxes. Just trying to outline the facts of growth and get us all to think a bit of what type of growth we want. We WILL meet the Growth Management Act goals without changing a thing. We only need to add about 250 people a year to achieve those targets. With the development already planned and the changing demographics we will exceed the goals by a wide margin. The question we need to discuss is do we want to direct the development to achieve other goals or just let things happen. What is not often talked about is the role development play and taxes. Excise taxes drive new park dollars and other improvements. A larger tax base grows the EMS revenues.
    And with new additions to the tax base new revenues are created taking the pressure off of the need for new taxes. If we want to slow down growth we can do that and we all just need to pay more for city services as a result. Costs go up about 5-6% per year and revenues go up by 1-3% in a good year. On average we need more revenue to cover the gap. We have just been lucky over the last few budget cycles with a more robust economy and with the city doing a good job to contain costs.

    None of what I have pointed out is favoring a “Little Seattle” quite the contrary, we have the opportunity to select the type of growth we want and the type of new people we attract to live here. Now is the time for all of us to get engaged and help with the direction of our city.

  10. What’s not addressed in the subdivision code is the reality of parking in these 4-packs (or 6 packs or 8-packs). To use the garage, you have to navigate in a vehicle access “canyon” and you’re in trouble if a neighbor wants to enter when you want to depart. Most people will park on the street.

    What I don’t understand is the request from the developer to be released from the burden of the bonding and insurance requirements through state law. I’m curious about who that would benefit and would the consumer be harmed? The condominium laws have worked well for years; sure there was bonding trouble during the downturn, but that’s not the circumstance today.

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