Creating vision for Edmonds waterfront blurred by building height issue

So much for the community visioning process.

Edmonds City Councilmember D.J. Wilson’s effort Tuesday night to lead the council in a “thought exercise” about developing a community vision for the downtown Edmonds waterfront quickly turned into a lively and sometimes heated discussion about the perils of private meetings and tinkering with building heights.

Wilson said his presentation was aimed at bringing the public up to speed on a meeting –described as an information-gathering session — that he and two other councilmembers had 12 days earlier involving Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson, city staff and representatives from the Port of Edmonds and the state Department of Transportation. The meeting was the result of a council directive that tasked Wilson and Councilmembers Steve Bernheim and Diane Buckshnis with leading an exploration of the waterfront area’s future, Wilson said.

The Tuesday night presentation outlined what was discussed at the March 25 meeting, including the various interests that the involved parties have in the waterfront area — essentially running from the Skippers property at the north end to the Port of Edmonds property at the south — and included several possible paths the community could follow. Wilson emphasized that his intent was to present a variety of scenarios, knowing that no one was likely agree with all of them, but hoping that it would spark imaginative thinking among the citizenry.

From the city’s standpoint, Wilson said, the goal should be to create an engaging space out of the properties currently available, including the former Skippers restaurant and the Washington State Department of Transportation-owned parking lot — both directly across from the Ferry Terminal — and the Harbor Square property owned by the Port of Edmonds.

The Skippers property is “the gateway to ferry traffic and it’s a gateway into our downtown,” Wilson said. “We need to get that right.”

The state DOT is looking for proposals to trade the parking lot it owns as payment for work on a pedestrian overpass, and the Port of Edmonds is interesting in bringing a redevelopment proposal to the City of Edmonds for the Harbor Square property, Wilson said. There is also discussion around increasing the city’s limit on building heights to accommodate a five-story Harbor Square development, he added.

“Given all of these public representatives at the table, we really ought to be able to work together when we can,” Wilson said. “It is in everybody’s interest that something down there work for the community.”

Deciding on the direction for waterfront redevelopment “must be within the right context, package and vision,” Wilson added, and will require “open-minded flexibility around building heights, something the council has not always shown.”

The meeting with Port and DOT officials, which was not publicly advertised, drew fire from Councilmember Michael Plunkett, who said that it should have been done in public to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Bernheim disagreed, noting that the three-member group was directed by the council to explore these options. “We’ve had other meetings where we’ve tried to get ideas with the idea of presenting them to the public later,” Bernheim said.

“I’m not uncomfortable with the legality, I’m uncomfortable with the overall appearance,” Plunkett responded.

Public comments by two citizens following Wilson’s presentation included sharply worded reprimands, both of which mentioned the building heights issue. When former City Councilmember Roger Hertrich criticized Wilson for his willingness to consider a possible partnership with the Port to purchase the Skipper’s property, Wilson shot back: “We don’t have to play well with others but I think it would be better if we did.”

In other action, the Council:

-voted 6-0 (Councilmember Dave Orvis absent) to amend Title 18 to allow the use of city right-of-way for outdoor sidewalk dining and placement of art.  The amendments, which were originally discussed at the March 18 council meeting, were brought to a vote after city staff revised their proposals based on council and community feedback. Among the revisions: sidewalk dining will be allowed until close of business (the original proposal called for ending such dining at 11 p.m. ) and the permitted right-of-way was widened from 24 inches to 36 inches.

– unanimously approved a new fiscal policy and ordinance, developed by Buckshnis, aimed at ensuring that the city provide “a road map to help citizens understand the financial condition of this city.” Under the new policy, the city’s financial information, including expenses and income, will be placed on the City of Edmonds website for easy public access.

– voted 5-1 (Plunkett against) to pass a resolution urging Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna to abandon his lawsuit challenging the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

  1. Wish I could have been there last night to catch Councilman Wilson’s presentation, and the resultant fireworks. While preserving our views is a very important part of any development project downtown, we can’t have a reflexive reaction to any proposal that isn’t 100% below the current height limits.
    We don’t want to end up as Kirkland, but we must at least be open minded and allow all options to be put on the table.

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