Council sets hearings on vehicle license fee hike, SEPA regulation changes

Compared to recent meetings, it was a rather quiet night for the Edmonds City Council, and for newly sworn-in Mayor Mike Cooper.

The item that generated the most discussion was the introduction of proposed updates to City of Edmonds State Environmental Policy Act regulations that could potentially allow for increased development along the Medical/Highway 99 Activity Center and the Highway 99 Corridor. The public will have a chance to comment on the updates at the Aug. 3 council meeting.

Several councilmembers expressed concerns that the proposed relaxation of SEPA regulations in those two geographic areas along Highway 99 and near Stevens Hospital could potentially have a negative impact on residential neighborhoods.  A motion by Councilmember Michael Plunkett to keep the regulations unchanged was defeated by a 5-2 vote (Councilmember Lora Petso also supporting) but in a subsequent amendment approved by D.J. Wilson, the council agreed to hold two public hearings — one for each geographic area — on Aug. 3.

The council also voted to hold a public hearing Aug. 3 on a proposal for the November general election ballot that would raise the motor vehicle licensing fee that Edmonds residents now pay from $20 to $60. Proceeds from the fee would be used to support 37 separate traffic and pedestrian safety projects in Edmonds.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis reported that the first meeting of the 2010 Citizens Levy Committee will be this Thursday from 6-8 p.m. in the Brackett Room at City Hall. The committee will conduct a review of the city’s general fund and also take a look at city financial policies, capital projects and the salaries and FTEs of comparable cities, Buckshnis said.

  1. Wow,
    I was really surprised to see the planning board recommended reducing environmental protections in our fair city. What’s even more surprising is to watch so-called environmentalist, make this recommendation.

    Cheers to Board member Reed and Stewart for standing up to our environment. They voted against recommendation.

    As for Lovell, Guenther, Johnson, and Cloutier, do you really believe a 20 home development doesn’t need environmental review? Or were you just following staff recommendation. Seriously, that’s huge.

  2. Dave – I understand your concerns, and I had the same questions! Please review the minutes for the hearings prior to the public hearing for the details on that. There is no case in which a “20 home development doesn’t need environmental review”. Though, if you just read the proposed table, it sure looks that way. That question came up over and over and over.

    Those concerns are all encompassed by a portion of the SEPA update concerning “flexible threshholds”, which are based on the State SEPA guidelines. We have had some flexible threshholds for years, but most of these are new. To see what difference flexible threshholds would make, we went back several years, during times of brisk building, and reviewed all of the SEPA applications made under the most restrictive standards. Turns out, there were no issues of significance that would have come up if we would have had these changes in place.

    So, while it is simple to construct a thought experiment that seems to lead to a bypassing of environmental reviews, in practice, those situations have not existed for a reason.

    Our development standards and zoning are a much better starting place for such controls, and Edmonds has done a good job there. A 20 home development, under the flexible threshholds, would be limited to a small portion of multifamily zoned areas of the city that are already built out. Not a random placement of a 20 home development, say, alongside Shell Creek, for example – that would have the most stringent SEPA standards, as well as all of the other review requirements.

    If the Council finds the flexible threshholds objectionable, that doesn’t sink the entire SEPA change package. Because, clearly, since the threshholds would not have saved any significant work in the past… they won’t in the future, either! The Council could pass all of the SEPA changes proposed, other than the new flexible threshholds. Paint the volunteers on the Planning Board as cavalier, and move on. No worries.

    Please go back and review the answers that the Staff gave to our repeated questions along the same line as your assertion, through our several reviews of these changes (and the public’s!). And let me know if you see something different than what I’ve described above.

    If you find a reasonable scenario wherein the environment would be at real risk due to flexible threshholds in the limited area within which they would apply, I will gladly speak before Council in opposition to flexible threshholds. One thing I’ve learned about decisions, is that they can and should be reviewed, and changed if found wanting. I don’t care about accusations of “flip flopping”. The best decision is what matters. I trust that, despite the tone of your post, that your true intention is to do what is best for the City.

  3. If there was no practical application, then why did you recommend the law, and why did you resist efforts from fellow planning board members to clarify the law.

    It looks pretty clear to me that a large 20 unit development can escape environmental review under this new law, which I quote below:

    The table below establishes the City’s exempt level for minor new construction
    under WAC 197-11-800(1)(b)(i) through WAC 197-11-800(1)(b)(v) for all
    property located within the Highway 99 Corridor and the Medical/Highway 99
    Activity Center as defined in the City of Edmonds Comprehensive Plan.

    Residential New Construction Parking Lot Landfill or excavation
    20 units 12,000 square feet 40 spaces 500 cy

    P.S. The chart didn’t cut and past well, so I simplified it a bit.

  4. @Mr. Orvis. Please review the minutes again. The rules were refined twice from what the staff had recommended. (I assume you’re only speaking of that one table, which was refined twice). The initial proposal was to use the maximum flexible threshholds throughout all of Edmonds, other than the Downtown/Waterfront area.

    Regulations should be written in a manner that covers what is necessary, and what is appropriate. SEPA regulations are no different. Instead of a “one-size-fits-all” set of limits, we tailored the regulations to our area. This approach is the same as other regulatory limits, such as building heights, density, lot size limits, etc…

    Your incomplete example cites only the limit, without relating it to any specific property within the zone. While using limits as examples provides a soapbox from which to express mock alarm, I’m afraid it’s of little use in doing what the rest of the City is doing – moving forward in civil debate.

    I propose that you and I have no differences in at least the broad vision we hold for Edmonds, and I am happy to engage you in civil discourse to find the best answer for Edmonds.

    A counterpoint (for humor only), is that you were in favor of “regulations that would permit building owners downtown to raise their roof heights by over three feet without any review”. As, with 500 cubic yards of fill, one could raise a small lot by over three feet, and 500 yds of fill is exempt from SEPA review everywhere by the current regulations. I find this kind of reasoning disingenuous, and not helpful in advancing our city. Though, it obviously helps one win elections.

    So, do you see a real application of the proposed SEPA regulations, at a real property, that concerns you? Where can 20 new units be thrown up, in an area that hasn’t already been developed, at least once?

  5. Sounds like you just did what staff recommended. Board member Stewart clealy had some issue with the enviromental impact of the bill, so why didn’t you listen to that board member.

    If you can’t throw up 20 units in the zone, then why did you pass it? Why didn’t you just stike it? This causes me doubt your sincerity on your last point.

  6. @Dave – I think you missed my points, but it may have been my wording. I’m on vacation, and am replying off-the-cuff, so my writing may not be as lucid as it could.

    – Staff recommended something different. Months ago. We gave them guidance on what we would like to see different, and they acted on that. The plan presented to us for approval was what we had asked for in the two previous hearings. No “rubber stamp” there. The “staff proposal” was what we directed them to prepare. That’s why I asked you to go back and read the minutes from the earlier meetings.

    – There are indeed places where you can throw up 20 units in that zone! Those are precisely the places where 20 units (or thereabouts) are already built. That was my point. Match the requirements to the area. That’s why we restricted the area where the flexible threshholds were to be used to those specific zones. And didn’t include other MR zones.

    – Your supposition that I did not listen to other Board Members is a terrible insult. I hold all of the Planning Board members in very high regard. Ms. Stewart and I work together closely on several environmental issues, where she consistently teaches me new things, and Mr. Reed I value highly for his deep experience, clear reasoning, honesty, and commitment. I listened, but I disagreed. That is permissible, is it not?

    —- I’m off to family reunion events in Minnesota, and won’t return to this thread. Please email me directly if you have any questions or if you find a path for dangerous activities to occur unchecked. I still stand ready to change my opinion – but you have offered little other than fishing expeditions for campaign tidbits thus far.

  7. I too was very surprised by the Planning Boards decision as it takes away a legal protect for residents who would be impacted by these larger developments. By allowing a much larger project to go through without SEPA review it takes away an impacted property owner’s legal right to go through the courts to legally challenge these ‘bloated’, out-of-scale developements. As a resident of the neighborhood in question I find it frustrating and insulting that the message we keep receiving from city boards is that we are less important than the other family neighborhoods in Edmonds nor apparently are we as important as potential developers.

  8. @Jessie;
    I understand your sentiments, but SEPA reviews are not the place to make this stand. SEPA is not a development control tool, it is for determination of environmental review requirements. Larger projects in your neighborhood (and mine) are not stopped by SEPA, they’re stopped by development code and zoning. SEPA was enacted before we had the Growth Management Act, so the scale of the review requirements of SEPA in Edmonds were not lined up with our zoning. That was only made possible recently, which is why we are updating our SEPA regulations.

    Any changes to the zoning of your neighborhood that would permit large developments will require public hearings and extensive review. Or, as you know well, might even require a change to the Comprehensive Plan. Kudos to your neighborhood for showing up at that last hearing.

    I think the most important step you, and your neighbors, can take, would be to study the Comp Plan demarkation of the Medical/Hwy 99 Activity Center, and propose changes. I think that it was drawn with a ruler, vice walking the neighborhoods and considering the impact of lumping in the neighborhoods. Changing the boundaries of this area would make the largest difference in controlling development in your neighborhood.

    A map of the area boundaries is available on the City website, here:

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