Citizens take hands-on approach to Westgate, Five Corners planning

Stacking blocks of wood and taping pieces of paper to maps, nearly 75 citizens, property owners, City of Edmonds staff and consultants spent four hours on Saturday planning the future of two of Edmonds’ most prominent and well-traveled commercial centers — Westgate and Five Corners — and their surrounding neighborhoods.

Participants in the city-sponsored design workshop gathered around tables in the Edmonds Library’s Plaza Room, discussing the merits of everything from roundabouts to street-facing businesses to pocket parks to rain gardens.

Sponsored by the City of Edmonds Economic Development Commission in collaboration with the University of Washington Green Futures Lab and the Cascade Land Conservancy, Saturday’s workshop was the second in a series of planning meetings for the two commercial sites.

During the first meetings — known as listening sessions — in late January, citizens began to envision ideas for developing Westgate and Five Corners. Saturday’s meeting was hands-on, with those attending assigned to one of several Westgate or Five Corners tables covered with large neighborhood maps. Members of each table affixed pieces of paper in various shapes to represent participants’ desired open spaces (such as parks or outdoor eating areas), while wood blocks — stacked according to desired building height — were placed in locations for commercial, residential or mixed-used buildings. University of Washington faculty and students, and professional architects and artists — many of them Edmonds residents — were on hand to provide guidance and answer questions about the process.

Following two hours of discussion, block stacking, sketching and taping, the leader of each table group provided a report on the the table’s collective vision for future development. For the seven-acre Five Corners site, it was clear that the city’s plan to install a roundabout at the current five-way stop sign was of utmost concern. Many mentioned the importance of incorporating the roundabout into the neighborhood identity, “celebrating it as a gateway to downtown Edmonds as well as marker for community,” as one group put it. For Westgate, the focus was on how to make the 30-acre neighborhood that includes a state highway leading to the Edmonds ferry terminal  more walkable and pedestrian-friendly. One of the table presenters said his group suggested taking advantage of the ferry traffic to create a  “stop, shop and sail” promotion — ferry goers could shop at Westgate and also get a reservation for the ferry.

Stephen Clifton, the city’s director of community services/economic development, also attended the workshop, and told My Edmonds News he was pleased with the turnout and level of engagement attendees brought to the process. Clifton said he believes that the timing for this type of planning — during an economic downturn — is perfect, since it gives the city an opportunity to lay the groundwork for building code changes that will encourage development once the economy rebounds.

And speaking of code changes, the concept mentioned during Saturday’s meeting is “form-based coding” — a term that has come up at recent Edmonds City Council and Planning Board meetings and one that you’ll be hearing more about in the coming months. The idea is to develop neighborhoods according to physical form rather than by defining separate uses, as conventional zoning calls for. As a result, form and mass of buildings are regulated in relationship to one another and to the streets and blocks they are on. We’ve included an illustrated example of how form-based codes compare to traditional zoning here.

Another element of this project was an online community survey, which was posted on the city’s website for a few months to capture citizens’ opinions on various Westgate and Five Corners design options. Brad Shipley of the University of Washington shared the survey results with the group Saturday. Respondents were broken down by age groups — under 24, 25-44, 45-64 and 65-plus — and Shipley noted that for both Westgate and Five Corners, the top priority for all ages was the creation of more public spaces. He also provided a summary of development preferences — ranging from building scale to services and amenities — preferred by citizens who used an individual clicker survey tool to react to what they saw during the late January “listening sessions.”

You can find results of the Westgate survey and listening session here and those from Five Corners here.

What’s next for this project? A summary of Saturday’s work will be presented during a public meeting in May, followed by a report to the Edmonds City Council this summer. From there, the Council will hold a public hearing on proposed recommendations with a council vote to follow. More information can be found at the City’s website.

  1. So glad I attended the design workshop – there was a great energy in the room as the teams worked together to come up with visions of our Neighborhood Centers to carry us into the future.
    While I know that there won’t be any changes to my Five Corners neighborhood any time soon, I’m excited that we’re all getting a chance to weigh in on what we’d like to see it become.

    All in all, it was four-plus hours well-spent.

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