Council gives green light to Southwest Edmonds housing development

After six years of legal wrangling, a 27-home development next to Hickman Park in Southwest Edmonds received the green light from the Edmonds City Council, which voted unanimously Monday night to affirm a City of Edmonds Hearing Examiner’s decision approving the project.

The Council’s vote came after four hours of testimony in a closed-record review of the Feb. 9 Hearing Examiner’s decision, and was the latest chapter in a long-standing legal saga that started in 2006 when Burnstead Construction bought the 5.61-acre property from the Edmonds School District and proposed a Planned Residential Development (PRD) for the site. The Southwest Edmonds Neighborhood Association appealed the project on grounds that it violated City ordinances and state laws involving stormwater drainage management, a Fish & Wildlife Habitat Conservation area, traffic congestion, safety, open space and other concerns.

After the City denied the neighborhood association’s appeal, association member Lora Petso and her husband Colin Southcote-Want in 2007 appealed to the City Hearing Examiner, then to the City Council. When those appeals were successful, Petso then sued the City and Burnstead Construction under state Land Use Protection Act  laws for violations of City and state codes. She prevailed in Snohomish County Superior Court and, later, in the State Court of Appeals,

However, the state appeals court left some questions unanswered and sent the case back to the City Hearing Examiner for more information and testimony in the areas of drainage, perimeter set-backs, and open space requirements, setting up the Feb. 9 decision in Burnstead’s favor. (Petso is currently an Edmonds City Councilmember but at the time of the initial legal action through May 2010 she was not. She recused herself from voting on this latest appeal and instead appeared with the neighborhood association and offered testimony on the group’s behalf.)

Monday’s four-hour meeting to hear the neighborhood association’s appeal was a continuation of a review that began during the Council’s May 16 meeting, but was ended at 11:30 p.m. that night after councilmembers determined there were still many unanswered questions and they needed another evening to address their concerns.

Although the Council voted unanimously Monday night to affirm the hearing examiners decision on all three areas – perimeters, open space and drainage plans — councilmembers did take an additional vote requiring Burnstead to meet two conditions. In an effort to address the neighbors’ primary concern that runoff from the development will only make neighborhood drainage problems worse, the council voted 5-1 (Councilmember Frank Yamamoto opposed), to require each lot to have an individual drainage system “if feasible within engineering standards and guidelines,” and for there to be a five-year maintenance bond on the drainage, pending research by Burnstead to determine if a five-year bond can be acquired.

Councilmembers will have another chance to review their decision and make further adjustments after attorney Carol Morris, who was hired specifically to represent the council during the closed records review, puts the proceedings in writing.

Individual councilmembers did spend significant time asking detailed questions on areas related to safety, landscaping and drainage, but were warned by Morris that it was important to make their decision based on whether the development complied with city code — or risk a reversal of their ruling during a future appeal.

For example, Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas asked whether city staff had looked into the concern by neighbors that Hickman Park draws an overflow crowd to the park for youth soccer games, resulting in parking on both sides of 237th Street Southwest. Increased traffic from a new housing development could prove dangerous for children crossing an already congested street, she noted.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” said Southwest Edmonds Neighborhood Association member Cliff Sanderlin following the council vote. “The proceedings were treated as if it was assumed that the PRD would be approved. Councilmembers only had the opportunity to vote on ways to ameliorate the problems, but never given a up or down vote.  Several councilmembers expressed concerns over Critical areas, the taking of the neighbors’ property, and safety issues, they were told to ignore that.”

  1. I don’t know the details of this issue and don’t have an opinion one way or another. However, I am curious why outside counsel was hired to represent the counsel in this matter? Why did counsel of record not handle this? Does it have to do with a conflict arising on potential appeal?

    1. My understanding – to avoid conflict of interest. Outside counsel was hired for Council because City Attorney Jeff Taraday was representing staff — and staff had recommended project be approved.

  2. I didn’t hear about this – I just moved to Edmonds a little over a year ago. I would have found a way to voice my strong opposition to this.

  3. Good job of reporting on a complex and information-rich case, Teresa. For the record, our 2012 appeals were done as individuals, not as representatives of the Southwest Edmonds Neighborhood Assn. Two of the appellant couples were co-founders of SENA in 2006, and our appeal fees this year were funded largely by SENA members. Since January, things were moving too fast to convene SENA. That may have been part of the strategy by the builder and City’s Development Services Department (handmaidens to the construction lobby) to keep us and and our City Council members under their thumb.

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