Edmonds City Council pulls plug on beleaguered Harbor Square project


After several years of planning, community meetings, discussions, disagreements and delays, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night finally killed the idea of incorporating a Master Plan for the Port of Edmonds-owned Harbor Square Business Complex into the City of Edmonds Comprehensive Plan.

With Councilmember Frank Yamamoto absent as he recovers from heart surgery, the council voted 4-2 to pull the plug on efforts by councilmembers and staff to develop a decision tree for next steps in the project, which has been mired in controversy since it was initially proposed by the Port of Edmonds more than a year ago.

Council President Lora Petso and Councilmembers Joan Bloom, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Diane Buckshnis voted to stop the decision tree process, while Councilmembers Strom Peterson and Kristiana Johnson opposed the idea.

While the Port’s proposal did not include specifics for an actual project on the current Harbor Square Business Complex site, council incorporation of the master plan into the city’s plan would have been a necessary first step toward redeveloping the 14.62-acre complex. The idea of redevelopment drew opposition from those who feared it would open the door to taller buildings on the Edmonds waterfront. The current site includes the Harbor Square Athletic Club and Tennis Center, the Harbor Inn hotel and numerous businesses located among five buildings on the site.

Buckshnis in the past has supported ongoing discussions about renovating Harbor Square, most recently encouraging the council to be open to options that could lead to a compromise, especially if incentive zoning was used, for example, to encourage developers to offer additional amenities in exchange for additional height.

But in remarks Tuesday night explaining her decision to vote to shut down the process, Buckshnis described the council’s effort to find common ground on Harbor Square “perplexing.” She added: “I don’t think we’re ever going to have a consensus and what I believe needs to happen is that we look at the entire waterfront area from Main Street to the (Edmonds) Marsh, and really do a comprehensive review.”

Councilmember Strom Peterson, a long-time supporter of the Port’s proposal, said he was “completely frustrated” with the council’s handing of Harbor Square. While the council may have never reached consensus, Peterson said that the work on the decision tree would have documented the process, so that when new ideas on Harbor Square came forward in the future, “we would have the document that we could look back on and not have this idea of having to start from scratch.”

“I just don’t understand the reasoning behind this, other than there has been a movement by certain members on this council to delay and stop this process from the get-go,” Peterson added.

“This plan was driven by the Port,” countered Bloom, who has long opposed the Harbor Square work. “The council did try to take it to a level that integrated the input we were getting from the citizens, and the Port was really unreceptive of these changes. This will give us the opportunity to have this be a city council-driven process, and a city council with the support and input of citizens to come up with a plan for the waterfront.”

The Port first made its proposal to the council last fall to modify the City’s comprehensive plan concerning redevelopment of the aging Harbor Square Business Complex it owns at Dayton Avenue and Highway 104. The proposal followed several years of study and public engagement activities that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The City of Edmonds Planning Board had endorsed the proposal, with conditions, and it had received support from the Edmonds business community, including the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce.

The Port officially withdrew its proposal in April 2013, citing “the City Council’s inability to substantively review the Planning Board’s recommended decision approving, with conditions, the adoption of the Harbor Square Master Plan Comprehensive Plan Amendment and Council’s failure to consider the City Staff’s recommendation that the Council similarly adopt that Planning Board recommendation.”

But up until Tuesday night, the council had continued to pursue the idea of developing its own plan for the Harbor Square complex.



15 Replies to “Edmonds City Council pulls plug on beleaguered Harbor Square project”

  1. The Council, specifically Joan Bloom, Lora Petso, Adrienne,Fraley-Monillas, and Diane Buckshnis; have just earned the respect and admiration of the majority of Edmonds citizens. 4/2 is a consensus as it is a clear majority of those voting. We need to retain these four ladies on the Council for sure.
    One happening I can safely predict. The developers and land owners will be back with another new gimmick soon for yet another try. From “modulations”, unworkable swap deals, secret (private) meetings, and now Port intrusion, all past failures; we now advance to whatever the next thinly disguised higher building effort will be.

    By the way, Ron Wambolt, who was involved in secret meetings, would probably have voted for higher buildings, so please vote ADRIENNE!

    Several Councils since 1980 have voted in this same manner and we continue to maintain a close resemblance to our original small town atmosphere. .


  2. Best news in quite sometime. Thank you for keeping up the good fight for what’s in the best interest of our small town – for the long run.


    1. My reference is to having the comp plan lead the future vision of our town (as it is should) which may or may not lead to redevelopment of certain properties. This is as opposed to the usual direction (and in this case) the desires of a property owner to redevelop forcing the re-visiting of the comp plan to fit their objective. This is not working to a plan but responding to a desire to redevelop – not necessarily in the best long term interest of our town. Focus on the vision for the future (the comp plan), which may or may not point to redevelopment, and individual projects can step in line behind it where appropriate.

      Same goes for the marsh. Develop a plan/vision as a city with input from all and then go forward. Trying to leverage off of the desires to redevelop by an adjacent large property owner (including oversize buildings) will only lead to conflict and short sighted compromise.

      Again, thank you majority council members for stepping back to re-set the proper direction for our comprehensive plan.


  3. I’m disappointed. This was a great opportunity to improve a great city. I thought this was about saving a marsh and taking better advantage of the waterfront. Clearly there are more thinly veiled conspiracy theorists than I thought who seem to figure out a way to weave in unrelated building heights.


  4. I am also disappointed in this decision. There is a dedicated group of people in the Edmonds community working very hard to protect and restore Edmonds Marsh. Untreated stormwater flows into the marsh from about 860 acres of the surrounding community. The properties immediately adjacent to the marsh must be incorporated into a solution. Recent advances in urban design around our region illustrates the great potential for natural (efficient and effective) filtration of stormwater that is incorporated INTO our built environments. Redeveloping Harbor Square presents us with a huge opportunity to get it right this time around. All the properties that surround the marsh, both built (like Harbor Square) and natural (like the intact riparian forest around the hatchery and demo native plant garden), must be included in the protection and enhancement efforts if our community is going to be successful in preserving the brightest gem of Edmonds- Edmonds Marsh.


  5. This is just more of the same for the City of Edmonds. The City Council always has excuses for why progress is a bad word. You just end up with decrepit old buildings that owners won’t renovate and a stagnating core. Edmonds could be a lot more like Port Townsend but it will never happen. And that’s just the way they want it.


  6. Well said Ray, as Kristiana Johnson’s opponet I’m dead set against raising the building height anywhere in the downtown corridor. They seem to think that the revenue generated from this will solve all our problems. It would take 5 or 6 Harbor Squares to plug the hole in our budget. Vote Randy Hayden to preserve our downtown charm.


  7. Contrary to Mr. Marmion’s belief that the Port did not follow our Comprehensive Plan, they actually followed it very closely and spent three years and hundred’s of thousands of dollars trying to make their proposal as consistent as possible with the City’s vision.

    From pg. 55 (“Downtown Master Plan” aka Harbor Square et al site not downtown Edmonds)
    “Downtown Master Plan. The properties between SR-104 and the railroad, including Harbor Square, the Edmonds Shopping Center (former Safeway site), and extending past the Commuter Rail parking area up to Main Street. This area is appropriate for design-driven master planned development which provides for a mix of uses and takes advantage of its strategic location between the waterfront and downtown. The location of existing taller buildings on the waterfront, and the site’s situation at the bottom of “the Bowl,” could enable a design that provides for higher buildings outside current view corridors. Any redevelopment in this area should be oriented to the street fronts, and provide pedestrian-friendly walking areas, especially along Dayton and Main Streets. Development design should also not ignore the railroad side of the properties, since this is an area that provides a “first impression” of the city from railroad passengers and visitors to the waterfront. Art work, landscaping, and modulated building design should be used throughout any redevelopment project.”

    Comprehensive Plan 2012

    There are numerous other examples of consistency: Pgs. 19-22 regarding Sustainability Goals, 34, Land Use Elements and 42-44 regarding Activity Centers.

    Public policy is difficult. It is impossible when misinformation is assumed to be correct information.

    I suggest we all read the Comp Plan – it’s actually very interesting, easy to understand and provides much common ground.


    1. I stand corrected Ms. Fimia. I can see the points in the language of the current comp plan you refer to. Thank you for pointing this out. (Note that I see many points that support my position as well.)

      However, interestingly the current language of the 2012 comp plan reinforces the original point that I was trying to make above. When I was last heavily involved in Edmonds planning and development activity the comp plan did not read this way. In the 2003 comp plan there was this language for this part of Edmonds:

      “Encourage opportunities for new development and redevelopment which reinforce Edmonds’ attractive, small town pedestrian oriented character. Existing height limits are an important part of this quality of life, and remain in effect.”

      The language has changed quite a bit but I don’t agree that it is an easy to follow document. It opens the door to possible height relief but doesn’t necessitate it. The current comp plan language splits the downtown/waterfront into so many pieces and so many more goals and guidelines that I can see where most projects could have comp plan compliant positions on both sides of the fence. And my point above was that having project-specific objectives at hand when writing such a document as the comp plan leads to this type of not very workable compromise language.

      So I stick with my original point which is that I support the council members who (from a distance) seem to be more in the same thinking of mine on the intent of Edmonds future development under the comp plan which is to keep the downtown / waterfront area “small town like”. And the sketches I saw of the planned port development didn’t at all fit that vision in my opinion. … and I think the majority council position is consistent with the 2012 comp plan in this regard.


  8. I told everybody 8 9 months ago when the council decided they wanted to be”urban planners” “developers” they were wasting there time and nothing would happen of it thats not there job never was and never will be. Its not even the citys property its the ports and the port comes up with a plan brings it to the city and the city either accepts it or rejects it and the “mayor”should keeps his noise out of it and runs the meeting, So I hope your all happy council members you wasted a ;of time and money on something that One you should’nt be doing in the first place and two frankly you not qualifyed to do anyways all i can say is I told you


    1. Michael – I wonder how much time and money has been expended directly or indirectly related to Mayor Earling’s intervention into the Legislative Process on January 29, 2013.

      I know that Ron Wambolt opined on January 30th that “the motion to deny the action requested by the Port surely would have passed -likely 5 to 2, or perhaps 4 to 3.”

      There is no way to know if Ron’s opinion was correct. If Ron was correct, public resources may have been unnecessarily expended and unnecessary stress may have been placed on the City Council since that troubling evening.


  9. Ken I have no clue all the port had to do was come up with a plan that was within the rules that were in place and it would have probably passed they said it wasnt feasible to do that well too bad I guess maybe they should have thought about that before they bought the property Ill say it again all the port wanted to do was change the rules so they could sell the property and make a lot of money. some day that property will probably get developed I might even buy a condo down there I practically live down there anyways with tennis and fishing but it has to be developed with the rules that are in place that way its fair for everybody.


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