Council OKs 100-foot Edmonds Marsh setback; agrees to senior center negotiations on land lease

Photo courtesy Friends of Edmonds Marsh Facebook page.
Photo courtesy Friends of Edmonds Marsh Facebook page.

Updated to clarify there were votes on two separate issues: One that was unanimous to approve the setback and the other that was 5-1 on the issue of “physically separated/functionally isolated.”

By a unanimous 6-0 vote, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night agreed to recommend a 100-foot interim setback be incorporated into the state-required Shoreline Master Program, an amount that pleased two environmental advocates who were present for the Tuesday night discussion. Councilmember Tom Mesaros was absent.

Both Keeley O’Connell and Val Stewart, who have been active in efforts to promote restoration of the Edmonds Marsh, said after the meeting they believe the recommended 100-foot setback, which includes a 50-foot vegetative buffer, is a positive step.

Council President Diane Buckshnis, who had originally advocated for 150 feet, expressed her support for the 100-foot setback after discussing the matter with O’Connell and clarifying the amount offered the right amount of protection.

The interim designation — meant to last for two years — gives the city time to explore whether the setback size is workable for all parties that will be affected by marsh restoration work, including the Port of Edmonds, the Washington State Department of Transportation and Unocal, Buckshnis said. “It gives us time to put our ducks in a row,” she said.

In a separate vote, the council voted 5-1 (Councilmember Joan Bloom opposed) to support a physically separated/functionally isolated provision. That provision would allow development to occur within an area that — while technically within the physical buffer distance — would not impact the critical area — either in a negative or positive way. An example provided by planner Kernen Lien was the railroad separating the Port of Edmonds property east of Admiral Way from the Edmonds Marsh. That property is within the buffer distance of Edmonds Marsh, but is “physically separated and functionally isolated” from the marsh by the railroad tracks.

City staff is preparing to submit the state-required Shoreline Master Program update to the Department of Ecology, and one of the questions that has been raised in previous discussions is how much of a buffer is sufficient to protect the marsh.

Port of Edmonds officials have said that the larger buffer “is not justified by any available science” and would also prevent the port from any future redevelopment at nearby Harbor Square — development that the port said could generate funds to assist with marsh redevelopment.

The Senior Center today shows the original two-story warehouse building (left) connected to the old single-story former boat showroom.  The buildings are deteriorating, the first floor is sinking, and significant seismic upgrades are needed. (Photo courtesy of Edmonds Senior Center).
The Edmonds Senior Center buildings are deteriorating, the first floor is sinking, and significant seismic upgrades are needed. (Photo courtesy of Edmonds Senior Center).

The council also unanimously approved a proposal by the Edmonds Senior Center to begin negotiating an agreement with city staff for a long-term land lease that would allow the center to move forward with a fundraising campaign for a new multi-generational activity center. The plan is to replace the existing city-owned waterfront facility at 220 Railroad Ave., which has serious structural problems including a sinking first floor, inefficient design and seismic concerns.

The Senior Center began in 1968 when two buildings, a two-story warehouse and a single-story former boat showroom were used as a venue for their programs. The City of Edmonds acquired the land and buildings in 1972, and in 1980 the two structures were connected to form the 28,000-square-foot space occupied by the Senior Center today.

Senior Center Director Farrell Fleming told the council that he hopes to complete negotiations either by end of 2014 or early in new year, wrapping up before the state Legislature begins the capital budget process as part of its 2015 session.

One artist's rendering of the new senior center preliminary concept presented by The Environmental Works. You can see more design ideas here.
One artist’s rendering of the new senior center preliminary concept presented by The Environmental Works. You can see more design ideas here.

Councilmember Lora Petso suggested that senior center representatives communicate with citizens about the existing conceptual drawings for possible building options so they have an opportunity to comment, an idea that was enthusiastically received by Fleming and Senior Center Boardmember Phil Lovell.

In addition, the council:

– Heard a report from Sean Ardussi, a senior planner with the Puget Sound Regional Council, regarding a study regarding train traffic and the impact of coal trains: “Economic Evaluation of the Regional Impacts for the Proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point.” You can see the complete study here.

– Held a public hearing on the proposed 2015 city budget (no one signed up to speak) and listened to staff overviews of their 2015 budget requests. Among the highlights:

  • City Clerk Scott Passey asked that his department’s public disclosure/records management position, now set at half-time, be increased to three-quarter time to meet the increasing workload.
  • Human Resources Acting Director Carrie Hite requested $3,000 for an employee wellness program. And Hite, who also serves as the City’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director, in that capacity noted that the city’s partnership with the Dale Turner YMCA to staff Yost Park pool last summer “went well” and the city is considering whether to renew for next year. The YMCA arrangement also was a financial success, as the city’s pool budget was actually in the black this year after many years running at a deficit, Hite noted.
  • Development Services Director Shane Hope asked for $85,000 to continue work on the city’s development code, which drew a question from Councilmember Bloom about whether the amount was sufficient to complete an entire code rewrite. Hope replied that her department would need an additional $300,000 to finish the job, and Bloom asked for a presentation on code work at a future council meeting, prior to budget adoption, so all the options could be explored.

A budget study session is set for Nov. 10. The budget is scheduled to be adopted Nov. 18.

  1. Great work by our Council. We are looking forward to seeing the marsh thrive again. Also looking forward to a new Senior and Community Center for all ages to come together. These two projects will make downtown quite a destination. Everybody wins with this including our environment.

  2. the most important things in this situation are the wildlife and the senior center in my mind. lets see what REALLY happens.

  3. It’s good to read about positive actions. The city /YMCA cooperation with the pool is a good example of using community services to benefit all parties. Planning for a community center which serves both seniors and citizens at large is another positive step. Progress with the marsh is another. I look forward to other positive steps in the future.

  4. I am very confused by what took place last evening related to the Shoreline Master Plan, specifically the part about buffers and setbacks. The following is taken from the Washington State Department of Ecology SMP Handbook dated November 28, 2011:

    “ Shoreline setbacks are the distances separating two features such as a structure and the water, or a structure and the buffer. Natural native vegetation may or may not exist within a setback. A setback from a buffer protects the buffer from the impacts related to use of the structure, such as maintenance of a house.”

    Figure 11-2 in Ecology’s Handbook states that “The setback separates the structure from the buffer”. It does not say that the setback separates the structure from the Ordinary High Water Mark of the Marsh.

    As a 50-foot vegetative buffer is called for – doesn’t the 100-foot setback have to separate structures from that buffer?

    Hopefully the City will clarify this.

    Is the total of 150 feet supported by the following excerpt from a Memorandum to the Planning Board dated October 22, 2014? I found it in the Agenda Packet for tonight’s Planning Board Meeting:

    Shoreline Master Program
    “Approval of submitting the draft Shoreline Master Program (SMP)—with any other changes—to the state Department of Ecology is being considered by the City Council on October 21. The draft SMP is similar to what was recommended by the Planning Board last year, except that a buffer would be expanded from 50 feet to 150 feet. Once the draft SMP and supporting documents are submitted to Ecology, the agency has 30 days to approve it or request changes. Upon the SMP’s approval by Ecology, the City would formally adopt it and may also incorporate portions of it into specific development regulations. Regardless, under state law, the policies of the SMP comprise an element of the Comprehensive Plan and the SMP regulations/standards have regulatory effect.”

  5. Does the 100 ft. setback eliminate the parking and “street” within the Harbor Square complex which border the northwest side of the marsh?

  6. Established uses may be “grandfathered” and allowed to continue. The following may help:

    The draft SMP contains regulations regarding existing nonconforming uses
    in Chapter 24.70 ECDC.

    Nonconforming uses are allowed to continue but
    not expand after the adoption of the SMP. ECDC 23.70.010.B provides:
    A use which is listed as a conditional use but which existed prior to adoption
    of this Master Program or any relevant amendment and for which a
    conditional use permit has not been obtained shall be considered a
    nonconforming use. A use which is listed as a conditional use but which
    existed prior to the applicability of this Master Program to the site and for
    which a conditional use permit has not been obtained shall be considered a
    nonconforming use.

    Also – this interesting concept of “physically separated/functionally isolated” may have some relationship to your question.

  7. First off, I think Kernen Lien is a rock star for the City and has done a tremendous job on the SMP over these past two years. As a financial minded person – I have always added or subtracted and never thought of “overlay”. So, I had my AHA moment last night after talking to Keeley O’Connell, Val Stewart, and Kernen Lien about the 100 foot setback plus the 50 foot buffer. I have always spoke for a 100 foot setback as that is identified as an environmental standard for grant funding. The 100 foot setback is identified in the Department of Ecology’s Funding Manual, Appendix L. So, the 50 foot buffer can be included in the 100 foot setback and so I changed my opinion about the 150 setback needed. Of course in a perfect world, the bigger the setback, the better for the environment; but we also have to be cognizant of the urban environment.

    Bill, that is a good question and it has to do with the ordinary high water mark and where that is to the proximity of the parking and the street. The planning boards’ 50 foot setback recommendations also affected the parking so this would have to be answered by the City. Having said that, this section was approved as an “Interim” Urban Mixed Use IV so that we can flush out all these questions and engage with the Port about their concerns, as well as get the design of the day-lighting of Willow Creek completed.

    1. Can the City provide documentation supporting the concept that a 100 foot setback can “overlay” a 50 foot buffer? I think such is a reasonable request in light of Ecology’s SMP Handbook which states that: “The setback SEPARATES the structure from the buffer”.

      Also, our own Code includes the following:

      Unless otherwise provided, buildings and other structures shall be set back a distance of 15 feet from the edges of all critical area buffers or from the edges of all critical areas, if no buffers are required.

      Are we really looking at an “otherwise provided” 50 foot setback from the edge of a 50 foot buffer? Or possibly a 100 foot setback from the edge of the critical area without any buffer?

      Maybe a total of 100 feet is fine – I truly don’t know. The question I have applies to this “overlay” concept….which is something I am not tracking.

  8. I’m really hoping that this is not another (such as Sunset Avenue Project right now comes to mind)

    the devil is in the details (Sunset Avenue now with plants on top of beauty bark, and dogs puttting their waste there as I type…..where else do they go? on the asphalt walkway?)


    (the) devil is in the details

    (idiomatic) The specific provisions of, or particular steps for implementing, a general plan, policy, or contract may be complicated, controversial, or unworkable.

    Thank you to ALL of those that will remove any “devil” in the details. It is time this marsh is brought back, salmon brought back, etc., and clearly this should be a priority and not business as usual. These businesses can thrive anywhere or just be remodeled. The marsh cannot and we need to at the very least fix as much as we can, learn from our mistakes and move forward……Something about learning from our history…….goes a long way. Let’s not leave any more messes than we already have for future generations. Thirty plus years ago a whole lot of wildlife went away…..Let’s not have that happen again with the SOUND of mega construction here.

    Many fine artists are now putting SOUND in their works because people are getting so used to these mega sounds that they don’t notice what is happening to the wildlife because of it……those sounds that are a threat…….in nature

    100 foot setback with buffer included should be fine if that’s the tradeoff here

  9. I’m excited about the Sr. & Community Center remodel/construction. It will be great to have another waterfront view Event venue. I think that will be a positive income generator for who? – the city or the center?. Personally, I prefer the second model design.

  10. while i’m all for lots of views of the sound . . .

    i wonder if something can have a more “natural” look,

    something that links the sound to the city???

    i’m also a fan of – living – roofs – roofs that support native wildlife and plants – just maybe not too many cedar trees 🙂

    also, being so very close to the sound – maybe they could work with PCC’s architects to capture and reuse any runoff water?

    any comments on these ideas???

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