The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night revisited what role, if any, it should have in hearing citizen appeals of land-use decisions made by the city’s Planning Board, Architectural Design Board or Hearing Examiner.
The council in August 2016 approved by a 4-3 vote a resolution expressing the its intent to revise city code to remove the council’s quasi-judicial decision-making responsibility. The vote came after city staff and City Attorney Jeff Taraday expressed concerns about possible long-term financial risk to the city if the council makes a bad decision.
Although two years have passed, action to finalize the council’s intent is still pending, and hence the reason for revisiting the issue Tuesday night. City Development Director Shane Hope said via email prior to Tuesday’s meeting that even though the code changes seemed simple, “it required a lot of code review and minor adjustments in various places to actually accomplish the intention without having conflicts left in the code.”
In addition, Hope said, other projects and permits were already in the department’s queue and staff “have been scrambling to catch up.
In explaining the issue, Environmental Programs Manager Kernen Lien noted that as legislators, councilmembers are seeking opinions from their constituents. “With quasi-judicial decisions, you are generally prohibited from contact with citizens outside of the council process,” he said. Another issue stems from councilmembers’ liability if a land-use decision was made due to political pressure, Lien explained.
Those were the main reasons that councilmembers in August 2016 passed by a 4-3 vote Resolution 1367. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, who was one of three councilmembers opposing the resolution, Tuesday night urged her fellow councilmembers to reconsider their support.
“We are seriously taking the voice of the citizens away from city council,” Buckshnis said, adding that without a city council review, those who want to appeal a land-use decision will have to move to the courts, incurring a filing fee and attorney costs.
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson, who voted for the resolution two years ago, said she is leaning toward continuing that support. Johnson said she read through past materials in preparation for Tuesday’s meeting, and quoted from a 2016 presentation by City Attorney Jeff Taraday. She pointed to Taraday’s statement that the council did have another option if they wanted to appeal a land-use decision: They could ask the city attorney to file an appeal, via the state’s land use petition act (LUPA), on the council’s behalf.
“It is a way for us to respond to the constituents, to be able to have open conversations with them, without jeopardizing any of our council-making decisions,” Johnson said.
In further discussion with councilmembers Tuesday night, Taraday said that the council may be assuming that they would always be “on the side of their constituent” in land use matters. However, in some cases the opposite may sometimes be true, and “you are in fact forced to vote against the will of your constituents,” he said.
The next step is to schedule a public hearing on the matter during a future council meeting, with the date still to be determined.
In other business, the council had a 40-minute discussion related to logistics of a special meeting of the council Finance Committee. The goal is to discuss in more detail a proposal that the city pick up the entire cost of parking lot and street frontage improvements for the multi-generational waterfront center building planned to replace the Edmonds Senior Center.
The Finance Committee would normally take up the issue during its meeting next week, but Committee Chair Dave Teitzel will be out of town. The council wanted to ensure it would be appropriate to hold a special meeting, outside of the regular council meeting time, later in September.
There were concerns raised about meeting transparency, since the waterfront center proposal involves a significant amount of money. (The estimated total cost of the frontage improvements, if the city picked up the entire tab, is just under $2 million.)
Fraley-Monillas suggested that the meeting, whenever it is held, be videotaped, but others noted that no council committee meetings are currently video recorded. Such a decision would set a precedent for future meetings, with the council having to decide what would be important enough to require video coverage, Buckshnis said.
A motion by Fraley-Monillas to videotape the meeting died for a lack of a second, although Council President Mike Nelson said later in the discussion that he believes all council committee meetings should be on video, in the interest of transparency.
Currently, council committee meetings are held simultaneously in separate rooms in the Public Safety Complex, with no video available. Audio recordings are made and notes are taken.
In the end, councilmembers agreed that a special Finance Committee meeting on the waterfront center proposal will be held, with the date and time to be determined. We will provide more details on that meeting when available.
In other action, the council:
– Heard a presentation on the Edmonds Historical Museum Annual Scarecrow Festival. Registration for the sixth annual festival runs Oct. 1-15, with voting for scarecrow entries taking place on the museum website — scf.historicedmonds.org — Oct. 16-Nov. 2. Scarecrow Festival coordinator Dave Buelow told the council there will be a new noncompetitive category this year for those who want to be part of the fun, but are not interested in collecting votes. There will also be a scarecrow hunt involving prizes, he said.
– Received an introduction to an Update of the Critical Area Regulations for wetlands.
– Got an update on the city’s 2019-2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and the Capital Facilities Plan (CFP). (We’ll have more on that in a future story.)
— By Teresa Wippel