Letter to the editor: Comprehensive plans already in place to accommodate the ‘missing middle’


The City of Edmonds has embarked upon an ambitious plan to expand the supply of housing in Edmonds, and has appointed a Housing Task Force to facilitate this matter. One of the goals is to increase the supply of housing for the “missing middle,” for Edmonds residents, seniors and non-residential employees, as well as others who desire to reside in Edmonds. It is alleged that Edmonds has an overabundance of single-family residences, and a dearth of alternative residential choices, which in turn reduces the choice of housing for current and potential residents. One of the proposals advocated in the recently issued Edmonds Housing Strategy Report is to “upzone” existing single-family residential neighborhoods.

The Edmonds Housing Strategy July 2018 Draft on Page 14, Chapter 2 states as one of its primary goals:

“Expand Housing Diversity in the “Missing Middle”

which is explained on Page 15, 2.2

“Allow for more housing diversity in some single family areas………..These could include townhouses, duplexes, cottage housing or small lot units.”

Upzoning is the process of permitting often dramatic increased residential density (i.e. housing diversity) in what were exclusively single-family neighborhoods. Depending on the underlying upzoning changes, new residential construction can range from the introduction of duplex projects to apartment complexes in single-family neighborhoods. Those upzoned single-family neighborhoods can be impacted by increased traffic and parking issues, increased noise, air and light pollution, issues of neighborhood aesthetics, and the reduction of both vegetation and tree canopy coverage. Houses near or adjacent to major new developments are at risk of having their privacy compromised as often the new taller construction towers over adjacent single family residences. The quiet suburban ambience treasured by those residing in the area is often impacted by those new developments.

Recently the Edmonds Highway 99 Corridor/Subarea Planning Project was enacted by the Edmonds City Council. The Comprehensive Plan with conforming zoning now allows for the construction of up to six-story apartment buildings. Future construction will do much to expand the number of alternatives to single-family residences available in Edmonds. Estimates provided in the Edmonds Highway 99 Subarea Plan Final August 2017 document, page 5 reports a potential of 3,325 new housing units over the next 17 years (primarily “missing middle” units) that ultimately could be developed in the Highway 99 corridor area if the plan were adopted, which it has.

Ignored by this process is a large geographic area that is not politically connected to Edmonds but is totally “inside” Edmonds. Esperance is an almost one-square-mile area totally located within the geographic area of Edmonds, and is an area still primarily consisting of single-family residences. Esperance is more centrally located in Edmonds, and closer to its downtown area, than are many Edmonds residential neighborhoods. Residents of Esperance, as do most Edmonds residents, avail themselves of numerous Edmonds facilities such as the roads, schools, city parks, library, medical options, shopping opportunities, restaurants and other entertainment venues. For all practical purposes, Esperance is an integral part of Edmonds, and most non-residents passing through that location have no idea that the area known as Esperance is not within the political jurisdiction of Edmonds. Any increase of density and population growth in Esperance would result in the same impacts that any population increase in Edmonds itself would create, including increased congestion and parking issues in the downtown area.

And yet for purposes of the current Edmonds residential housing strategy exercise, Esperance — and its potential major impact on the City of Edmonds — does not appear to have been considered. As Esperance is not politically integrated into Edmonds or any other local city, Snohomish County has jurisdiction over Esperance, and planning and zoning decisions emanate from that jurisdiction.

In the past, one could only build private residences in most of Esperance as most of that area was designated single-family residences. It appears that the Growth Management Act/ Comprehensive Plan for Snohomish County has been updated, and most of Esperance is now designated as an Urban Median Density Residential area, with other areas designated as Urban High Density Residential area.

As a result, a developer who marshals property in Esperance may be able to construct higher-density housing in what was once zoned for only single-family residences. It would be possible to construct nine or more townhouses per acre within the Urban Median Density Residential Area, and more units if the project were an apartment complex, especially in the areas reclassified for Urban High Density Residential development. There are also provisions to promote higher-density allowances for senior housing complexes. With the present comprehensive plan, there is the potential for the entire Esperance residential area, which is located in the geographic heart of Edmonds, to be transformed from primarily single-family housing to include townhouse developments and apartment complexes, for the “missing middle,” with subsequent substantial increases in population.

It is paramount for this process to acknowledge Esperance as an integral part of the Edmonds housing strategy exercise, as any potential extensive residential development in Esperance will have major impacts on the city of Edmonds.

Add the Highway 99 redevelopment plan to development opportunities in Esperance, and one readily observes that a significant percentage of area of either Edmonds or the unincorporated Snohomish County area located in the middle of Edmonds known as Esperance, is currently available to develop “missing middle” residences, as well as the potential to develop senior housing.

Those areas, along with the current intensive multi-family residential areas already developed in Edmonds, currently present a higher percentage of current and future potential multi-family development than what is or will be available in most of Snohomish County. There is no necessity to designate any remaining established single-family neighborhoods in Edmonds for more intensive development with its accompanying transformation of their single-family neighborhood character. There is currently the ability to develop thousands of residential units for the “missing middle” both within and “inside” Edmonds without negatively transforming even more established single-family neighborhoods and the lifestyle those residents not only cherish, but have worked very hard to achieve.

Eric Soll

  1. This article is absolutely ridiculous. All neighborhoods are precious. I don’t live in Esperance and live in Edmonds but know folks that have worked hard to live and be in Esperance as well. This article smacks of picking on an area and residents economically because it appears easier. Esperance I encourage you to now pay attention and watch your backs after reading this article. You have the same rights to quality of life as all of us.

  2. Eric always has some well reasoned comments and this is just another. Yes Esperance is just one of the “neighborhoods” of south Snohomish County. Think of the foot print of the Edmonds School District and it has hundreds of neighborhoods in it’s foot print. The housing strategy data was developed for only Edmonds, but if one looked at the data for the entire ESD footprint the issues to be solved take on a total different character. The issues presented and the proposed solutions are much different. The “missing middle” is much less and much easier to solve.

    The known changes that are already underway will tend to add density along the existing and planned transportation infrastructure. There are high rise development already planned around the light rail stations. Go to google earth or grab a map and see for yourself where we have the opportunity to add density. You will see things like the Nile property that will likely be redeveloped and it is right next to a transportation hub!

    State law has changed is will make it easier to annex Esperance to Edmonds and that will likely happen in the foreseeable future.

    Eric’s points are very valid and the issues to be solved become quite different if we just take a little wider view of total land available in south Snohomish County.

  3. This point of view reminds me to stay aware and informed of potential City of Edmonds moves to annex Esperance. I know there is a history of disagreement about this, and I have not lived here in Esperance long enough to have a fully informed opinion on the pros and cons of annexation. However, I was concerned that the last move in that direction (a few months ago) was attempted with the express decision to NOT solicit input from Esperance residents. The way I understand it, there is state law that allows a city to annex an unincorporated area without resident voter approval if the area is completely within the boundaries of the city, as Esperance is. The only way for residents of the area to have a voice is for a petition to be circulated to put the annexation on the ballot. But for residents to circulate a petition they would need to be aware of the plan, and it appeared the annexation plan was being kept on the down low. Esperance community meetings and task force committees were quick to organize once someone noticed the annexation topic appeared on a city council document (agenda? minutes? I don’t remember) . At one community meeting, we were told the city council had decided not to pursue annexation of Esperance “for now”, but probably would again in the future. Transparency is always the best policy in my opinion.

  4. The Edmonds staff is trying to warm us up to pay higher taxes for government housing projects. If people can’t afford to live in Edmonds, they can live elsewhere. Problem solved.

  5. In would love to live in Hawaii or Rodeo Drive but alas I can’t afford it. However, I will work harder and maybe one day I can afford to live there. Or be happy with where I live and can afford.

  6. There are already new townhouses being built in Esperance. There is no use in pitting neighborhoods against each other.

  7. It seems a bit snobbish implying the people of Esperance don’t cherish their friends and neighbors, didn’t work hard to achieve what I they have here or don’t have a lifestyle that has value. I do understand the very human reaction to put what is undesirable somewhere where you’re not so will give you a pass on that, I get it, but the last paragraph stings a bit.
    I think this opinion tells a lot about how people make decisions that adversely affect others. People who live next to, or close to those that make the development decisions or have clout on the board have nothing to worry about. For the rest of us it sucks and we should stand together.

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