During a Monday night open house organized by Edmonds City Council President Mike Nelson, more than 50 people gathered at the Meadowdale Community Center to share their opinions and feedback on the City of Edmonds’ draft Housing Strategy.
“The primary purpose of tonight’s meeting is to hear from you,” Nelson said as he opened the meeting. “There’s no formal presentation or set agenda. For tonight I want to keep it casual and informal and give you the opportunity to say whatever you want.”
Nelson began by asking for a show of hands from those who hadn’t heard about the housing strategy. About 10 people raised their hands, and in response he provided a quick overview of the issue.
He explained that the State of Washington’s Growth Management Act requires cities to develop and submit plans detailing how much growth they expect and how they plan to accommodate it, and that in 2017 Edmonds Mayor Dave Earing appointed the Edmonds Housing Strategy Task Force to help make recommendations.
“One of the challenges for Edmonds is that we’re pretty well built up,” Nelson explained. “So for us it comes down to accommodating our expected population growth in the space we have, and that means higher density.
“Eventually, the council will study, discuss and ultimately vote on whither to use the plan as a roadmap,” he said, adding that “it’s not a done deal til then.”
So far, there have been two public hearings on the plan, the first on May 21 and the second on Aug. 28. Both drew considerable public interest, with many citizens expressing strong opposition to the plan out of concern that bringing higher density, affordable housing to Edmonds would degrade our quality of life.
“I’ve heard a lot of frustration, concern, support and opposition about the various aspects of the plan,” Nelson continued, “and I believe much of that arises from folks feeling that there’s not been enough public input. So tonight I want to hear from you and give you the opportunity to say what’s on your mind.”
Initial questions and comments centered on concerns held by many about the adverse effects of higher-density housing, and in particular “low-barrier” housing intended for low-income populations, but which doesn’t impose rules for behavior.
“These will inevitably bring in alcoholics, drug addicts and sex offenders,” voiced one participant. “This would degrade our community, and I don’t want my taxes to subsidize it.”
Added another attendee: “Many people in low-barrier housing don’t want help, they want to live that way. I’m happy to help people who want to help themselves, but not those who don’t.”
Another oft-voiced issue was the perception that the housing strategy was being forced on the community without regard for citizen concerns.
“The city is dead set on pushing this through,” said one participant. “But most citizens I’ve talked with don’t want it. I don’t want a consulting firm and city council deciding what citizens of Edmonds should do and pay for. It needs to be put to public vote and not pushed down our throats.”
One citizen drew applause after suggesting that the plan be altered to specifically exclude low-barrier housing. “What stings about this plan is that it appears to be for the homeless and the addicted. I think we can have multi-family, higher-density housing without attracting these lower elements.”
While this seemed to meet with the approval of many in the room, others pointed out that even with the low-barrier element removed, density would bring a host of other challenges and costs for things like parks, water supply, wastewater systems, traffic and of course, parking.
As the meeting wound down, many in the audience expressed thanks to Nelson for providing this opportunity and asked if there would be more sessions.
“As of now I have another town hall set for Oct. 15 at the Senior Center,” responded Nelson, “with two more to follow in other neighborhoods. I’m hearing lots of concerns, and I want to make sure that there’s plenty of opportunity to get these out in the open.”
In the meantime, citizens can become informed about the background and status of the draft Housing Strategy process at the main website. The most current iteration of the full Housing Strategy document is available here.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel