Council committee learns more about condo buildings that don’t conform to city code

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The Edmonds City Council’s Planning, Public Safety and Personnel Committee took a closer look Tuesday night at an issue that has ramifications for Edmonds residents living in more than 20 condominium properties that no longer conform to city code.

The problem, as explained by Development Services Director Shane Hope, is this: During the 1960s and 1970s, a number of condominium buildings were constructed under a code that allowed for a greater number of units than is currently permitted under current city code.

So far, 23 sites have been identified as being in noncompliance. Each of them has from one to 19 more units than would be permitted under the city’s current code if the development were to be rebuilt.

If disaster struck — such as a major fire or earthquake — and one of these buildings lost 75 percent or more of its replacement cost at the time of destruction or severe damage, it would have be rebuilt to conform to the new code with fewer units, Hope noted.

Windermere Realtor Wendy Kondo discovered the issue while working with an Edmonds condo owner to sell a unit in such a building. The bank declined to finance the sale because of the risk involved if the building were severely damaged.

Kondo, who attended Tuesday night’s meeting, did her own research and came up with a list of 23 such properties that are not in compliance. The list was verified by the city as being accurate.

Hope also noted that city staff have heard about this issue in the past. It “has become a concern with some local condo owners, particular when they go to try to sell their unit,” she said.

When it comes to real estate financing, lenders “are not going to take a risk” that the unit could be rebuilt, given the code nonconformance, Hope said. “The banking world has become more strict on these kinds of things.”

Staff analyzed the current code to see if there was any “wiggle room” but found none, Hope explained to the council committee Tuesday night. So staff is proposing that the council review the matter for possible resolution.

One option would be to send the issue to the Edmonds Planning Board to see if a “very narrow code amendment” would be possible, Hope said.

Such an amendment could focus on grandfathering in the existing units, providing all other code provisions are met, she added.

The council could also take no action and wait until the city addresses the issue later as part of other code amendments. A third option would be for the city to wait until a current condo owner initiated an application for a public hearing to change the requirement, which would cost the applicant several thousand dollars.

After some discussion, the two councilmembers on the Planning, Public Safety and Personnel Committee — Mike Nelson and Neil Tibbott — decided to send the matter to the full council at a future business meeting for a discussion of various options.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

5 Replies to “Council committee learns more about condo buildings that don’t conform to city code”

  1. The article above applies to a friend of mine who has a pending offer to buy her condo, only for her and the buyer to find out that financing is unavailable due to the zoning law that applies to their complex. Their condo complex has 20 units that were built legally many years ago before the revised zoning law went into effect. Now they can only have 17 units. However, she, and other owners who have sold their units, was unaware of this condition.

    So what is she to do? The city of Edmonds seems to not see the urgency in this matter, nor the impact it will have on the owners of the other 23+ complexes, if and when any of them wish to sell. There are probably other condos in the same situation and the owners just don’t know it yet.

    The city of Edmonds owes it to it’s condo residents to resolve this issue quickly by addressing the problem they have created. Waiting 6 months to a year as one city employee opined is definitely not the right answer. An immediately review of the zoning law and a creating a grandfathering of those condo’s built legally before the new law went into effect is a must. Then a longer term review and revision with input from citizens as well as planning department personnel should provide a long term solution to an issue the city created and now must fix.

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  2. As many seniors in condos are at risk should they have to move and sell to afford retirement and asisted living costs, action should be taken as soon as possible. Heirs of deceased residents will face similar issues for selling condo properties. This is an increasingly urgent situation for many condo owners and their families.

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  3. Here’s a copy of the letter I sent to City Council Members:
    Dear Council Members,
    The current issue of condo nonconformance brings up some troubling potential ethical and legal issues for the city.
    First of all, it appears that the Planning Division did a poor job of due diligence in drafting the code in the first place. It’s obvious now that they should have foreseen this issue and taken steps to protect the affected homeowners. To say now that the issue hasn’t come up due to market conditions is disingenuous.
    The city also puts itself in the position of violating the Takings Clause in the 5th Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
    I also suggest that this is a form of institutional age discrimination. Those affected are primarily those who have owned these condos since the late 70s or early 80s. They are, in other words, seniors. This is a class of people who already suffer a high degree of discrimination, especially in the form of exploitation by families, corporations, governments and other institutions. Now the city comes along and makes it impossible for them to sell their homes. It certainly affects their ability to live a well-deserved comfortable retirement.
    It’s also fair to ask, if they were in a different group, would the city treat the problem more expeditiously?
    Please do the city and its citizens a favor and fix this quickly and fairly.
    Sincerely,
    Ralph Sanders

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  4. As a new resident to Edmonds, allow me to introduce my background and how it relates to concerns regarding this issue.

    I understand the investment in a condominium and the expectation on return on investment.
    Moving to Edmonds, I sold my condominium unit which was in an (unofficial) retirement age community. As the condominium was older, and there was an intense storm during the sale, there were unexpected delays and bureaucratic challenges throughout the sale.

    As a potential purchaser of a condominium, I would not want to be kept in the dark on what could cost me in a variety of ways. I would want full knowledge of what is and is not grandfathered-in, and what is possible to bring up to code, what is planned to bring to code and what bodies are paying for bringing it up to code.

    Lori J. Rasmussen, MPA

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  5. I am an owner and senior citizen who has her unit for sale in one of these targeted buildings; I just learned of this yesterday. I do not live in WA state right now and am selling for financial reasons. This news is surely a blow to me. I sincerely hope that all physically able to voice protest/concerns to the council will do so. Edmonds still rates as one of the most desirable cities to live in; to penalize those of us with units legally built and offered should not occur and swiftly rectified.

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