Council OKs senior center demolition, wireless facilities rules; stays course for Civic Park

Rendering of the Edmonds Waterfront Center.

In a meeting involving several major milestones, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night approved demolition of the existing Edmonds Senior Center to make way for a new multigenerational waterfront center, adopted regulations governing the aesthetics of small-cell wireless facilities, and agreed to continue the design and development of its Civic Park master plan — despite pleas from some in the community to reopen the plan to provide parking.

The Civic Park decision, however, did include a robust discussion among councilmembers about the need for more downtown parking. While finding a place to park downtown has been an ongoing concern for many over the years, the issue was raised in recent weeks by nearby residents and business owners worried that there was no parking included in design plans for renovating Civic Field at 6th Avenue North. The worry is that a renovated park will draw even more visitors to downtown Edmonds and further impact the local parking supply, which is already affected by local business and residential growth.

One citizen commented Tuesday night that Edmonds’ Main Street should be renamed Bourbon Street to reflect the increasing number of bars and restaurants opening there.

A group of citizens met last Friday night to discuss their concerns, and several of them showed up to offer public testimony during Tuesday’s meeting. They urged the council to reopen the park’s Master Plan, which the council approved in March 2017. Others testified that plans for the 8-acre Civic Park design should remain as is, and that parking should be addressed holistically as part of a larger city-wide plan.

In response to the community’s most recent concerns, Edmonds Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite provided a report on possible options for nearby parking that could be an option of including parking in the park itself. For starters, Hite said she will be meeting with the pastor of Holy Trinity Church, which borders the park. The pastor has expressed interest in working with the city on an arrangement to allow use of the 50 church parking spaces outside of its Saturday evening services. Also, it is possible that parking could be available at Edmonds Center for the Arts during non-event days and the city’s Public Works Department is looking at ways to add some angle parking on nearby Daley and Sprague streets.

Public Works Director Phil Williams said that the city is preparing a request for proposals for a study aimed at addressing ways to create parking throughout Edmonds, but councilmembers encouraged the city to not wait for those study results and instead find ways to immediately address citizens’ parking concerns. Among the ideas discussed: extended the city’s limited (three-hour maximum) parking further east to provide relief to residents whose streets are clogged with non-resident vehicles, such as ferry commuters, and to look at the possibility of making one-way streets out of 6th and 7th Avenues to accommodate more angle parking.

In addition to the parking issue, the council also talked about another potential concern — the fact that there is high groundwater and areas of peat at Civic Field. As a result, the consultant working on the Civic Park project — Walker Macy — is looking at ways to mitigate those factors during construction.

The council also discussed the topic of how to secure funding for the renovated park. Carrie Hite said that the city has secured or identified $9.3 million in funding for the estimated $11.6 million project. Among the possible options for closing the $2.3 million gap: a capital campaign or a bond, Hite added.

In the end, the council voted 6-0 (Councilmember Kristiana Johnson absent) to continue moving forward on the existing Civic Park Master Plan.

The council’s unanimous decision to approve demolition of the aging Edmonds Senior Center building came after councilmembers listened to a presentation from those leading the capital fundraising campaign for the planned Waterfront Center that will replace it.

Capital Campaign Director Daniel Johnson and others went over elements of a presentation given March 12 to the council’s Finance Committee describing their efforts to finance construction of the $16 million Edmonds Waterfront Center. Fundraisers are relying on a combination of government funding, grant and foundation funds, private donations and a community campaign to secure the remaining dollars. So far they have raised $12.7 million and told the council they are confident the final goal can be reached.

The city leases the current building to the senior center, and under the lease agreement, the council could withhold consent for the Waterfront Center project if it determined that funding was insufficient.

As we reported in our earlier story, there has been a sense of urgency in moving the project forward, because the senior center needs to use allocated state grant money by the end of June. Following the council’s approval Tuesday night, demolition can occur in late spring with the groundbreaking for the new facility shortly after.

The vision for the Edmonds Waterfront Center is a new 26,000-square-foot sustainable building that offers a range of programs emphasizing health and wellness, recreation and education for people of all ages while still responding to the unique needs of an aging population living in south Snohomish and north King counties. The plan includes beach restoration and improved access to the waterfront site, which is being funded separately by the city.

Another item approved unanimously by the council Tuesday night was an ordinance governing the aesthetics of small cell wireless facilities in Edmonds.

City staff has been working for a few months on possible options for the council to consider that will give the city a say in what these new facilities look like — and at the same time comply with the fall 2018 Federal Communications Commission ruling that limits how state and local governments can regulate them.

As noted in our previous story, the wireless industry wants to install the small cells to provide new, faster 5G technology for its customers.

The approved ordinance follows preferences discussed during the council’s March 27 meeting, which includes a direction that all 5G equipment be concealed inside a hollow steel power pole. Reinforcing the council’s concern about possible unknown health issues surrounding the 5G technology, the ordinance also includes a requirement that small cell wireless facilities include safety warning signs. Another suggestion — that the facilities be restricted to a certain distance from schools to protect children — is not allowed under federal law and couldn’t be included, said Senior Planner Mike Clugston.

Last week, the council unanimously approved a resolution patterned after one passed by the City of Portland, Ore. that requests the federal government update older studies to address potential health risks of 5G radio frequency emissions and publish those findings. The resolution also states the city supports federal legislation (H.R. 530) that would effectively rescind the FCC rule on 5G deployment that was issued last fall.

In other matters Tuesday night, the council:

– held public hearing on the Shoreline Master Program periodic review and agreed to place the matter on a future council consent agenda for approval.

– approved an increase in salaries for three non-union staff positions that were determined to be underpaid as part of the city’s 2018 compensation study.

– heard a proclamation recognizing Music4Life, which provides free musical instruments to students in need in the Edmonds School District.

— By Teresa Wippel


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