After hearing stories from several Edmonds condominium owners worried that they might not be able to sell their homes because the units no longer conform to city code, the Edmonds City Council agreed Tuesday night to refer the matter to the city Planning Board for speedy resolution.
An effort by Councilmember Mike Nelson to further expedite a solution by proposing an emergency ordinance was defeated by the council majority, who said they wanted more time to review his idea.
The issue was raised last week when the council’s Planning, Public Safety and Personnel Committee learned that during the 1960s and 1970s, more than 20 condominium buildings had been built under a code that allowed for a greater number of units than is currently permitted.
Windermere Realtor Wendy Kondo discovered the situation 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.
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 and a height limit of 30 feet. (Some of the buildings question were built to a former 35-foot limit.)
So far, 24 buildings have been identified as not in compliance, but that list is likely to expand, City Environmental Programs Manager Kernen Lien said. Within those buildings, 129 condo units would be in excess of what current zoning would allow.
Coucilmember Tom Mesaros said it was important that the city “allow citizens to be made whole” and ensure they are entitled to full replacement of any unit that is damaged due to a catastrophic event.
Nelson’s proposal for an an emergency interim ordinance — valid for 180 days — received applause from many in the audience, but was defeated on a 3-4 vote. Those councilmembers voting against Nelson’s proposal — Mesaros, Neil Tibbott, Kristiana Johnson and Dave Teitzel –stressed that while they were sympathetic to the plight of the condo owners, they wanted a chance to review Nelson’s proposal, which was handed out to councilmembers just prior to the vote.
“Let’s give ourselves another week before we take action so we can read it (the interim ordinance) and be thoughtful,” said Councilmember Kristiana Johnson.
“We owe it not only to the owners of these condomiums but the ones that haven’t been identified yet, to have a permanent solution,” added Councilmember Neil Tibbott.
Nelson replied that the proposal was simply adding a sentence to the existing Edmonds code governing nonconforming buidings, and would provide temporary relief while the council continues to work on a permanent fix. “It is not an either/or proposition,” he said.
Then the fireworks began. Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling said he wouldn’t sign the measure until he was assured that city planning officials had a chance to read it.
“I can guarantee you it will be vetoed and back out here next week,” Earling said.
“Your threats are not appropriate on this dais,” retorted Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas. “You can do whatever the heck you want to do, you can veto it all you want, but you may not threaten the council.”
In addition to getting yes votes from Nelson and Fraley-Monillas, the emergency ordinance received support from Councilmember Diane Buckshis, who said as a former banker she thought it would send a message to bankers that the council was working on the issue.
When asked his opinion, City Attorney Jeff Taraday said it was hard to know whether financial officials would be swayed by a six-month fix. “Ultimately until you have a permanent ordinance in place, banks may still express concern over the state of the code,” he said. He did agree with Nelson, however, that the temporary measure would allow restoration for any unit damaged between now and when a permanent ordinance is approved.
Among those making public comment prior to the council vote was Janice Trierweiler, the condo owner whose sale fell through as a result of the non-conformance issue.
“This is a situation that could affect any owner in my complex or any owner of the other 25-plus complexes identified and verified by the city so far as not being in compliance,” she said. “Those of us impacted will be the ones to suffer the consequences of the lack of foresight on the part of officials making this change years ago.”
Brian Potter, who lives in the Maplevine Condominiums on 4th Avenue South, said he called the city to see if his building was on the list and discovered it was nonconforming both in the number of units and in height. Potter added he believes that eight of the 27 owner occupants in his building are in their 80s, and a number of them “are reliant on the proceeds of their home sales to cover their long-term care and medical expenses.” Now, however, those residents are concerned that they won’t be able to sell the units “because banks won’t finance legal nonconforming properties,” he said.
The height issue is important because rebuilding a damaged building at a lower height could reduce the square footage of a unit, thus reducing its value.
The measure is now tentatively scheduled to go before the Edmonds Planning Board next week to determine how to fix the problem — possibly through a code amendment that would grandfather in the existing units, providing all other code provisions are met.
Also at the meeting, during the public comment period the council received a request from Diana White, who said she was speaking both as the Edmonds School Board president and also a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. White asked the city council to consider adding a “land acknowledgment statement” to its council meetings.
Such a gesture is a “simple and powerful way to acknowledge a culture of people who have existed on these lands for thousands of years before any cities, counties or states existed, and will help bridge the cultural divide that many indigenous people feel after begin forcibly removed from their homelands,” White said.
This practice is currently being followed by several organizations — including the Tulalip Tribes, the Edmonds School Board and Edmonds Center for the Arts — when meetings are conducted. One example of a land acknowledgment statement could be: “I would like to open this event with a land acknowledgment that we are on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people,” she said.
“My personal favorite is this:’We are on the traditional homelands of the Coast Sallish Tribes. We pay our respects to elders past and present,’ White added.
The council also:
– Unanimously approved a resolution to establish an Edmonds Housing Commission.
– Heard Mayor Earling issue a YWCA Stand Against Racism Proclamation
– Received a report on the Citizens Economic Development Commission 2019-2020 Work Program
– Authorized the purchase of a 2019 Cues Sewer Video Inspection Truck
– Approved the first quarter 2019 budget amendment
– Hear the Parks Impact Fee annual financial report and the Critical Areas Ordinance report
— By Teresa Wippel