Council refers non-conforming condo issue to planning board, but not before some fireworks


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

22 Replies to “Council refers non-conforming condo issue to planning board, but not before some fireworks”

  1. This is ridiculous! The council should be supporting community members and grandfather these buildings, making an exception to the ordinance. If these owners cannot sell their units, they will be forced to sell under value or not at all – that means declining home values for downtown Edmonds.


  2. I would NEVER have voted for Earling if this was a issue prior to his election. This should be a EASY fix. Grandfather those buildings affected. The end. We need A LEADER..not what we currently have. I’m embarrassed to say I voted for this person. Or is this a sneaky way to imminent domain (or cheat) the owners? They paid taxes on these condos, they were approved by the city officials to build these condos where they are. Certainly now these city officials can grandfather in (condos) for these poor Edmonds citizens. I can’t imagine how grief stricken they must be. How scary is this? In there 80s and thinking they can sell their condo to help with their end of life decisions and Edmonds leader, Dave Earling is the most guilty he leads the pack.)pulls the rug out from under them. I would be tempted to sue him, he passes it on to someone else.


    1. This issue will ultimately be decided by our city council. Mayor Earling is simply saying that it must first quickly have a proper review by the city planning staff and the planning board.


  3. I was very reassured by the discussion that followed. I had actually considered asking for a stop-gap measure much like what Mike Nelson proposed. However, I understand that process matters. As one council member (I think it was Neil Tibbot, maybe MEN can check me on that) said, had the council seen the proposal even a day ago, they could have reviewed it and been ready for a vote. That speaker also pointed out that the issue was known far enough back that, had the proposal been ready last week, city planning officials could have read it prior to any vote. It may have been out of order procedurally for the mayor to make his comments, but I would not want the mayor to approve an ordinance before his professional staff with relevant expertise were able to provide feedback.
    I would have liked to have things resolved in a night, but that’s not how government works, as Tom Mesaros said explaining his vote. There were numerous mentions that maybe they will pass the exact same interim solution next week. In response to an earlier question, Mr Lien stated that not one legal nonconforming building had suffered 75%+ damage in the years the code has been in place, so the odds are good we’re all safe for a week.


    1. Brian — that was Councilmember Teitzel who made that point about having the ordinance ahead of time to review.


  4. I’m once again with Joy. I love uncommonly, common sense when I see it. This could have been solved last night with the right leadership. I think Nelson just earned my vote for Mayor.


      1. Ready,Fire,Aim!
        Advocates of ready, fire, aim cite how it promotes a bias for action. They make the case that many organizations get too bogged down by over-analyzing every little detail. They continue to say that since people can never have all of the information needed to make totally risk-free decisions, they need to act quickly, learn from those actions, and then be ready to implement course corrections as problems arise. These advocates would rather “do something, even if it is wrong,” than get trapped in analysis paralysis, that tendency to study something to death.
        Others will say ready, fire, aim is the reason organizations get into trouble. Rather than taking the appropriate time to think something through, their people take immediate actions that are too often based on wrong assumptions or previous experiences that may not apply to the circumstances at hand. Opponents of ready, fire, aim will also contend that sometimes the decision not to act in the moment is the best thing to do.
        As you might suspect, the best answer lies somewhere in the middle. Even in our overworked, no time for anything world, it is unconscionable to take a position that there is no time to think. On the other hand, it is just as ruinous to get caught up in endless analysis, thus deferring or avoiding decisions that must be made quickly. The best decisions are made with an appropriate balance of thinking and action.


  5. Throwing hand grenades is not the based way for citizens to engage our government to sort out issues. First we need to define what the problem is, get our options outlined, understand the trade offs that may be in play and then make an informed decision based on all the facts.

    While the problem has been defined so far as number of units and building height the issue we need to carefully inspect is the idea that when a building need to be “rebuilt” what factors trigger “new codes”. Currently it is the 75% rule and that needs to be part of the discussion. What are the implication if we go to 100% or 25%. The implications of when does new code get triggered plays a very big role in the cost of housing. Our professional staff will sort out the issues, the planning board will dive into the issues in more than a knee jerk reaction, and council, and the public should be able to sort out the issues from all angles. The real question can become “when to we apply new codes and what does that do to other goal set out to achieve.
    Govt is sometimes messy, but it can work better if we clearly define the problem we are trying to solve and work together to create the best solutions possible. We may not all agree on the final solution but if we do it right we will have good government in Edmonds.


  6. The whole point is that an Edmonds citizen is in danger of losing a condo sale that she desperately needs because of Government ineptness in addressing this issue at the time when the code changes were made. I’m curious to know where the planners and process protectors were back then, when all this could have been averted as a problem now? Some leadership and quick action last night, might have made the difference for this sale and possible others in the pipeline. I think I’m seeing a hidden political agenda here. Is it possible the Mayor and certain Council members just didn’t want Nelson to be seen as the man of the hour? Time for change at the ‘ol City Hall.


  7. First I don’t think anyone is “throwing hand grenades”, metaphoricaly or otherwise. Except maybe the Mayor who screams “Veto” to browbeat the Council into submission. I’m curious to know if anyone else out there thinks the Mayor position in this town is a little too powerful. Maybe it’s time to take another look at changing to the Council/Manager system? As far as the issue at hand goes, the only fair thing is the 100% option for rebuild. The planners and process protectors will kick this one around for months now. Hope I’m wrong on this.


  8. The emergency ordinance could have been quickly signed and at the same time hustle this fix over to the Planning Board for a review and maybe a way to address this issue permanently. It really was a missed opportunity. I think that people like to forget that we live in an earthquake zone.


  9. I really appreciate the research, attention and seriousness that the Planning Department and City Council has given this issue since I presented them with it. They have been very responsive and concerned about the fact that it needs to be corrected as soon as possible. I believe they will find a solution quickly. It is reasonable for them to want to look over and discuss the proposed solution with the planning department and Director of Development that was unable to attend this meeting. All we need for the financing issue is for the City Planning Department to be able to write a “Rebuild Letter” stating that if the building was destroyed, then it could be rebuilt 100% according to the current code. This emergency solution should enable them to do that. Once there is a permanent change to the Code then the banks and appraisers would not need to request a rebuild letter.


  10. If Mr. Nelson’s trying to immediately take care of a constituent’s problem is “shooting from the hip”, I’ll take the guy “shooting from the hip.” Personally I’m tired of egocentric Mayor’s trying to manage the City Council and all their decisions. That’s how we get expensive solutions looking for problems like the Connector. I urge the voters to look closely at who’s promoting the candidates. Campaign committees and financial donors speak volumes.


    1. I’ve been closely watching the council for the past 17 years. If it hadn’t been for Mayor Haakenson and Mayor Earling guiding the council during those years many things would not have been accomplished – starting with keeping King County’s waste water treatment plant out if Point Edwards. I was a member of the Washington Tea Party, and it was the mayor that provided us the needed guidance not the city council.


  11. Ron, thanks for making my point. The City Council has been dominated by high profile Mayors for years now, so we end up with what one seemingly all powerful individual wants instead of the will of all the people as represented by the city council. The City Council needs to quit being a rubber stamp for the Mayor. Yes I know you were on the council, as I watched you hop back and forth on every issue until the Mayor got his way. That was why i was happy to vote against you and see you gone from the council. As far as the King County waste thing goes, I like many citizens, wrote letters of protest and screamed “bloody murder” until it was stopped. Giving strong Mayors all the credit is absurd at best.


  12. Most of the comments and discussion deal with condos but the ordinance deal with all multi-family buildings. That includes apartments and condos. The map above and the list elsewhere is the first attempt to provide those buildings impacted. When the list is updated to include apartments we are likely to see many more building in non compliance.


  13. I live in one of the impacted Condos and i also plan on selling and relocating in late may.
    I hope i am understanding this correctly that, as it stands, it is at banks discretion on wither or not they want to finance a loan to a nonconforming Condo?
    Regardless, i am hoping for a speedy resolution that my unit can be grand fathered in.


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