The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night held a public hearing on draft tree regulations and took another look at a proposed ordinance that would allow hotels as a permitted use on the city’s waterfront — but didn’t make a decision on either item.
The council had discussed the draft tree code at its Jan. 26 meeting, and on Tuesday residents had a chance to comment on the proposal
The proposed code aims to improve tree retention with new development on private property. It would also implement low-impact development principles, would establish a tree fund into which development contributions or tree penalties can be tracked — with the proceeds spent on tree planting and preservation — and provide updates to definitions, the city’s existing permitting process and the penalties for tree cutting.
With a focus on trees impacted by new development, the priorities are first, to retain existing trees; second, to replace trees that are removed; and third, to ensure developers pay for trees that are removed but not replaced — otherwise known as a “fee-in-lieu of” option — at a cost of $1,000 per tree.
City staff has said that the draft tree code regulations won’t be enough to prevent further tree loss; instead, it will be key for the city to incentivize planting trees on private property, such as through a tree giveaway program or providing tree vouchers.
The current proposal doesn’t address tree regulations for existing private properties. It instead focuses on clearcutting for development because, staff said, that was the primary concern expressed by residents. The city has acknowledged that other steps would need to be taken to further protect and enhance Edmonds’ tree canopy, possibly including a “heritage trees program” to recognize significant trees citywide, plus financial incentives — such as a reduction in property taxes or stormwater or utilities fees — that the city could provide homeowners to ensure trees are retained.
During the public hearing, opinions ranged from those who didn’t think the proposal went far enough in protecting the city’s tree canopy, to those who worried about the loss of water views if replanting involved trees that grew too tall. Larry Temple said that he and his wife moved to Edmonds 18 years ago, and they live in a 5th Avenue North condo that includes a view of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains and the ferry. While Temple said he understands “the ecological need for trees, especially with global warming, we need to have something in there (the proposal) about tree heights.”
“The water is an asset that is unique to us,” Temple added. “They don’t have that in Mill Creek. In Mill Creek, their view is the trees. But here we really have something we need to protect, besides the trees.”
Offering a different view, Edmonds resident Marjie Fields — who described herself as “an acknowledged tree hugger,” said the code as written appears to be “a partial code” that is difficult to support because there is no timeline for when other important aspects of tree regulations — including those related to stormwater runoff and nuisance trees — will be added to the current proposal.
“I’m really worried about our great hopes for a meaningful tree code,” Fields added.
Bill Phipps, who serves on the Edmonds Tree Board but said he was speaking as a resident, encouraged the council to approve the current code and not “kick it on down the road,” adding “it’s a good start.” Phipps encouraged the council to set up a tree bank to plant replacement trees and establish a tree loss notification system so the city can track tree loss on private lots “to account for all the trees lost in Edmonds.”
Phipps also sought to reassure residents who feared the loss of their water views, adding “the aim of this tree code is not to plant large conifer trees in the Bowl area.”
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she believes the draft code needs more attention, and should be sent back ot the Edmonds Planning Board for further work. “Personally I don’t like to have a half-completed code,” Buckshnis said. It’s important that the code focuses on “net ecological gain” rather than “no net loss,” she added.
There were also concerns that delaying the code too long could be problematic because the council — in anticipation of tree code approval early in 2021 — passed in November 2020 a four-month moratorium on subdivisions containing eight or more “significant” trees per 10,000 square feet of lot size.
In the end, the council decided to discuss the tree code further at next week’s meeting.
The next topic on the agenda was a draft ordinance to amend the Edmonds Community Development Code to add “hotel” as a permitted use in the commercial waterfront (CW) zone.
The council had a presentation on this item a year ago — in February 2020 — as a recommendation from the Citizens Economic Development Commission, but no action was taken. The measure would amend the Edmonds Community Development Code to add “hotel” as a permitted use in the city’s commercial waterfront zone. The opportunity would only apply to existing office or residential buildings in the zone, if a property owner was interested in repurposing their building for that reason.
Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty noted that revisiting this idea now makes sense because the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic could necessitate a change in building use. For example, Doherty said, an office building owner who experienced a drop in tenant lease renewals because employees are continuing to work from home could be interested in transitioning to a hotel, and the city wants to be ready to accommodate such a plan.
Councilmembers agreed that while the idea had merit, they wanted to have further discussion on it before taking a vote.
In other action, the council recognized the work of the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission, which approved 15 recommendations at its Jan. 28 final meeting for the council’s future consideration. There were also seven policy proposals that the council could consider later, Development Director Shane Hope said.
Recommendations included policies for neighborhood villages, different housing types, vehicle parking, city programs and partnerships. The council will review each policy– with more research and public input — over the next year before deciding whether to implement any of them, Hope said.
The city council established the Housing Commission in 2019 to develop, for council consideration, “diverse housing policy options designed to expand the range of housing (including rental and owned) available in Edmonds—irrespective of age, gender, race, religious affiliation, physical disability, or sexual orientation.” The commission consisted of 15 members and eight alternates — all local residents — appointed from different areas of the city after a community-wide application process.
Information on the Housing Commission and its recommendations can be found at www.citizenshousingcommission.org.
Finally, at the end of the meeting Mayor Mike Nelson announced the passing of beloved nature photographer Bill Anderson, who died Tuesday morning atfter a long battle with cancer. The city in December 2019 honored Anderson — a long-time contributor to My Edmonds News — for his work to photograph the Edmonds Marsh and its wildlife. Anderson received a standing ovation during the meeting after then-Mayor Dave Earling proclaimed Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 as Bill Anderson Day in Edmonds. The proclamation acknowledged the efforts of Anderson — assisted by his son Daren — to capture the beauty of the marsh and document its environmental contribution to the area. Anderson was also recognized for his long-time volunteer service with Puget Sound Bird Fest. Watch for a separate story on Anderson, coming soon.
— By Teresa Wippel