Council gets first look at Edmonds Citizens’ Housing Commission recommendations

The first Citizens’ Housing Commission open house, held in February 2020 before the COVID shutdown, elicited lively discussion among the participants and provided valuable information that helped shape the final commission recommendations.

The centerpiece of Tuesday evening’s Edmonds City Council meeting was a presentation by Development Services Director Shane Hope thumbnailing the recently completed recommendations of the Edmonds Citizens’ Housing Commission (CHC).

With few exceptions, the public comment period addressed this issue, with the majority of commenters speaking in support of the CHC recommendations. Observations included support of diverse housing options, and ensuring Edmonds is a place where seniors can age in place and children can grow up. Reservations expressed included concerns about whether Edmonds’ current infrastructure can accommodate the growth, parking considerations and whether the plan will result in truly affordable housing or continue to economically exclude lower- and middle-income levels.

Established by the city council in 2019 and comprised of 15 members and eight alternates, the housing commission was charged with “developing 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” (see Resolution 1427 for additional details).

Public meetings began in September 2019, and the final policy recommendations were submitted on Jan. 29, 2021. During this period, the commission held four open house events (the first was in-person, but subsequent events were virtual due to COVID), conducted four community surveys that elicited more than 2400 responses, logged more than 3,700 unique visitors to the virtual open houses, contacted 56 community groups via email, and sent 19 housing news memos to its 660-member mailing list.

Development Services Director Shane Hope stressed that this is “just a start, as she presented the commission recommendations to the council Tuesday night.

“Tonight we’re providing you an introductory overview of the CHC recommendations,” explained Shane Hope. “We’ll be coming back later with more details on each of these recommendations, and at that time it will be the Council’s turn to ask questions and explore options. Tonight is just a start.”

Hope added that in addition to Tuesday night’s presentation, all the information is available in the council meeting packet.

She then introduced two “retired” CHC members (with its mission complete the CHC has disbanded) — Bob Throndsen and Karen Haase Herrick — to give background on the commission process and how the recommendations were developed.

Throndsen began by acknowledging and honoring the work of the late John Reed, who served with “passion and wisdom” on the commission before passing away from COVID a year ago.

“The commissioners did not agree on everything,” Throndsen explained. “We respected each other. We had frank, sometimes passionate debate. We researched, compromised and built what we believe are a group of strong proposals. We believe our city can accommodate well-planned change while retaining its unique character and environment. The proposals are ours alone – not the council’s, not the mayor’s. We believe that Edmonds must provide diverse housing options for our seniors, veterans and those with disabilities – people who are part of the so-called ‘missing middle’ and may not be able to continue to afford to live in this city. We developed options, possibilities and proposals, which the council will study in depth, not laws or policies.”

Throndsen went on to explain that all the public input received in open houses, online, via mail and other means was folded into the commission’s deliberations and shaped the proposals.

Herrick followed up, describing how the housing commission broke up into five committees to explore specific issues in depth.

Commission member Karen Haase Herrick explains the various committees that worked on specific issues.

“The committees used an iterative process to identify and refine their potential idea,” she explained. “The committees continued to refine their ideas and approaches, and discussion through all of this was very robust and intense around all the policy options. Not all of the policy ideas received a unanimous vote to be part of recommendations; however,many of them did. The final decision was made in the Jan. 28 meeting.”

She added that anyone who is interested can find the results of the various votes in the meeting minutes from Jan. 28, which are posted online here.

Hope next went on to give what she described as a “high level” overview of the 15 commission recommendations. While these are listed in order in the final commission report, for clarity she broke them into two groups. One comprised the nine recommendations that relate to comprehensive planning or zoning, while the others are more basic policy statements that are “not specific to a (Edmonds) Planning Board role.”

She began with the former, noting that these recommendations are more complex and that while she will briefly cover them, more detail is available in the full commission report.

The first of these, Missing Middle Housing in Single Family Neighborhoods, recommends developing design requirements and zoning changes that allow for home ownership of two attached single-family homes (duplex or two-unit townhouses) in single-family residential areas that are compatible with those neighborhoods.

Second, Equity Housing Incentives, recommends developing incentives that apply to “missing middle” housing types citywide that allow home ownership for those at or below average median family income.

Third, Medium-Density Single Family Housing, calls for establishing  a new zoning type of single-family housing that permits construction of zero-lot line duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes of only one- or two-story height located in specified areas of Edmonds that are:

  • Contiguous to or along high-volume transit routes, or
  • Sited next to Neighborhood Business (BN) zoning districts, or
  • Close to schools or medical complexes

Fourth is Neighborhood Village Subarea Planning, which recommends developing subarea plans to rethink areas zoned “Business Neighborhood” such as Five Corners and Perrinville. The subarea plans should create unique, thriving neighborhoods and social gathering points with the surrounding properties to integrate community values including missing middle housing, business opportunity and environmental stewardship in these areas. Additional areas that could be intentionally rethought are the Westgate area and Downtown Business (BD) areas.

The fifth recommendation is Cluster/Cottage Housing, which would add cluster/cottage housing as an option within single-family or multi-family housing areas in Edmonds.

The  sixth addresses Detached Accessory Dwelling Units, (Edmonds currently allows attached accessory dwelling units) recommending to permit either one attached or detached accessory unit on a property in single-family residential areas, with clear and definitive development requirements such as size, ownership and parking, under the standard permitting process and not requiring a conditional use permit.

The seventh in this group of recommendations takes up Inclusionary Zoning, and suggests requiring new developments above a certain size in Edmonds to provide a percentage of affordable housing units or require in lieu of fees that will go toward funding affordable housing elsewhere in the city.

The eighth recommendation, Multi-Family Design Standards, is aimed at enhancing current design standards of new multi-family dwellings, especially those with low- to middle income housing, to maintain and enhance the unique characteristics of the Edmonds community. Building types would include mixed-use buildings, small multi-family buildings and larger multi-family buildings.

The ninth and last of this group addresses Parking Solutions, and suggests adopting language that includes parking solutions as a goal defined in the Transportation Element under the City of Edmonds Comprehensive Plan.

Hope again noted that there is more detail for each of these, and that they will come back to the council at a later date with more information and options to consider.

The final six of the 15 recommendations are not specific to zoning regulation or the comprehensive plan.  They are broader and are more oriented toward council decisions.

The first of these addresses the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE), and recommends the following changes to the MFTE:

  • Create a third low-income-eligible category for tenants whose income is 60% of median family income or less.
  • Mandate that developers set aside 25%, rather than the current 20%, of all units in a project for MFTE.
  • Require MFTE-eligible projects to include some two-bedroom and larger units.
  • Increase the number of “residential target/urban center areas” for MFTE developments.
  • Create incentives for developers to renovate existing multi-family apartments to become MFTE-eligible.
  • Ask the Legislature to extend the current MFTE limits beyond 12 years, to preserve affordable housing.

The second takes up Use of Existing Sales Tax Revenue for Affordable and Supportive Housing, and suggests that per RCW 82.14.540, the city should use Edmonds’ share of the existing state sales tax that is reserved for affordable housing:

  1. In the short term, to provide rental assistance to low-income households in Edmonds that have been impacted by the coronavirus.
  2. In the longer term, to contribute to a regional organization, which could be Snohomish County, the Alliance for Housing Affordability (AHA), or partnerships of cities in the county with the goal of the revenue going toward affordable housing in the sub-region.

The third addresses County Implementation of Sales and Use Tax for Housing and Related Services, recommending that Edmonds advocate that the Snohomish County Council adopt the optional 0.1% sales tax (10 cents on a $100 purchase) as allowed by state law to provide affordable and supportive housing for low-income households.

The fourth in this group recommends executing an interlocal agreement (ILA) with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) allowing HASCO to operate within Edmonds geographic boundaries.

The fifth recommends Developing Community Housing Partners with the goal of establishing community partnerships with for-profit/non-profits to build affordable housing, including:

o Public agencies

o Neighboring communities

o Housing/for-profit/non-profit groups

o Community care providers (transitional housing for patients with ‘no safe place to go’ while recovering from hospitalization)

It further suggests that Edmonds establish regulations for these partnerships and that the City contract with those partners to manage this housing

The sixth and final recommendation in this group calls for Eliminating Discriminatory Provisions in Covenants and Deeds, and suggest that prior to the sale or transfer of any property in Edmonds, all discriminatory language in any associated covenants and/or deeds must be legally removed from said documents.

“All of these have a lot more detail that deserves discussion at a later date,” Hope added.

Lastly, Hope identified seven supplemental policy proposals that are not necessarily specific to the housing commission’s mission but are noted for possible consideration later.  These are:

  • Improved Tenant Protections
  • Childcare Voucher Program
  • Renter’s Choice Security Deposit
  • Low-Income Emergency Repair Program
  • Property Tax Exemption for Low-Income Households
  • Simplify Zoning Code Language
  • Streamline Permitting Process

Next steps involve further council deliberation and consideration of these proposals, and that “during this process no policies will be automatically approved or implemented,” Hope said.  The recommended approach is for councilmembers to review each policy in more detail over the next year or more and decide what to do with each, and seek more public input and information on policy recommendations and options. During the process, the council may assign the Edmonds Planning Board and others to do further research, get input, develop options and make recommendations.

“These recommendations are not policies,” Hope stressed, “but rather ideas to explore.”

Following the presentation, councilmembers praised the effort and supported the deliberate approach that gives ample opportunity for public input and involvement.

Council President Susan Paine asked that the data that underly these recommendations be readily available to those interested. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis echoed this, especially regarding the supplemental information. She also asked about the process and timeline for bringing the various recommendations to the planning board.

Hope responded that the council needs to clarify which of these ideas need planning board consideration, noting that their work program is presently quite full.

Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas stressed that public input needs to be an important component as the discussion moves forward, noting that the prior housing initiative effort was criticized for not providing enough opportunity for this.

Councilmembers Vivian Olson and Laura Johnson both praised the commission for their work, with Laura Johnson echoing an earlier public comment that “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

In other business, the council continued its work on the proposed tree code ordinance, taking up specific concerns and revisions proposed by various councilmembers. These include fine-tuning a host of definitions and provisions, such as landmark vs heritage trees, the concepts of net ecological gain, no net loss and wildlife corridors. A matrix with detailed descriptions of each are available in the full agenda packet, pages 245-248.

The council also took up the recent Edmonds Youth Commission recommendation that city staff, commissionersand board members specify preferred pronouns in their titles, screen names and email correspondence, with Councilmember Distelhorst making a motion to adopt this. Discussion included Councilmember Olson expressing concern that the action might be construed as imposing conformity on those individuals who for personal reasons would prefer not to do this, and Councilmember Distelhorst pointing out that this would be a request, not a requirement. The council approved the youth commission recommendation by a 5-2 vote (Councilmembers Olson and Kristiana Johnson voting no).

Also on Tuesday night, the council heard the Edmonds Hearing Examiner’s annual report.

— By Larry Vogel


  1. It sounds like you have been working very hard to try and satisfy all of us. I appreciate that, Thank you.

  2. Improved Tenant Protections. Leave it to sweet Edmonds to be Proactive in arenas that many upper-crust Neighborhoods don’t consider. Sounds pretty Compassionate to me~ all of it.

  3. Great report Larry. That had to be a pretty tough story to craft. Totally admire your writing skills.

    I’m now reassured that changes to housing codes will be a more deliberate process with much more public input and time put into implementing any of these proposals. I think many of our earlier comments here, including my own, were a bit prejudicial toward the commission, their motives, and the alleged political influences on them.

    We all need to take some deep breaths and relax a little. I think we are a better town and group of people than some of our negative comments about surrounding towns and the nature of certain lifestyles, some of us presume we are superior to, indicate.

    We all (in Edmonds and everywhere else) want to defend what we have, be allowed to use what we have as we see fit and be a part of the community and not be victims of other people’s negligence or indifference. Figuring out how to accomplish this will never be easy or simple and negative comments about people we don’t agree with, or share a commonality with, are generally not helpful to the process. I suspect most people living in Ballard, Seattle as a whole, Kirkland etc. don’t think their neck of the woods is nearly as bad as we might think it is. Let’s just figure out who we are and what we need as a community and tone down the comparisons and assumptions. There is a lot to be said for being a good example of how to do things for others to copy.

  4. Thank you Larry as all for the detailed description of Housing Commission’s pragmatic work. You forgot to mention that I added to the agenda Ordinance 4217 – a 6-month law that prohibits private land owners from cutting Landmark Trees. You can watch the confusing passage of this ordinance by searching late in the meeting as Council quickly passed it – but first had to pass the unfinished and incomplete Tree Code.

    Council members had received the ordinance a few hours before the meeting. I received a phone call detailing the ordinance but there was no discussion about section 2.

    Section 2 of ordinance 4217 allows developers to cut Landmark Trees under conditions of the new subdivision directed tree code which has many exemptions. Simply put: private homeowners cannot cut big trees (see postcard sent to homeowners) and developers can. I went on record saying I did not support this loophole.

    Council is still vetting this tree code and information should be in the packet to help citizens understand this narrowly focused tree Code and the numerous amendments suggested to up to 3/2. The meeting of March 9th, item 10 provided all the citizens comments.

    As many know housing, trees and by extension stormwater affects our environment all should all be viewed in concert.

  5. Thanks for this comment Diane. Is this information post card being sent to all homeowners in town or, are city officials going around; identifying landmark trees; and sending post cards to individual homeowners of these trees? Who measures the tree to see if it can be cut down or not? I assume there will be some sort of fees and permits involved in determining what can be cut down and what can’t. I totally agree with you about this or any other loop holes on this tree code. Not saying there isn’t a problem in town with loss of tree canopy; but this whole tree code concept is just too little, too late, and an unreasonable use of city powers in my opinion. It will become another Edmond’s “can of worms” to contend with.

    The Perrinvile watershed seems to be in real danger of being decimated by big development? Are there any positive steps being taken to discuss some real attempt by the city to purchase part or all of Perrinville Woods for a city park, which might be a great future asset for all of us and really preserve some meaningful forest land? Any sort of true and meaningful tree preservation in Edmonds will cost lots of money and require a big commitment from the population as a whole. Maybe even giving up some current plans at park renovation to get another park on the books? Punishing individual small property owners is not the answer to the problem, or even a good attempt at an answer.

  6. Larry

    I went to the CHC web site, but I can’t find the minutes to see the vote. Can you tell me which link to click to get to a link for the minutes?

    1. Thanks, but that link is not working for me. Could you try it and see if it takes you to CHC minutes?

  7. No property tax for those over 70 years of age, that way seniors do not need to sell their home and move away.

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