Reader view: We need time to vet impacts of Citizens Housing Commission proposals

In case you missed it, in the recap of the final Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission (CHC) meeting, the flagship recommended policy to emerge from it, with a slim majority vote, is to upzone the entire town of Edmonds and eliminate all single-family zoning. This is Policy #1, Missing Middle Housing in Single-Family neighborhoods. This two-house-per-lot minimum “Missing Middle” idea is also included in Policy #’s 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7. Even commissioners who originally supported this policy, in the end, voted against it.

Let’s hear from the commissioners themselves: “I spent…time trying to get…data that shows this process actually results in outcomes of lower-cost housing that would address middle-income homeowners. While I can find theoretical articles on the value of doing this, I could not find one article, not one (their emphasis), that said yes, we did this in our city, and it resulted in lower-cost housing.”

A commissioner stated: This policy “if enacted, tilts the playing field to developers and will take single-family homes off the market…they can outbid a modest home in the city and redevelop to two townhomes…with no regard to the neighborhood.”

Magnolia fourplex

In reference to this, above  is an example of a 2021 Magnolia “affordable” multiplex with each unit selling for $800,000-plus on a former single-family lot that removed a modest home and garden next to a similar nice single home that you can see is just swallowed up. These zero-lot lines and limited setbacks encourage massive impervious lot coverage, which are also being promoted in the Edmonds housing policy proposals.

Another commissioner who changed their mind agreed: “To do a duplex on a single-family property will be expensive. You have to buy the house, tear it down, remove the foundation” and then build brand new. “For the missing middle this isn’t going to do it. I like the intent of the policy, but don’t think the reality and intent match. A single-family home in a single-family neighborhood has more possibilities for equity than tearing down a house and paying more.”

A detached accessory dwelling unit (DADU) is a second housing structure on a single-family  lot. With zero-lot lines and off-street parking assumed to be easily available, an 800- to 1,000-square-foot two-story house could be allowed right up to your fence line. See the included photo below of one of these. Beware, the state does not count additional persons living in any accessory dwelling unit (ADU )or DADU toward our GMA population count, so these are on top of our future population growth goals.

Carkeek Park Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit (DADU).

Above is an example of a 2021 DADU near Carkeek Park built in front of the house to the zero-lot line, subdivided further to allow a third housing structure on a former single-family lot with trees and vegetation — also on a steep slope with no vegetation left. Middle house used to have a view of the water. This is the current type of DADU that could be allowed with these new housing policies in Edmonds. It is no longer feasible to build grandma’s cute little cottage as the costs of land, fees, taxes and construction are at an all-time high, so the rent must be high as well. Basements, garages and storage are not considered in the total square footage. They are often literally half-houses now.

Edmonds is only 8 square miles, with a population density of 4,778 people per square mile, over 7x denser than the entire Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area. With one-third of Edmonds covered by a tree canopy from mostly single-family zoning, these policies will encourage two to fire times more houses on neighborhood lots. With Edmonds looking at this issue right now, how could our tree canopy and wildlife not disappear as a result? Edmonds’ central character is its natural environment. It is a fact that property redevelopment is the largest culprit of proliferation of impervious area and tree decimation.

Proposed Edmonds affordable fourplex.

Above is a current Edmonds fourplex that was presented to staff and approved as “affordable housing.” Four stories tall, almost all impervious surfaces on a steep slope could now be coming to a neighborhood near you if the housing commission policies are adopted. Stay tuned for 2021 prices most likely close to $1 million-plus each. These fourplex developments could be encouraged in all neighborhoods of Edmonds with eventual approval of some CHC policy proposals to be presented to council on March 16.

Not one presentation was ever given to the CHC about Edmonds-specific concerns of local environment and infrastructure impacts of development.

Our council and the community should follow the sage advice in the City Resolution 1427 that formed the CHC, to allow “for sufficient time to be provided for all housing-related issues to be thoroughly vetted to enable policy recommendations to be brought forward that are in Edmonds’ long-term best interests.” To achieve that, it further clarifies that we assess all factors “that expand the supply of diverse housing options while maintaining Edmonds’ character and quality of life.” Is this policy recommending eliminating all single-family zoning and upzoning the entire town meeting this goal? Can we ask for moderation of this?

Please allow us the full time necessary to do just that. Allow all stakeholders to participate when we can gather in person, so we can all clearly discuss and understand the real impacts of these policies on our local Edmonds’ community.

— By Michelle Dotsch

Michelle Dotsch is president of the Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds

  1. Excellent points, Michelle. I was watching CNN’s “Stanley Tucci’s searching for Italy” last night and at one point when he was traveling through Florence he stated there are no modern buildings here.

    That’s how they’ve maintained their character, that’s why people flock to Italy. If you destroy all history, your just another over populated city. That’s why Edmonds is a beloved city. Don’t run it’s charm, keep it as a destination location., where people want to come and visit for the day.

  2. Sacrificing the “Edmonds kind of day” charm by transforming our city into nothing more than an incorporation of the urban sprawl of Ballard, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, etc. will be an incredible loss to all Edmonds’ residents, businesses, destination visitors and this region. Is Ballard considered a destination anymore, or just a place to get through? I recently drove around the Ballard area where I saw boring uninspired common-themed 6 story buildings, traffic, tagged buildings everywhere, homelessness, troubled persons wandering the streets. Lynnwood has no community feel to it anymore. Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline no longer feels like residential cities. Up-zoning/rezoning seems to have a complete opposite effect than what is “sold/presented” to city residents. It appears to raise property values, thus raising real estate prices, thus putting more money in city coffers, but the trade-offs to the community are devastating.

    1. You are so right! WE cannot allow this to happen here. WE must stand up and say NO. We must refuse to sell. No sell they won’t get it done and a tree won’t be harmed. Neither will our property values and the integrity of our city ALL of it. Such a huge mistake to let this happen. The people who are running this show must think they are invincible which the fact is they are just the opposite when it comes to this kind of thing. I will talk the streets in the 5 corners area asking and explaining to one person after the other why this is a bad thing. You see politics don’t necessarily have anything to do with someones property value being destroyed. Neither Dems or Reps like that! So depending on the door is the way the conversation will go. Don’t sell and lets stop this madness.

  3. This is If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for adults. If we want to double or triple the population in Edmonds, in addition to the credits to the developers and taxes for us described in the Housing proposal.

    In 2020, Edmonds School System asked for $1.7 BILLION in a lever/bond issuance, to update the schools, technology, etc. The request was not passed. The schools are at full capacity now. How much more do you think that they will need to double or triple the space to take in the additional students? I’ve been in this situation before, when we lived in NJ. As the town expanded, the sewage system had to be revamped, and that was a smaller town, 20 yrs ago, but it was north of $9 mill, the water system: $15MIL. School buildings also needed expansion… So the water and sewage costs went up… a did taxes. then the roads ,( but the county contributed to that at least).

    Most of us don’t want to change the character of this town; we bought property here because we loved it just the way it is. For our City Council to try to double triple and quadruple their tax base just because it can, is not what most of us want, and I’m afraid that it will be a bigger disaster than the Police Chief debacle. The Council has done nothing to give us confidence that it will decide on this issue objectively. In addition, from the letters the members themselves have written on this site, some have been bullied and intimidated into making decisions less important than this one.

    Something as consequential and radical as a change in the character of this town, should be decided thru a referendum, not by warring City Council members.

  4. The February 19, 2019 City Council Agenda Packet included the following:

    “In 2018 the City of Edmonds began the process of developing a Housing Strategy to fulfill a stated objective of the Housing Element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan at P. 96, which states: “Implementation Action: Develop a strategy by 2019 for increasing the supply of affordable housing and meeting diverse housing needs.” A Housing Task Force was formed to work with Berk Consulting and city staff to develop a rough draft of the strategy document, and the draft was subsequently submitted for feedback from the public, the Planning Board, and Council. During public hearings, both formal and informal, it became clear in feedback from constituents that the citizens were concerned about recommendations put forth in the draft and the potential for public comment to be fully considered in the process.”

    The City FAILED to meet the Implementation Action within the specified time period. Instead of admitting failure, the City pushed forward.

    Why not see if citizens support this during the next Comprehensive Plan update?

    Our 2015 Comprehensive Plan (updated in 2017) clearly states:

    “Edmonds’ 2010 population was 39,709. As part of the cooperative planning process for the region, Edmonds established a population planning target of 45,550 for the year 2035. This represents an average annual increase of less than one percent per year (0.5 percent), and is similar to the growth rate experienced by the city during the past two decades. In part, this moderate growth rate reflects Edmonds’ status as a mature community with a small supply of vacant, developable land. Because current and future development will increasingly occur as redevelopment or infill, the general philosophy expressed in the Comprehensive Plan is to maintain the character of the community while strategically planning for change in specific areas.”

  5. Are the Housing Commission’s recommendations consistent with the general philosophy expressed in the Comprehensive Plan “to maintain the character of the community while strategically planning for change in specific areas”?

    Our Comprehensive Plan states the following right under the Implementation Action to develop a strategy by 2019 for increasing the supply of affordable housing and meeting diverse housing needs:

    Performance Measure: Report the number of residential units permitted each year with a goal of reaching 21,168 units by 2035, or approximately 112 additional dwelling units annually from 2011 to 2035.

    I just searched the Policy Recommendations from the Edmonds Citizens’ Housing Commission for the following terms and found no matches:

    Growth Management Act
    21,168 units

    Was the Housing Commission aware of the Performance Measure documented in the Comprehensive Plan? Are the Housing Commission’s recommendations consistent with the Comprehensive Plan goal of reaching 21,168 units by 2035?

    It is clear that many citizens are genuinely concerned about what the City is up to. A minority group of the Housing Commission has put out a letter that upon first reading had me thinking this letter came from the Housing Commission as a whole.

    And distrust in City Government just continues to grow and grow.

    I believe this effort should be suspended. Much has changed since 2017 and our Comprehensive Plan might need to be updated. Hopefully, robust efforts will be made to include citizens in that Comprehensive Plan update as we all can see how impactful the Comprehensive Plan can be on our lives.

    1. Ken’s numbers are accurate and need some added clarification.
      Population in 2011 was 39,949 and the GMA suggested population for 2035 is 45,550 or adding 5,601 in 24 years
      Population in 2018 was 42,767 and in those 7 years we gained 2,818. This is more than half of the targeted growth for the 24 year period in just 7 years.
      The target of added 112 housing units per year with a total unit count target for 2035 (21,168) suggest a 2.15 person per unit in 2035. It also suggests that in the 7 years from 2011 to 2018 we would have added 784 units and each of those would have be households of 3.95.
      Other data presented to the Housing Commission does suggest the average house hold is getting larger. Empty nest couples or individuals have more bedrooms than needed and new families buy those homes, move in with the kids and change the population with no added units. The city probably has supporting data to help sort out these kind of numbers but I recall making a 1 minute presentation to the commission, (that was all I was allowed to speak, so I gave my notes to each commissioner) and bringing out some of these number issues and they were not address anywhere I can find.
      Bottom line is we should understand the numbers and goals in our work. Doing so may lead to other solutions not yet presented. We are an older community, and just finding ways for these folks to downsize and stay in Edmonds would do wonders for adding people, (empty bedrooms) and density. How can we provide more housing for older folks to free up this extra space? My word count will not allow suggestions so for now others may want to offer ideas.

      1. My numbers are a little rusty, but in the neighborhood I just moved from in Edmonds, at the bottom of the street they are building 11 new homes, approximately 1/4 mile east they are currently building 124 apartments, and directly behind the Safeway they plan on building over 200 apartments. Shouldn’t this suffice in expanding affordable housing for Edmonds for awhile all under the current building parameters?

  6. Tricia Evulet is the first person I have read concerning infrastructure, and she is absolutely correct. I have lived in Edmnds since 1955, attended District 15 schools, and raised a family here, so there are few residents who can quote chapter and verse to me about the History or quality of life in Edmonds. To take Tricia’s point a step further, our power grid, water supply, sewage and waste disposal are not adequate to support the amount of growth suggested by the Housing Commission, and police, fire and EMS services would need to grow proportionately with the population. What is the affordability plan and where is the tax base to provide it?

  7. I agree totally with the “urban sprawl” comment by Cynthia Cooper. For me and my wife, the dramatic and unfortunate consequence of implementing the Citizens Housing Commission (CHC) policy was seen by driving around Ballard. I have heard the blame is placed on the State’s mandate to concentrate population growth in urban areas. So the “finger of blame” can be denied by all parties that benefit from eliminating all single-family zoning. Frustrated friends who live in Ballard have exclaimed, “How did we let this happen?” Don’t let this happen to Edmonds.

  8. Like Steven, I’ve lived off and on in my family home in Edmonds since 1960 and attended Dist. 15 schools for four years. I saw the development of the small boat harbor, the change of the old H.S. and Junior H.S to the Center for the Arts, development of the Art Festival, and the demise of the boat houses and Andy’s boat house property becoming the first Senior Center in South County. All really good or, at least not objectionable, developments in my opinion.

    I was also here when the Ebb Tide Condo was built and the development, originally planned to be many stories higher, was squelched down to current height by public outcry. The resultant height limit was the beginning of any real meaningful zoning in the town and probably saved the general “character” of the town, many of you are fighting over now.

    The specter of a walled waterfront and ever taller buildings marching up the hill, was thwarted and the fight over views and view corridors began along with the proliferation of Condos and rather large homes on rather small parcels of land. Like it or not, that is the model we chose and continue to support in our town. Now it seems we either want to protect that model with continuation of current zoning laws or scrap that model and allow for more diverse forms of housing to arise. Our latest can of worms and possible slippery slope to contemplate. We will of course look for a one size fits all simple answer to a complicated and complex problem. Seems to me like zoning by distinct districts would be a good answer but that’s complicated.

  9. The actions of the CHC remind me of my time on the Edmonds Economic Development Commission when we published a recommendation on Westgate zoning changes and exceptions. The EDC that time had an outside consultant team and Patrick Dogherty “guiding” it. This is a common theme in all these Edmonds commissions-an outside consultant and a City government representative (think “Shane Hope”) to insure that the desired result is obtained. When it came to the final report being published, we had several negative inputs both from concerned citizens and three members of the EDC itself (me being one of them). The head of the EDC and Patrick refused to include a section in the final document that talked about opposing points of view.. I was totally frustrated because I didn’t know at the time that this was “the Edmonds Way”.

    Even though there was apparently a lot of concern on the part of some CHC members, none of this appears in the final recommendation. Further, there is no evidence that the CHC talked to any residents of these cities that have implemented these “forward looking” ideas.

    As a resident who loves what Edmonds is, I am aghast that my town is about to be destroyed by a small minority of people with vested interests (“developers and their friends” as well as the Mayor and some members of the City Council). This is not what representative government is all about-talk to your constituents, elected officials!!!

  10. My experience being a member of the Housing Commission mirrored that of Mr. Swartz’s. You’ll find no minority opinions expressed in the final package of housing policy recommendations. They were explicitly suppressed from the recommendations under the guise that the City Council “only” wanted policy recommendations, not a report. Hence, as presented, the recommendations represent a one-sided, distorted view of each policy proposal.

    I too learned about “the Edmonds Way”.

      1. Carl,

        Thanks for the question. I appreciate it when someone reaches out for clarification. It demonstrates that they’re interested in the discussion and willing to listen first rather than jump to conclusions. All too often words can be misinterpreted, so it’s always good to have the opportunity to clarify rather than a statement being taken out of context.

        In the context of my comment, a “minority opinion” is one that has an alternate point of view compared to those who voted in the majority for a particular policy. Not all of the recommended policies put forward by the Housing Commission were of unanimously consent. Unfortunately, no concise record of the opposing views are available to the public. Just reading the proposed policies, one is only presented with the “majority” viewpoint.

        Hopes this helps to clarify my comment.

        1. Thank you for clarifying, those words certainly can be interpreted a few different ways.

  11. Citizens who are concerned with the proposals need to write letters to the City Council and identify which proposals are supported or not supported. Either that or make your voice heard during the Public Comment portion of the City Council Meetings every Tuesday at 7 pm.

    I like reading and learning in this forum but tonight’s CC meeting could have used more of your input and the City Council needs to hear your feedback- even if you think it won’t make a difference!

  12. Citizens who are concerned with the proposals need to write letters to the City Council and identify which proposals are supported or not supported. Either that or make your voice heard during the Public Comment portion of the City Council Meetings every Tuesday at 7 pm.

    I like reading and learning in this forum but tonight’s CC meeting could have used more of your input and it’s the City Council who needs to hear your feedback- even if you think it won’t make a difference!

  13. Beth, I sent emails to the CC and agree we needed to hear more feedback from citizens who are concerned about these policy proposals. I’m aware there are many residents concerned; especially those policies that raise taxes, eliminate single family zoning throughout all of Edmonds and allow developers to take control of the look and feel of our community. Last night at their meeting, there were alot of CHC support comments from those who either served on the commission or, were asked to speak by Shane. There were only 3 who spoke up against. If you are opposed to some of the policies, speak up at the next CC meeting. Otherwise, some of these policies will slip into their agenda, and with the way the CC is voting lately, can very easily be approved and Edmonds will never be Edmonds again.

  14. It seems to me that we do need some responsible thought and possible changes in our zoning around town, but a lot of this stuff in the commission recommendations is a little too broad brushed to ever really work very well. It seems like this is another example of what the mayor and staff really want with an attempt to nudge public opinion in the “right” directions.

    Any zoning changes need to be surgical in approach, rather than just declaring we no longer have any one certain zone designation for vast areas of the city. For example a DADU might work very well on one property in a given neighborhood, but be considered a neighborhood detriment on another property in the same general vicinity. In my own case, I probably have the space to accommodate a small DADU, but such a property use on my part would probably not be well received by many or most of my neighbors. I can see where they might have some serious concerns about the proposals set forth by this housing commission and what this particular mayor and council might just want to see happen in our town.

    1. Clinton,

      You’ve made excellent points. Any changes made in code must be very carefully and thoughtfully done with citizen input that is actually taken into account. The CHC has recommended major, sweeping changes in code. Director Shane Hope is responsible for the fact that the Planning staff drove this process, from beginning to end.

      The current ECDC 20.21 Accessory Dwelling Units, at this link:!/Edmonds20/Edmonds2021.html#20.21

      Delineates clear guidelines that must be used as the framework for Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs). One of these guidelines is that the ADU can not be any larger than 40% of the size of the owner’s house, up to a maximum of 800 Sq feet. Another, is that the owner of the main house must sign an affidavit that they live in one of the units at least 6 months out of the year. This and other conditions are meant to retain the single family designation of the neighborhood.

      Any newly written DADU code should reflect the criteria in the current ADU code. There are many existing ADUs in Edmonds. Two are near where I live, and have each been rented out since we moved into our home in 1988. There are likely DADUs in Edmonds that have been grandfathered because they existed before code was written.

  15. I was reading this letter, and was just blown away at how well it was organized, how compelling the examples were with included pictures, and how reasonable the conclusions given were. At the end I noted that it was written by ACE President Michelle Dotsch, and I thought, “no wonder it was so good.”

    ACE is really a tremendous resource of qualified information for our city, and I hope that we can find a way to take heed of the very reasonable conclusions written in this letter. Based on the majority of the 3/16 Edmonds City Council meeting, the voices that are primarily speaking to the Council are not advocating for consideration of factors detailed in this letter. I agree with a number of the recommendations from the CHC, but there are certainly factors with serious repercussions that we will regret later if we don’t take the required time to review.

  16. Can ACE /Michelle submit an abbreviated version of this letter to CC?
    I think it’s important to hone in on which proposals would be most detrimental and which could potentially meet the multiple goals the City is trying to achieve:
    Expanding housing options for Edmonds in a way that also preserves and protects our environment and our beloved tree canopy, and Edmonds’s charm.

  17. The examples used in the letter are intentionally alarmist and ugly. The Commission or Planning Dept needs to do a better job defining and describing (with examples) the proposals. Hopefully we will see more definition soon.

    Those who are against all change should think about one fact: In today’s real estate market almost any house with a decent sized yard and built before about 1980 is a candidate for a tear down and replacement with a McMansion that will be priced at well over $1,000,000.

    The intent of allowing other types of development is to allow less expensive housing units to be built. I support that. If I’m still alive in 30 years when all this gets settled I would enjoy having a few DADU’s in my neighborhood.

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