Reader view: A housing approach that reflects citizen input

As the Edmonds City Council starts to discuss the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission (ECHC) recommended policies, some of us who served as commissioners and alternates would like to share our thoughts on a path forward.

In March, a minority of former housing commission members presented an appeal to Edmonds residents to support the full set of housing policy recommendations of the ECHC (Letter to the editor: Affordable housing for Edmonds – the real story – My Edmonds News). However, in their letter to the editor, part of their “real story” was left out. Of the policy recommendations submitted by the ECHC, some had unanimous support from the Housing Commission members, while many did not. The policy advocating for the elimination of single-family zoning, as we know it, throughout Edmonds had considerable debate and was forwarded based on a simple majority vote.  We did not, and do not, support this policy. So, it was disingenuous to imply that the entire set of proposals were equal in their support by the commissioners.

We, the ECHC, used four surveys and one face-to-face and three online open houses to assess public opinion on various recommendations. In the first survey, an overwhelming 78% of respondents said single-family zoned neighborhoods should remain zoned single-family (including 59% of those who rent in Edmonds). In the final survey, once again, by almost a 2:1 margin, the majority did not support up-zoning to allow duplexes, multiple townhomes, triplexes, and quadplexes throughout single-family neighborhoods. They did, however, support exploring cluster housing to provide smaller, more affordable housing within Edmonds as well as developing areas where business and housing types coalesce to create inviting urban villages. The public comments and input throughout the life of the ECHC was consistent on the desire to keep single-family neighborhoods an integral piece of Edmonds.

During the April 20 Edmonds City Council meeting, Councilmember Kristiana Johnson made a request to prioritize the order in which the various policies are discussed, however it received no traction. We support Councilmember Johnson’s request. Without prioritization, consideration of the ECHC recommendations will be done in an ad hoc, siloed fashion that will be disconnected from the actions taken on the tree code, by the Climate Action Plan or by the Edmonds Planning Board. All these topics interface with housing issues and should be discussed holistically – not in silos.

“Up-zoning” has broad ramifications for everyone in our community. If the city council, for whatever reason, does not acknowledge and believe the Citizens Housing Commission Survey results, then we challenge them to put a referendum on the ballot to determine what the citizens want. The question to be answered: Do the citizens of Edmonds want:

  1. City-wide up-zoning throughout all Edmonds neighborhoods to allow for the building of duplexes, multiple townhomes, triplexes, and quadruplexes.
  2. Strategic, inclusive zoning changes that allow for duplexes, multiple townhomes, triplexes, and quadruplexes around transit corridors and business neighborhoods.

Answering this question first will help city councilmembers, as well as Mayor Nelson, prioritize and integrate actions across siloes as well as evaluate the ECHC recommendations against a clear outcome [vision] that is desired by the majority of Edmonds residents. We are asking for a more respectful and gentle density strategy for our community, based on 15 months of public feedback submitted to and received by the ECHC. We encourage all residents of Edmonds to let the mayor (carolyn.lafave@edmondswa.gov) and the council (council@edmondswa.gov) know which choice they want – A or B.

Submitted by:

Kenneth Sund
Keith Soltner
James Ogonowski
Michael McMurray
Karen Haase Herrick

19 Replies to “Reader view: A housing approach that reflects citizen input”

  1. Thank you Commissioners for clarifying the actions and votes of the Housing Commission.
    After the flawed and non-transparent process the Mayor and four Council members used to undermine Assistant Chief Lawless, and hire Chief Pruitt (since removed from office), it is not surprising that there are more shenanigans afoot.
    The May 11th Council Meeting will reveal whether the Mayor and his four cronies have learned anything from that debacle, or if the try to ram another demonstrably unpopular vote through the council.
    Changing the zoning for the entire City is clearly against the wishes of the vast majority (78%) of the Citizens of,Edmonds, and would be a huge step to ruin the character our fair city, just as has been done to Ballard.
    We will be watching you Mr Mayor and City Council!

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  2. Thank you for this letter helping to bring the proposed density/up-zoning issue to the citizens of Edmonds.
    I think all of us are open to increasing housing opportunities in Edmonds, but not to removing all single-family zoning in the entire city. We have options to make improvements for owning a home, but we don’t want to destroy the character of the town, the infrastructure, and the environment in the process.
    You have outlined some positive steps the Mayor/City Council can take to move forward in a positive manner.
    I hope the Mayor/City Council will listen to the citizens in the future and will consider environmental, infrastructure, and all city planning issues while discussing the city up-zoning proposals.

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  3. Thank you Commissioners for speaking out on this and adding clarification where needed. When our neighborhood wrote to the ECHC regarding our concerns with their zoning of our specific cul-de-sac earlier in their discussions in 2020, Commissioners Ogonowski and McMurray were the only Commissioners to respond to our letter and attempt to address its contents, though eventually they were shut down and our feedback deemed unwanted.

    My personal experience is that the ECHC was uninterested in the public feedback that they received if it ran counter to their desired outcomes. A referendum on the ballot would be the best way to determine what the citizens of Edmonds want, not what a small group of Commissioners with a personal agenda push through.

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  4. It’s the whole city or none of it. Period.
    Every single inch of this city must do its share. Meaning…you want these changes ok to a point…but even in the Bowl all of it. If you don’t the stench of entitlement will get you in the end.

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  5. My wife and I moved from out of state to Edmonds three years ago to be nearer to family. I think we looked at every possible area around the greater Seattle area trying to find a place that fit our desires for a safe, walkable, quaint and active community. We settled on Edmonds and have been so delighted with our decision. It is a wonderful city and community. Sadly we have seen other cities that lost their charm. It usually is a slow process and near impossible to turn around once put into motion. Most times this was rooted in city leadership who did not listen to the desires of the local citizens and who were pursuing other outside agendas. We are very concerned to read that major decisions have been and are being considered where broad community inputs have not been heard. City zoning is a major decision. As such, we strongly oppose removing all single family zoning for the entire city.

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  6. Thank you Commissioners for clarifying the issues from the CHC. And thank you for taking the time to participate in the commission.

    More concerned people in Edmonds need to plug into these housing issues and others by following what’s going on, speaking up at city meetings, emailing our council and Mayor and letting your neighbors know what’s happening.

    Have new neighbors moved in on your street? Do they know what’s going on at City Hall? Encourage them to get up to speed – read MEN, tune into a city council meeting, etc.

    Also, there are three council seats up this year so vet the candidates and ask tough questions of those running for re-election.

    It’s up to each one of us to participate beyond making comments on MEN – get off our keyboards and get involved locally. If we don’t, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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  7. It’s time to change the make up of the City Council in the upcoming election.. Then we need to get a new Mayor.
    Deborah, your comments ignore that we still live in a Democracy.

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    1. Exactly how do my comments imply that I am ignoring we live in a Democracy?
      I am praying we still live in a Democracy….its the Socialistic attitude around here that concerns me. I am a Democrat . Not a Socialist Democrat. Because I said we need a new mayor and council? It seems they don’t get along or agree and are pretty secretive. That concerns me. As is should everyone.
      Is it because I say everywhere in Edmonds if we are going to up zone? That will insure its done nicely everywhere in Edmonds that’s why.
      So, I am a Democrat a more centerist type. I believe everyone’s opinion matters.
      I would say my comments are saying we live in a Democracy not a Socialististic society. Now Seattle, that council and mayor…the very same ones, and place we all say that we don’t want….yet many seem to behave the same way. The Mayor says he is woke…I hear these things around here. I don’t need silly words to say what I am. But it’s way beyond woke.
      So who are you Robert Chafee? Are you a Socialist or a Republican or an independent?
      Replying to my comment. Calling me out with untrue accusations. I am well aware we live in a Democracy and I am proud I do. I am just trying to hold onto it for All of Edmonds.

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    2. I responded. It was eaten… But just to be clear…I am a Democrat not Socialist. I am hoping to see our city remain a Democracy. I have no idea what you are talking about and I do not appreciate being called out.

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  8. Dear Mayor Nelson and Edmonds City Council,

    I urge you to leave the path that would cram down our throats up-zoning to allow multifamily housing construction in single family zoned neighborhoods in Edmonds, or in fact ALL of Edmonds.
    As you know well by this time, this idea is strongly opposed by an overwhelming majority of Edmonds citizens.
    If we wanted to have a “Ballard kind of day”, a “Capitol Hill kind of day, or (fill in the blank kind of day), we would move to those places. The fact is that we don’t want that, and that is why we live in Edmonds, to have an “Edmonds kind of day”.
    A much more nuanced and custom fit approach is called for, while a disastrous “One Size Fits All” up-zone will predictably destroy this lovely city.
    It is time to listen to the citizens who make up this city, and have put you in office to REPRESENT US.
    Please do.

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  9. Let’s hope the Mayor and the council react in a reflective manor with regards to this issue. It’s clear from the surveys and public comments that the community has a strong collective sense of what’s NOT needed in our community. That is the potentially runaway development that turns us into an extension of the largely failed Seattle “look the other way” policies.
    Yes additional housing options are needed but to just throw the gates open is the easy way out.
    So Mayor Nelson and the council please for once listen to the people of this gem of a town.

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  10. Upzoning within single family zones makes no sense. Multi- family/ multi use enclaves do. I’m assuming that the Federal Growth Management Act is still the primary impetus behind this?

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  11. Thank you commissioners for sharing this objective data that clearly shows that the public overwhelmingly wants to maintain single family zoning. It is disappointing that the other commissioners pushed forward recommendations in direct opposition of the public input. Currently, the planning department is reporting hundreds of multifamily units being built for 2020 and 2021 which far exceeds their annual goals. Council member Kristiana Johnson was spot on when she highlighted this success at the 5/11 council meeting. Since we are currently meeting our housing unit creation goals, there is no rush. How about we take breather; slow down and when it is safe to do so have in person public forums?

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  12. Our 7 City Councilmembers constitute our legislative body. Our political system is a representative democracy. We elect Councilmembers to make policy decisions and enact laws on our behalf.

    Citizens of Edmonds can also practice direct democracy. The 1985 City Council adopted the powers of initiative and referendum.

    I am not sure how well our current City Officials understand this. I made the following specific request on April 2, 2021:

    “Please make sure what is and isn’t subject to referendum is explained in detail to City Council and the public. This can be a confusing area and it would help all if a solid, detailed explanation is provided.”

    My request for a detailed explanation about the subject of referendum was not acted on.

    The essence of the legislative process is the give and take of different interests and the search for a compromise that is acceptable to the majority. My opinion is that the Mayor and his staff have an advantage over citizens when it comes to promoting “interests”. I think that is a problem.

    Prior to City Council’s Joint Meeting with Planning Board on April 13, 2021, I emailed Council the following:

    “City Council’s Joint Meeting with Planning Board tonight provides an opportunity to clarify whether City Staff has the authority to continue to recommend what they want rather than simply presenting the Planning Board’s recommendation to City Council.”

    I asked the 2021 City Council to take the opportunity to discuss this issue and inform the citizens of how this is supposed to work.

    I asked: “If City Staff can recommend action different than what the Planning Board recommends, should Planning Board attendance be required at the related City Council Meeting so that Planning Board’s recommendation can be properly explained and respected?”

    My request was again not acted on.

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  13. The city council should reject the one-size-fits all approach of zoning the entire city as multi-family. The zoning of any city of 40,000+ people and 18 square miles needs careful thought and approach. The reason my wife and I moved here from Colorado was the obvious long-term work and care that has gone into creating a vibrant, charming, livable community. Voting in a staff-sponsored proposal opposed by 78% of citizen respondents is a recipe for disaster in the long-term effects on the character of the community, let alone the immediate political push back — the reaction to the waterfront by-pass comes to mind. We strongly suggest the council take a deep breath and consider a more reasoned, nuanced approach.

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    1. Jim:

      “The reason my wife and I moved here from Colorado was the obvious long-term work and care that has gone into creating a vibrant, charming, livable community”.

      Therein lies the irony …

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  14. My wife and I agree with the majority of Edmonds residents on limiting multi family zoning in the DT core. Our town is a great place to live and if there is more density of people and livable spaces in our center core, it will ruin the charm and quaintness that we all love so much. So please, city council members, listen to the majority! We don’t want another Ballard, Redmond or Kirkland. Plan our growth carefully!

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