Commentary: An Edmonds Kind of Townhome — injecting common-sense ideas Into housing policy

The flagship policy recommendation from the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission (CHC) is “missing middle housing in single-family neighborhoods.” This essentially recommends our city council craft a housing policy that would allow two townhomes/duplexes to replace one single-family home and it would do so citywide in all residential zonesThis might seem reasonable in its most basic form if limited to this type of development only. The harsh reality is that this policy opens the door to a proliferation of “Track Townhome Developments” throughout Edmonds. This will tragically result in a very real decline in Edmonds’ livability, tree canopy, environmental protections and preservation of our small-scale, single-family neighborhoods.

I served on the citizens housing commission and as a result of my experience there, I developed and believe in an “Edmonds Kind of Townhome” policy.  I personally don’t have an issue with my neighbor’s house being plowed down and two townhomes or one duplex being established with a net equal footprint of the original home, yard and on-site parking. However, I do strongly oppose larger parcels and/or merging adjacent parcels being used to inject vast numbers of track townhomes into my neighborhood. This is precisely what is happening all over Seattle and what is turning its neighborhoods into chaotic and ugly spaces. To my fellow Edmonds residents, If the “missing middle housing in single-family neighborhoods” is adopted in its current proposed form, Edmonds will see that Seattle-style development allowed and even encouraged. Opportunistic and profitable track townhome housing will prevail and be coming quickly to Edmonds in many of our residential neighborhoods.

The Westhaven development recently completed in Edmonds gives us insight into how local developers are currently using adjacent parcel developments to create new housing in Edmonds. Three homes on larger parcels were acquired and redeveloped into 10 separate homes in an existing single-family neighborhood.  Builders often build to scale and build six or more homes at a time to save money and maximize profits.

This higher-density development of Westhaven continues to provide three onsite private parking spaces and leaves an estimated 5,000 square feet of green space, which is adequate to plant and/or preserve existing trees (if such policies existed). Up to 30 additional car activities could be expected to be added to this neighborhood.

In contrast to the example above, in approving the CHC flagship policy (two townhomes/duplexes in single-family zones in all residential areas of Edmonds), the same development would have allowed for the construction of 20 townhomes instead of the 10 single-family homes. This is a profit-driven policy. The townhomes would have been less assimilated into the neighborhood with fewer yards and less onsite parking. In fact, the neighborhood would have been drastically altered to resemble a typical Greenlake-style residential setting. Imagine that now there would be 20 more families coming and going where once three families occupied the three parcels of space. If one is looking for something positive in such a scheme, it is that there would be an opportunity for buyers who could not afford the $1.2 million-$1.5 million (2020 pricing) for newly constructed single-family homes to possibly buy a $800,000-$1 million range townhome. The townhome may likely be the future of home ownership in our region, one which is very profitable for developers to build, as it allows them to build multiples at a time. We can see a current example in the Quantum home development in Perrinville, where there are 44 townhomes being constructed. Builders typically don’t build one or two homes at a time; rather they build at a scale to maximize profit and utilize limited construction labor and resources. Most townhome developments within single family neighborhoods build six to eight units or more at a time, a fact that was confirmed for me by a top townhome developer in Seattle.

The Brackett’s Corner development is the most recent track home townhome development in our city. It is worth examining to truly see what we can expect to  proliferate in Edmonds if the CHC flagship policy is adopted by a simple four-member majority vote of our current city council.

212th Brackett’s Corner: 14 units sold between $699k-$800k in 2018

212th Brackett’s Corner: 14 units sold between $699,000-$800,000 in 2018

Visitor parking is limited in this design, one very small space provided between units. Almost no space to preserve and/or plant trees or preserve significant green space is afforded in this design. There used to be two commercial buildings on this parcel with large evergreen trees – see trees in the background – are they now next to go? I do feel this development is better than previous two dilapidated commercial buildings, and the units themselves seem very nicely built. The alarming factor is the layout and lack of moderation; this design would be so much better if it were 10 units not 14 and left more onsite parking and green space, about a 15-20% open space rule would have been prudent and assimilated into Edmonds better. Most developments in Edmonds, commercial included, only require 5% remain open/green space.

Ratio rule

The Edmonds City Council and community have had the benefit of observing what has been done in surrounding communities and we should learn from their pronounced lack of moderation and what has resulted because of that. Citywide up-zoning in Edmonds will result in a proliferation of townhome track housing developments that are carbon copies of what Seattle has created. Big developers and investment companies love the huge profits created when very little open space and onsite parking are required. Edmonds needs to establish a ratio rule that would allow for more housing options and more capacity, but at the same time would achieve greater moderation and balance, allowing for the greater likelihood of green space preservation. Utilizing such a rule would also allow the housing capacity created to better assimilate into the mere 8-square-mile footprint of Edmonds, of which 30% is dense forest and other unique but sensitive environmental splendor such as streams, creeks and marshes.

By introducing moderation into the process, the city council has an invaluable opportunity at this critical point in time to reimagine how to increase our housing supply in a way that would help protect Edmonds’ character and livability. Setting a ratio rule standard would benefit Edmonds by removing some of the angst and fear around the policy of “up-zoning.” Instead of allowing a builder to tear down three houses in Edmonds (illustrated by the Westhaven case study above) and build ten larger single-family homes (or 20 townhomes if council approves a policy allowing such), it would be a more prudent policy to inject moderation into the process with a ratio rule and also setting a 5-15% larger open space requirement that reflects Edmonds’ scale and sensitive environmental location. Another reasonable idea is to allow a developer to build a maximum of six homes of any shape, type or size based on what was already established on the three parcels in this example, versus simply letting the developer manipulate the size of the land, through clever parcel mergers and unit lot subdivisions, to build on every square inch of the property. It is not a reasonable idea to suggest that paying high fees for removing larger established trees will save Edmonds’ environment, nor will installing modern retentions systems that slowly drain water into Puget Sound as opposed to water being consumed by thirsty trees and green spaces.

A ratio rule policy would lead to moderation in development and protection of the environment by limiting impervious area proliferation. A policy that requires that, when three houses are demolished and replaced, it is with six new homes rather than 20 townhomes or 10 larger single-family homes. This is a reasonable policy because it allows for an increase in our housing supply but at the same time it is thoughtful and respectful of our fellow residents and neighbors and, most importantly, our environment. Regardless of how it is labeled, whether it is called “affordable housing,” “missing middle” or other subjective labels, 20 homes replacing three in any Edmonds neighborhood does not assimilate well into the character, livability and fragile environment of Edmonds. All should agree that it does not live up to the expectation you held for your neighborhood when you sacrificed and made the commitment to acquire a house here or chose to pay higher rent to make Edmonds your home.

If the reason to up-zone our entire town is to provide more and varied housing options, then there is an opportunity to do just that, but also to curb over-development profiteering by setting standards that our surrounding communities missed. We cannot afford to simply make a carbon copy of what other communities have mistakenly and regretfully done and what state and regional powers are pushing us to do. What is wrong with some moderation? Edmonds can and should do a better job sharing its community and providing more housing opportunities, but there is no need to overcompensate at the expense of our livability and environment, and certainly no need to emulate what has regrettably been done in Seattle. We have seen people moving to the suburbs and other cities to escape what has been done in Seattle. Be very clear that we are accelerating towards a “Seattle-style” housing policy with this blanket solution to providing housing options in Edmonds along with the huge assumptions on what zoning changes can realistically solve and/or provide. Our Edmonds community is at a very critical junction.  I am asking council to consider ratio rules and larger open space requirements (plus 5-15%) on all developments, commercial and residential a like, before implementing any large-scale zoning density changes.

— By Mike McMurray

Mike McMurray lives in Edmonds.

 

  1. Thank you for this very well-written piece. Your visuals helped me understand what is (to me) complicated and convoluted zoning laws and loopholes. It seems to me that every council member and our current mayor pledged “to protect the small town charm” of Edmonds. Yet, 4 council members and I assume the mayor are pushing for higher density as you explain so well. I see what’s happened in Ballard, Redmond and Kirkland. Look at Lynnwood near Costco. Do we want Edmonds to look like that? I sure don’t. What can we do Mike? Is it too late? City Council elections are this fall but will this pass before then? What can I do as an “everyday citizen” without clout or connections? Again, thanks for your warning for us to wake up before it’s too late.

    1. It makes me sad to see where Edmonds is going. My Wife and worked hard for decades so we could live here but alas will not be here much longer. Mayor and council care not one iota about what the residents care about. They are interested only in money and beefing up their resume so they can move on to a more lucrative position somewhere else.
      We moved here because we loved the small town feeling of knowing our neighbors. Befriending business Owners, bumping into each other while out and about. I remember fondly having ‘An Edmonds Kind Of Day’ where we just kind of hung out and relaxed all day around town. There is no relaxing anymore. Traffic, throngs of people bumping into each other, parking lots at the grocery so packed shopping gets put off to another day, the nice HOMES (townhomes are transient dwellings that people move out of after a few years) with beautiful yards and tall trees being bulldozed for overpriced ‘Ballard Boxes’ that are not only out of character for the neighborhoods and have only a 25 year life expectancy but are priced far out of reach for ‘regular folks’. Sorry, but a cheap home here is now almost $800k which is NOT in the realm of the so-called, ‘missing middle’.
      Once it is gone it is gone forever. I miss it but once we move I will not.

  2. Very well written Mike. I agree with every point you have made and I certainly hope that everyone on the City Council reads this an takes it to heart. I moved to Edmonds from the Greenwood area that borders one of my formerly favorite neighborhoods, Ballard. Because they have really lost their charm, not to mention parking availability, I very rarely go to Greenwood or Ballard anymore, thought those neighborhoods are still convenient to me on my way home. I found in Edmonds, what I used to enjoy in Ballard.
    To the Edmonds City Council: PLEASE DON’T BALLARDIZED Edmonds!!!!!!!!!

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with you Mike! Since we move here 10 years ago from N Seattle, I have advocated against Edmonds becoming another Kirkland, and now Ballard too. I don’t know what we have to do, but Mike’s idea about increasing the open green space rule is the least we should do. Honestly, I don’t know why Edmonds “has” to keep increasing our density. We moved here for the ‘small town charm”. We are a destination point for tourists FOR THAT VERY REASON. Edmonds is more than 5th Avenue, Main Street and the waterfront. City council needs to listen to its residents, their constituents and not greedy track developers. Have You been to Kirkland or Ballard recently?! When is enough, Enough??

  3. Full disclosure on my part: Mike is a client of mine (my firm KDMC is helping with the marketing for his Main Street Commons project). And this thoughtful and informative letter is one of many reasons why I love working with Mike and am proud to work with him. First and foremost, I’m an Edmonds resident (16 years & counting) and want what is best for our community and neighbors. The proposed housing policy is fraught with potential conflicts – and there have already been assumptions & accusations against any who may oppose the blanket upzoning recommendations. But Mike lays out why this approach would dramatically harm our livability – and there is a pragmatic approach that should be explored. Our city leaders should listen carefully & proceed with caution. I agree with Mike that we’re at a real inflection point in Edmonds history.

  4. Totally agree with Mike on this
    It doesn’t provide lower cost housing. Example between 6th and 7th on Bell st there a 4 plex being built and they will sell for over 1 million apiece. How does that fix the so called problem

  5. Since our property works well with whatever scenario, I don’t really have a horse in this race and I’m grateful for what we have, but it strikes me that there is just a bit of hypocrisy here. Someone develops a business which takes away recently available downtown parking and is designed to bring more visitors and potential residents to town; and then turns around and says residential development should be limited and on site parking should be encouraged. This comes down to everyone wanting to make a profit off of Edmonds and thinking his/her way is the right way and someone else’s way is the wrong way. Hypocrisy reigns supreme in this town. ” I’ve got “mine” now and “yours” will destroy our precious way of life.”

    1. I don’t see any hypocrisy here. “Recently available downtown parking” was on private property and was made available after Mike bought the property (the previous owners did not allow public parking). It was only after development of Main Street Commons that the parking lot went away – and it wasn’t to accommodate a bunch of new people who would bring many more vehicles downtown if it was residential.

      If Mike really wanted to “make a profit off Edmonds,” he would have sold off the property to developers who would turn it into some kind of condo/retail development that would have been even worse for the city.

      Maybe we need to consider of those 95% in Edmonds who have property that doesn’t work well with whatever scenario unfolds?

      1. There is NO “hypocrisy” in Mike’s comment. Those that do not understand the concept of what he was saying. Sometimes it is best to re-read before commenting and calling names.

  6. We should only elect those individuals who have plans for building affordable housing along our transportation corridor. Building million dollar townhomes does not equal affordable housing. I would suggest MyEdmondsNews ask each of the candidates for city council how they would vote on building two houses on a single-family lot. This is a key issue for preserving the beauty of Edmonds for decades to come in our upcoming election. Once these open spaces and trees are eliminated, they will never come back. We must do everything we can to avoid the Brackett’s Corner proliferating Edmonds, as this type of development does nothing to address affordable housing and destroys our beautiful city at the same time.

    Thank you, Mike.

    1. Great idea, Jamie! I’d like to take it a step further. I want to know exactly where each candidate stands on each of the Housing Commission recommendations. How about it, candidates? Will you voluntarily disclose how you would vote on each Housing Commission recommendation, if elected?

  7. Additionally, where are all these new residents going to park when they come to downtown Edmonds? And will we need to replace stop signs with signals? Imagine morning traffic and evening traffic…….

  8. I agree with Mike on this one. Well written. It truly does change a neighborhood. When you drive past 212th Brackett’s Corner it is rather easy to visualize what other neighbors could turn in to. Just drive into Esperance and you’ll see the same development happening there. Drive to Perrinville and you’ll see 43 Townhomes being built – at the affordable price of $600,000.

    Personally, I prefer single family zoning remain single family. And this talk of affordable housing is subjective. Affordable housing is affordable to those who can afford it.

  9. Thank you, Mike, for a well-written piece that addresses all that you spoke to during ECHC meetings and other gatherings. Your visuals definitely help others understand different approaches to development. I would add that developments such as Brackett’s Corner do not offer housing suitable and amenable to remodeling for those with mobility issues – a growing percentage of our population [young and old alike] as medical techology works its miracles.

  10. I support Mike’s reasoning and will be writing to the city council to vote against changing the rules to allow this kind of slash and burn development policy. Everyone else should too.

  11. “Injecting common sense ideas…”

    I wholeheartedly agree with Mike that a sizeable injection of common sense is needed, and not just regarding the proposed housing policy that is sure to severely diminish those Edmonds characteristics that attracted us and made many of us move here in the first place. The need for such an injection goes well beyond this issue, whether it is the botched and embarrassing replacement process for Police Commissioner or the choice of the Saturday and Sunday option for the Walkable Main Street program against the wishes of a sizeable percentage of the affected retailers and many of their customers.

    Democracy is a beautiful thing. Rule by the will of the people.
    Every morning I log in to My Edmonds News or other publications and read to my great astonishment and consternation what it is that I apparently want today.

    Injecting common sense ideas, indeed. Perhaps we can set up an injection site in front of City Hall and specify that no City Council members can vote on anything until they get that first shot of common sense.

  12. Mike, well thought out and well said. Thank you.

    The biggest take away from Mike’s commentary should be that there are alternatives available to us before we entertain irreversibly changing the character of our neighborhoods through city-wide modifications in single family zoning codes. It’s one thing to voice our opinions on platforms such as this, however I would suggest that we need to take the next step. We need to contact our City Council members (council@edmondswa.gov) and Planning Board (Planning@edmondswa.gov) directly and make your opinion heard. It doesn’t take any longer than posting to this site. Messages to them don’t need to be lengthy, just to the point. They’ll need to continually hear from us over the coming months as they work through their deliberation process.

    Another opportunity to engage is coming up on June 24th at 4:30 when the City Council is convening a special session to discuss the Housing Commission recommendations. Look to the city website for details once they’re posted. Citizen comments will be heard during the meeting (via ZOOM), so feel free to jump in and provide some additional thoughts for consideration.

    So let’s start to spread the word and make your opinion known to those who were elected to serve us. In the end, they will ultimately make the decision on how our city transforms. We’ll only have ourselves to blame if we don’t take some action and make our elected officials accountable to us.

  13. I loved the article. 1 property. 2 homes with 2 parking places each. That’s it. No large complexes. No Brackets has only been there a few years. Already you can see its damage. The traffic on 80th between 212th and 220th a speedway. The crime here and heads east to 74th is horrible. So, no tract housing. No 2 story. That was our code on the west side of 80th. 1 and 1/2 story’s. That is all that is acceptable. after reading this I see why so many are so upset…the article. No to Seattle. Ballard…I did not move here to live like that. Just stop. See how your giant multifamily on 99 works out first.

  14. Yes! 4:30 on a Thursday is the perfect time for us to attend a special session! Since no one that lives in Edmonds works or has a Family to take care of.

  15. Joe, I was hoping someone would point out the hypocrisy with this City Council so I didn’t have to in my original comment. Now that you have:

    For all their talk of equity, when it comes to something that they do directly control (their meetings and agenda), the City Council turns around and schedules what is arguably one of the most important topics in recent history at the most inequitable time for the citizens of Edmonds. Inequitable by any definition you use. Before households get home from work, or during dinner preparation or dinner itself, family time after school, you name it. This certainly highlights that they are completely tone deaf. Or maybe worse, that they’re strategically planning to minimize the citizens participation while claiming “transparency and open meetings”. Not only are the optics bad, but the motivation may be worse.

  16. I will be emailing the council tomorrow and I suggest you all do citizens of Edmonds. Thank you.

  17. Well done everyone!

    Informative article and comments. I will review both the article and comments a couple more times.

    Please address Council. Your voices will make a difference. Go for it!

  18. I understand the criticisms of my earlier comment and respect and understand why the other people commenting don’t agree with me about the piece being hypocritical. That said I will defend the fact that Mike’s comments are somewhat hypocritical. I do not dislike Mike, nor do I oppose his doing what he wants with his private property in terms of removing onsite parking to facilitate his business plan. What I oppose his his telling us that the city should tell other private property owners what they should do with their property in terms of a business plan and how much on site parking they should provide. That, just strikes me as hypocritical.

    From my long time point of view, the town I knew and loved has, in fact, been largely destroyed by the very people who now claim to be in the process of trying to save it. The town I loved was just a nice quiet place to live by the sea; not a place to make a “bundle” in business or real estate. The homes were generally average size with good size lots that had lots of nice big trees and tree cover. “Deadmonds” got discovered and “saved” by the let’s make Edmonds an entertainment and art hub crowd. The houses got bigger, the big trees went away, and the beer, pub grub, and expensive food joints became all the rage. Now it’s “be sure to come to Edmonds to spend your money, but don’t even think about living here unless you are worth at least a million dollars.”

    The logical thing to do would be to zone by neighborhoods (you know actual zones or districts) based on what the people living there want for their district. I don’t necessarily disagree with Mike’s viewpoint but I would like him and people like him to at least acknowledge that their actions too have, in part, contributed to where we are currently at as far as Edmonds being a “livable” town or not.

  19. I expect my neighborhood to be zoned exactly as it was when I purchased my home. I expect it to be taken care of and policed exactly as all other areas of Edmonds. I bought in good faith thru Windermere 29 years ago. I do not agree with picking districts. We already have enough trouble getting the same treatment as the water front district, Bowl, Meadow Dale.
    I want this all taken care of…now. Stop the madness. I don’t care anymore to discuss who and why this mess in Edmonds has occurred. I just want it to reverse and go back to some semblance of rationality.
    If it does not, soon there as I have repeatedly said, there will be no Edmonds Bowl. Not with windows…Not with anything. But that beautiful beach, which won’t remain beautiful it too will be a littered pit.

  20. Well, Deborah, you should have purchased in an HOA governed development then, because the city Council can do whatever it wants in terms of changing codes and zoning that’s within state law. All we can do is beg or vote them out, hoping we don’t get worse later. Good luck.

  21. Looking back in time, this issue seems to me to be a re-play of the building heights issue of the late 60’s. That issue ended up being more or less resolved thru compromise and moderation. It still comes up periodically, but is largely resolved for the public and private best outcome possible.

    That is what is desperately needed now with the current issue of zoning. Compromise and moderation that is sadly lacking in most of our National and local politics would go a long way toward making Edmonds and our country as a whole much more livable for everyone. We cling to our ideological corners which makes cultural war a forever proposition.

    Both sides of this zoning issue are locked in demanding a one size fits all answer to the problem of handling growth of the town that is going to happen, wanted or not. From the way our current city politicos handled the walkable Main Street issue, I don’t think anyone is much interested in compromise on anything around here.

    1. Clinton, I wholeheartedly agree with you. This all comes down to leadership. Leadership by the Mayor and the City Council President. They should be working between City Council meetings to build the right framework around specific issues which enable all sides to reach an equitable solution. The Mayor should be working with his administrative staff and the City Council President working with her fellow councilmembers. This is obviously not happening and we’re seeing it play out at each City Council meeting. They’re trying to develop legislation in real time and its been a disaster.

      City Council President should be discussing legislative priorities with fellow council members upfront. The Mayor, with his priorities, and City Council President should then be scheduling agenda topics for specific council meetings. Once agreed upon by the Mayor and City Council President, the council members should be providing city staff with questions beforehand to be addressed at council meetings, giving staff time for research. City staff should be providing unbiased information, both pros and cons, positive and negative, majority and minority viewpoints for each topic. I would avoid them taking a position, unless directly asked, on any specific topic. Ultimately, it’s up to the City Council, informed by both city staff and the public, to distill the information and make an informed decision. Currently, I don’t see it’s working this way.

      We can do better than what’s happening now.

  22. The only time our Mayors and C.P.s actually listen to what the public has to say, is when something is so stupid (like the recent Connector and long ago Sky Scrapers on the Beach) that the public becomes so outraged that they have to listen. Not listening to the public has been a problem before Nelson and the Dem.s took over the Council, but they have managed to play the politically correct game in mega style. (And I used to consider myself a very liberal Democrat) until this bunch came on the scene.

    In the coming election, I’m not voting for anyone with any known financial or ideological connection with either political party. I want seven Vivian Olson’s and Diane Bucksnis’s on that Council as soon as possible. I’m just hoping I can find someone I can vote for. I like to vote, but will set this one out, if it looks totally partisan from either direction. In my opinion, the real problem here is this Mayor Centered system we have had forever. It’s time to try something new.

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