Edmonds launches Highway 99 Renewal Project with initial open house

This map shows the general location of the study area within the black circle, superimposed on a map showing the three census tracts – 507, 508 and 509 – from which data were drawn to provide baseline information.

In a lightly attended Wednesday evening virtual open house, City of Edmonds officials and project consultants presented initial plans for the Highway 99 Community Renewal Project.

Smaller in scope than the Highway 99 Subarea Plan approved in 2017, the project aims to address issues related to unattended buildings, unsafe traffic conditions, homelessness impacts, and nuisances by identifying a set of potential actions the city could take to help with neighborhood renewal. Wednesday’s open house was the first effort to present these goals and engage the community in helping shape, modify and develop appropriate actions to get them on the ground.

“We want to make the Highway 99 community more livable,” said Mayor Mike Nelson as he welcomed the 14 attendees who signed in to the virtual meeting.  “Challenges like abandoned buildings have been there for years. Tonight is the first step in a series that will allow us to do more down the road to make the stretch of Highway 99 in Edmonds more livable and welcoming. We want to hear from you as we move forward.”

The current project follows the subdistricts first described in 2017 – Health, International, and Gateway.

“We’ve been working on plans for Highway 99 for a long time,” said Development Services Director Shane Hope, referring to the ongoing work stemming from the 2017 Highway 99 Subarea Plan, public works designs for the corridor, and ongoing parks planning.  “By contrast, this plan takes on short-term and mid-term issues aimed at quality of life/livability along the corridor.”

Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty pointed out the importance of this effort in helping build the area into a thriving, economically vital community.  “This is an area that over the years has seen the least investment of public and private funds,” Doherty said. “Our aim is to bring in more investment, housing, business, and jobs. Making the area more livable, safe and inviting will pave the way for this.”

Recognizing that parks potentially have a large role in accomplishing this transition, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angie Feser called on attendees to participate by completing the survey on the Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) website to let officials know what they want.

The final city official to speak was Public Works and Utilities Director Phil Williams, who quickly reviewed the other projects underway in the area. These involve the new landscaped median for Highway 99, frontage improvement on the southern end of the project area, and additional traffic and pedestrian enhancements focused on the stretch between 224th and 220th streets (see details in earlier My Edmonds News coverage here).

“These are first and foremost safety projects designed to address the high incidence of vehicle/vehicle and vehicle/pedestrian accidents along this corridor,” he stressed.  “But (they) will also bring pedestrian enhancements, better traffic control – especially left turns – lighting, and of course landscaping, all of which will help enhance livability in the area.”

The vital importance of public involvement in the process was echoed by all officials present, as they stressed that in addition to providing information, the open house will be a catalyst to inspire and get ideas from the community.

The remainder of the program was devoted to the consultant team from Fregonese Associates. Principal Scott Fregonese outlined the data collected to date, and what this information might tell us about the area and its needs.

“We’re looking at the corridor as comprising three districts first identified in 2017,” he explained. “These are the Health District anchored by the Swedish (Hospital) campus, the International District comprising the several blocks close to Ranch 99 Market, and the Gateway District running from there south to the county line.  We also looked closely at the most recent demographic data from census tracts — specifically tracts 507, 508 and 509 — which provided some valuable insights.”

He outlined the project objectives, which include conducting a planning process centered on “inclusive and meaningful” public engagement, developing strategies and actions for short- and medium-term investments and solutions, and creating an implementation framework that encourages ongoing community involvement and collaboration. In addition to engaging individuals, the latter includes connecting with neighborhood partners such as faith-based and neighborhood groups and business associations.

Fregonese presented a series of charts and tables that graphically display these data, including comparative breakdowns by age, race and ethnicity, homeowners vs. renters, poverty level, median income and median home values. For comparative purposes, he included data from the City of Edmonds, Snohomish County and Washington State, finding in many cases that the data from the study area more closely reflects that of the county and state, rather than the City of Edmonds. He attributed this in part to the higher cost of housing in Edmonds and the economic disparity between Edmonds and surrounding areas. These charts may be viewed in his PowerPoint presentation here.

He concluded his presentation with polling questions designed to bring out and provide an initial feel for what is important to attendees. Questions included what you like most about living here, what concerns you most about this area, which part of the area you currently reside in, and your highest priorities for improvements.  The latter identified creating a feeling of safety and providing more parks/open space as the top priorities. The full results of the poll will be posted on the project website within the next few days.

Attendees were asked several questions in an online instant poll format. Among these was an opportunity to identify highest priorities for the area, which resulted in most votes for creating a feeling of safety and providing more parks and open space.

With the formal presentation concluded, the session opened to Q and A.

Asked about future opportunities for public engagement, Fregonese stressed that future plans will hopefully include in-person meetings with a higher turnout as word of the project spreads. He took this opportunity to again stress the importance of sharing information about the effort with family, friends, and neighborhood groups to get more people involved.

Several attendees were interested what role Ballinger Lake Park might play in enhancing the area. Parks Director Angie Feser responded that while only a small boat ramp and parts of the Interurban Trail fall within Edmonds, she is actively working with the City of Mountlake Terrace on partnerships that would improve Lake Ballinger Park “in its entirety.”

Others wanted to know more detail on plans for addressing abandoned buildings, to which Fregonese responded that this effort provides a great opportunity for public/private partnerships in which the city could work with the building owners on plans to benefit both the community and the owners.

The final questions centered on maintaining a healthy balance between housing development and business development. Fregonese responded that the hope is to consider the need for affordable housing, and to balance this in a manner that brings the most prosperity to the community both in housing and commerce.

The project timeline calls for two additional public comment opportunities, with a final plan going to the Edmonds City Council next spring.

The project timeline calls for presenting detailed findings and recommendations at a public meeting in the October/November timeframe, with a final plan ready to present to the Edmonds City Council next spring.

The session ended with yet another call to spread the word and encourage others to learn about the project, visit the website, and sign up for email updates.

— By Larry Vogel

  1. Stretches of 99 are dangerous. Check the blotter. Instead of creating a feeling of security, create actual security. The children brought up in the 99 corridor deserve our best efforts.

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