Council OKs emergency moratorium on building permits in downtown zone; will meet again Feb. 17 on budget amendments

Deputy Parks Director Shannon Burley, top row-right, discusses human services funding during the Edmonds City Council special meeting Thursday afternoon.

Updated with additional details on the moratorium.

The Edmonds City Council at its Tuesday night meeting unanimously approved a two-month emergency moratorium on building permit applications in downtown Edmonds’ mixed commercial (BD2) zoning district.

The item was added at the last minute to the council’s business meeting agenda Tuesday, and there was no explanation given for the action. However, in a press release issued late Tuesday night, the City of Edmonds said it “has realized that there are gaps in our existing multifamily designs standards in the downtown BD2 zones that would inhibit positive design outcomes, such as neighborhood compatibility and green space amenities.”

The city said it has already begun working to address development and design standards for stand-alone multifamily development in the multiple residential (RM) and BD zoning districts, but said it does not anticipated that work will be completed before the end of the year. Such guidelines will include building design, setbacks and neighborhood compatibility, the news release said.

The council’s action Tuesday night places a two-month emergency moratorium on the acceptance of building permit applications for any property in the BD2 zone that does not have a street front designation, as defined in the Edmonds Development Code, the city said. (You can find that code definition here.)

The emergency moratorium will be in effect for two months on new building permits for BD2-zoned lots until the City of Edmonds adopts interim development regulations. A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for April 5.

A person with knowledge of the situation, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed that the council’s action is related to a proposal for a 24-unit apartment building at 605/611 Main Street in the BD2 zone that has come under public scrutiny.

“That building pushed them (the council) to do the moratorium so they could get some of the (design) standards in place,” the source said.

The Edmonds Architectural Design Board held a public hearing in January on a design review application for the building, which contains 9,889 square feet across two parcels. The current buildings on the parcels would be demolished to make room for the apartment building. A subsequent lot line adjustment would be necessary to combine the two parcels into a single lot for construction of the apartment building.

Also on Tuesday, the council once again attempted — during a special meeting at 4 p.m. and again during its 7 p.m. business meeting — to plow through proposed amendments to the city’s already-approved 2022 budget. While councilmembers made some headway, they voted 5-2 (Councilmembers Laura Johnson and Susan Paine opposed) to continue Tuesday night’s meeting to Thursday, starting at 7 p.m., for the purpose of working through more amendments.

The nearly three dozen amendments were mostly proposed by councilmembers who have said they don’t believe the 2022 budget was thoroughly vetted prior to its passage in November 2021. Last week, the council took action on two amendments and started a discussion on a third — whether to remove $200,000 already allocated to the human services division for 2022. In Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, the council approved an amended proposal by Council President Vivian Olson to move the $200,000 from the human services fund to the city’s homeless fund. The goal is to ensure that the money will be used in partnership with other jurisdictions to create shelter for those who are unhoused in South Snohomish County — a priority mentioned last week by city staff. Councilmembers also decided Tuesday afternoon not to move forward with other amendments after hearing details from city staff. During the evening meeting, the council rejected by a 2-5 vote (Councilmembers Olson and K. Johnson voting yes) an amendment to remove a $100,000 budget allocation for facilities maintenance and instead consider the request further in a council committee meeting.

In other business, the council:

– Approved by a 5-2 vote a new proposal —  introduced Tuesday night — to allocate $10,000 from the city council’s contingency fund to be used toward $34,000 that will match a state grant to complete design for the 4th Avenue Cultural Corridor project. The idea behind the corridor — which covers the section of 4th Avenue stretching from Main Street to the Edmonds Center for the Arts on Daley Street — is to provide a space for cultural events and street artists that also feature art elements and a pocket park.

The corridor has been under discussion since 2004, and it was the centerpiece of the city’s successful application to become the state’s first Creative District. Supporters have expressed worries that if the city does not take action on the corridor project, Edmonds could lose its Creative District designation when it comes up for recertification. However, some councilmembers have been questioning whether it is wise to spend a large amount of money (the total project is estimated to cost about $8 million) for a downtown project when other areas of Edmonds are ignored — especially as the city emphasizes the importance of reviewing new initiatives through an equity lens.

The boundaries of Edmonds’ Creative District.

That issue came up again on Tuesday night, with Councilmember Susan Paine stating that while she’s proud that Edmonds was named the state’s first Creative District, she’s troubled by the exclusionary nature of it.

Under the Creative District program, the city had to meet state’s application process requirements for a geographically defined area where art, cultural, social, and economic activity takes place. Both Paine and Councilmember Laura Johnson talked about the importance of ensuring that other parts of Edmonds were included in the city’s creative efforts.

“Instead of focusing on the downtown area, let’s enhance and promote arts and culture in our traditionally historically underrepresented neighborhoods,” Johnson said.

Councilmember Will Chen, who lives and works in the Highway 99 neighborhood, said that while he’s committed to focusing on investments in his neighborhood, he supports allocating money for the 4th Avenue Cultural Corridor, adding: “I don’t think we need to throw away something that’s good for our city.” Chen also said he believed all of the $34,000 matching grant amount (some was going to be contributed by the Edmonds Center for the Arts) should come from the city’s general fund, through a budget amendment. He made a substitute motion to that effect but withdrew it after learning that such a move could cause a delay in receiving funds, a problem since the grant application is imminent. Administrative Services Director Turley clarified that the money could be reimbursed to the council contingency fund later, and the council voted to approve the original $10,000 allocation.

– Heard a report from staff on the likely timing for the council’s return to hybrid in-person virtual meetings. Administrative Services Director Dave Turley explained that the city has ordered the necessary hardware and expects it to arrive — and have needed staff in place — by March 15. Assuming a week of testing to ensure the system works, that would put the official start of hybrid meetings, located in the council chamber, on March 22.

Meetings would be broadcast via Zoom and the chamber will be set up for elected officials to attend in person, but they are also welcome to participate remotely, Turley said. The public can watch meetings in person, via the livestream on the city’s website and on cable television, and via Zoom on their computer or phone. Participation in the Zoom will only be during the time of public comment or a public hearing, Turley added. “They won’t be able to remain in the Zoom room for the entire meeting.”

There are risks involved with using the Zoom format, he said. “Zoom bombs do still happen…and might shut the meeting down for five or 10 seconds while we remove a participant,” he explained.  Staff recommends that Zoom participants make comments via voice only, since video carries the added possibility of inappropriate visual images being displayed.

Turley asked for council direction on several outstanding issues: Whether there should be requirements for masks, proof of vaccination and social distancing in the council chambers, and what type of security should be present. Councilmembers agreed it would be best to follow whatever state or county health guidelines are in place at the time that the hybrid meetings start, and that security should be the same as what existed during previous in-person meetings.

– Unanimously approved the emergency adoption — meaning it is effective immediately — of a change to the city’s extreme risk protection statute, allowing those who violate the statute to be charged through Edmonds Municipal Court. Such an order can be issued by Superior Court judges only after a family member or law enforcement agency petitions the court to have someone’s rights to possess firearms or dangerous weapons taken away. The orders are for extreme risk situations — known violent people or those whom police have documented are planning a violent act.

Acting Assistant Police Chief Shane Hawley explained to the council that Edmonds officers had arrested a shoplifting suspect who was in possession of a firearm, violating an extreme risk protection order against him. Police then discovered they couldn’t charge the suspect with that violation in municipal court, prompting the request for the change.

– Heard more about proposed changes to the city’s community development code related to electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The code language is aimed at planning for future growth of electric vehicle technology, and city staff noted electric vehicle usage has tripled in Edmonds over the last five years. The code change amendment also supports specific city, state and national goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Senior Planner Eric Engmann explained that the proposed regulations differentiate between the three “staging types” for electric vehicle (EV) charging:

EV Capable- Contains electrical panel capacity and conduit for future EV usage.
EV Ready – Contains EV Capable elements plus circuits to allow plug-in EV charging.
EV Installed- Contains EV Ready elements plus specialized equipment for efficient EV charging.

Senior Planner Eric Engmann (bottom) talks about proposed EV standards for Edmonds.

The proposed standards also define the percentages of parking spaces that must accommodate each type. They would apply to all new and significantly altered single-and multi-family development.

Engmann said it is about five times cheaper for developers to install EV components during new construction than adding them later. Councilmember Neil Tibbott asked what builders think about the new regulations and Engmann replied that it’s becoming more common for builders to include EV-ready parking spaces as part of new construction.

– Approved by a 5-0 vote wtih two abstentions (Councilmembers Olson and Chen) acceptance of a $119,645 Washington State Department of Commerce grant to install a 100kW solar plant on the Public Safety Complex West roof. The grant award of $119,645 amounts to 25-30% of the total cost of the proposed project, estimated at $469,645. Olson and Chen said they wondered whether the city should be considering a project on the Public Safety Complex when the council is starting to explore the possibility of moving the city’s police headquarters closer to Highway 99. Olson suggested that perhaps a better choice would be the city’s public works building, located off 212th Street Southwest, but staff replied that the public works facility is a pre-engineered kit building that couldn’t accommodate the roof load — and as such would be unsuitable for a solar project.

Thursday night’s continued meeting on budget amendments will be held virtually using the Zoom meeting platform. To join, view or listen to the Edmonds City Council mMeeting, paste the following into a web browser using a computer or smart phone:

Or join by phone: US: +1 253 215 8782 Webinar ID: 957 9848 4261

— By Teresa Wippel



  1. MEN staff — do you know why Chen and Olson abstained from the vote on the solar project grant? I came into the livestream late, right before they voted on it, so maybe I missed the explanation.

    1. Both of them talked about the appropriateness of approving a solar project on that particular building — the public safety complex — because the council is looking at the possibility of moving the police station closer to Highway 99. Presumably that would mean that building could be repurposed or the space could be used for other things — parking was one idea. I think the hope was that another city building could be used for the solar project instead.

  2. Living about a block North of the Creative District, I notice when I walk into it, I suddenly feel a lot more creative.

  3. Here’s the thing: our existing codes are a mess. When a builder/developer offends the Council or folks in general, the Council rushes to an emergency order/moratorium to stop whatever the code allowed, rather than do a deep dive into the existing codes which become more and more piecemeal hence for anyone who contemplates a project much less predictable and more expensive as the project gets delayed and delayed. There is always the project they/we don’t like but Council can’t say that since that is blatantly illegal. Emergency moratoriums have been applied to trees, artificial turf infill, developments and so on. Maybe time to actual fix the codes and drop the “hair on fire emergency moratoriums”. Which serve no one.

    1. Diane – from listening to their last meeting I believe the Planning Board is doing a deeper dive into the codes. It’s my understanding this is where this process begins, not with the Council.

      1. The Council frequently offloads hard, deep dive issues to the planning board, who are folks willing to do those deep dives and identification of issues. The Council should provide them a solid framework from which the planning board folks can work, and use as a springboard for the overall vision of the City. They do great work (The planning board) but they are dealing with a helterskelter maze of existing codes, many of which make little to no sense. It all starts with the Council, then the planning board can really shine.

        1. Diane,

          I would take a little exception to your approach. I don’t see the vision for the city being a Planning Board responsibility. The vision needs to be an integrated set of ideas that cover all aspects of the city from land use, housing, public safety, economic development, environmental protections, parks, infrastructure, etc.. Yes, the Planning Board has a role, but it shouldn’t be the lead role. The community should lead this. Just as was done for the Strategic Action Plan a number of years ago.

          If I were to sum it up, I would be looking for a “One Edmonds” type of vision. A vision which equitably makes the community feel proud to call Edmonds “home”.

        2. Jim,
          Totally agree, the “vision” belongs to the City Council… the Planning Board needs that framework to do their best job of planning within that “vision”. Sorry if that was unclear. You are absolutely correct.

  4. Teresa you do such a great job in “translating “ council meetings into succinct reports that all can grasp. Thank you.

  5. I attended the Architectural Review Board meeting in January regarding the proposal for a 3-story apartment building at 6th and Main. I was happy to find that like me, many residents are very upset about such a structure; including the Architectural Review Board. Unfortunately, the developers did their homework, however, our City leaders have not. We apparently have building codes that allow for inadequate parking, zero lot lines, no green space and monolithic buildings. It’s time for our City managers to be proactive, role up their sleeves and work at maintaining our quality of life, City charm, livability and safety. If you want to live in a neighborhood of commercial streets that are devoid of sunlight, scant street parking, and the necessity for speed-walking from car-to-building-to-car for fear of being accosted by street life, go to Ballard. Let’s not Ballardize Edmonds.

  6. DT is absolutely correct. We do need to fix all the codes. Ken Reidy has been pointing that out with specifics for years. What will be the process for some of this? Code should be reflective and support our community vision. Years ago we did the Strategic Action Plan that had a robust engagement of citizens. Something like 2500 plus folks participated in all sorts of ways to help generate what at that time was a pretty good set of ideas that the public wanted. You can see that plan and all the supportive details on this link:

    What we do today is take parts of our community vision. Parks for example and look at the whole idea of parks and land without considering the budget tradeoffs. Yes we all like parks, gives places to play, relax and camp overnight. But we are going to fix that camping thing, but only after we sort out the shelter and/or “missing middle” thing. Hard to understand if we fix the missing middle how will that help the lower end of the housing issues?

    Point is the moratorium on building is just another band aid that will do little to heal some of our deep wounds. Design standards will be perceived as the “fix” but in reality, another issue will pop up like the “wack a mole” game.

    Time to sort out a updated vision for Edmonds just like we did when we created the SAP a few years back. We have many decisions to make in the next few years, but the most important ones will not get the full attention in a timely fashion to fully engage the public at its collective vision. It will be worked on behind closed doors, filled with the wishes of engaged groups, and may well end up with the “pitchfork” gang carrying signs to get council members to change their thinking after they each had worked on the issue for months.

  7. Darryl great comments. I know Ken has been trying to get the Mayors attention but he wont discuss. Think about how much money and time that has been wasted

  8. The city hired a code fixer-upper a year or two ago. What plan are they working to and what progress has been made? Where did the money go that was allocated to this project? I’ve asked these questions before with no response. The City Council is shirking their oversight responsibilities.

    I agree with Darrol, we need a vision for the city. And the time to start is now, before we have to update the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is the strategy document as to how we get to our vision for the city. Right now, this city is completely reactionary which leads to emergency moratoriums.

    1. Jim: Senior Planner Eric Engmann was hired as our new code writer last year. However, he found himself taking on other roles in the short staffed Planning department, with the retirement of Shane Hope and loss of our meeting minutes taker. Eric ended up taking on the responsibility of the latter, as well as other duties. Today, we are still down a minutes taker, Rob Chave retiring and now Eric is leaving to take on a new role elsewhere. I think everyone is feeling a bit stretched right now, and I’m sure the PROS plan (among other things coming down the pipeline) will add to it.

      That being said, I’m looking forward to the Planning Board’s retreat on March 9, where we will spend time understanding that the Planning Department’s current roles, responsibilities and bandwidth is, in an effort to better navigate PB requests of staff. Our joint meeting with city council is tentatively scheduled for April 19, the soonest they could get us on their agenda.

  9. So it sounds like we are missing a community vision and have pretty much ignored or modified the SAP pretty much out of existence? How can we update codes before we have a plan for what we NEED first and WANT second? In Edmonds the tail always wags the dog and the horse is always behind the cart it seems. I certainly support Ken and Darrol’s efforts to try to fix it but dont see how they can with no mechanism to force Mayor and Staff to really answer to the people’s representatives. That’s why the only real check and balance is the torch and pitchforks crowd – the ultimate self appointed citizen task force. K and D, tell me what to do and I will do it. Feel free to prove me wrong. I’d welcome it.

    1. Hi Clint, the SAP was first approved in 2013 and with some modifications re approved in 2015. It was not ignored it was looked at by many of the responsible entities and many parts were implemented immediately. Many items are ongoing and now part of our normal work. A few items are now a bit moot because of changing circumstances.

      Three items that the city has control over are not yet done and would be helpful if the city were to step up make some progress on these items. Budgeting by Priorities, Finding a permanent funding source for Parks, and Finding a permanent funding source for street repair and the 3 most critical item not yet done.

      The city and other groups did pay careful attention to the SAP. What is needed now is for added citizen involvement to create the next vision for Edmonds given where we are today. It would be easy and tradeoff will need to be made but the effort would give us all a more complete view of our collective vision. My vision for some things may not be yours but we should sort out those ideas and chart a collective vision.

  10. Thanks for the insight, Alicia.

    I don’t blame Eric for leaving. He was hired for one job and not allowed to do it. Bait and switch.

    This is a failure of leadership, not of the Planning department.

  11. Darrol and I had a positive exchange about the Code Rewrite on My Edmonds News on April 24, 2013. Excerpts below:

    Darrol: “It looks like the codes are often twisted, ignored, or mis-applied to meet a goal not clearly articulated. It also looks like all this code stuff is just making it more costly to govern ourselves.”

    Me: “…. a code full of errors, ambiguities and discrepancies is a nightmare. Such a poor Code can lead to inconsistent, arbitrary City government efforts that harm developers, investors, private citizens, etc., while wasting taxpayer dollars.”

    The November 20, 2012 City Council Meeting Minutes document the following public comments:

    Ken Reidy, Edmonds, recalled during the October 25, 2005 City Council meeting, former Development Services Director Duane Bowman said he had been describing the need to update the zoning code since he was hired in 2000. The comment was also made that the City’s code dated to the 1980s and piecemeal amendments make it difficult to use and administer. Former City Attorney Scott Snyder stated in his November 2007 City Attorney annual report that the biggest issue at the start of 2007 was the code rewrite. Mr. Snyder stated the intent was to begin the rewrite last year (2006) and finish it this year (2007). Mr. Snyder summarized that the code rewrite was approximately a year behind schedule as of November 2007. Mr. Reidy pointed out five years have passed and he questioned why the code rewrite had not been completed. He urged the Council to include the proper amount in the 2013 budget to complete the long overdue code rewrite from start to finish.

    Code rewrite money has been budgeted multiple times, but Edmonds Mayors have failed repeatedly to execute the budget. City Councils have refused to hold Mayors and staff accountable.

    What can citizens do? I think it will take a large group of citizens strongly requesting the Code Rewrite project be prioritized and finished.

    We can ask why the following effort failed and what was learned from the failure that can help us get it right next time:

  12. Again, I ask. Shouldn’t we develop a concrete and written down vision plan for the city before we try to re-write codes? Seems like another cart before the horse situation if we don’t. If you write a bunch of codes that conflict with the vision, you will have to revisit the codes I would think. Could the Council make an ordinance to form a citizen task force to write up it’s vision for the city with anyone who volunteers to be part of the task force? Leave it up to the task force as to how it self governs and presents it’s vision plan. It seems to me that once formed and functioning such a task force should have no controls or constraints put on it by the Mayor or Staff and be purely under the auspices of the council or committee of the council.

    A basic thumb nail sketch of the vision as it now appears to me is that we seem to want to be a sea port focused town centered on all the creative arts with several vibrant business centers that cater to enhancing the arts and culinary entertainment of all sorts, and a regional leader in green and environmental best practice. I also sense that there is some vision leaning toward being sure Edmonds is a community of exclusivity similar to Woodway, but not to that extreme perhaps. If something like that vision is formalized then the codes should support that vision I would think. The main thing is the vision needs to come from the community, not the political whims of the moment all the time.

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