Council considers interim downtown design standards, OKs details for restarting salary commission

Senior Planner Mike Clugston and Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin answer questions from councilmembers Tuesday night.

Updated to clarify councilmember and citizen comments regarding WRIA 8 and Lake Ballinger.

Edmonds City Council at its Tuesday night meeting learned more about proposed interim design standards for multifamily buildings in certain downtown areas and also unanimously approved logistics for restarting the city’s citizens salary commission, which had been disbanded in June 2021.

Staff developed the interim design standards after the council Feb. 15 unanimously approved a two-month emergency moratorium on building permit applications in downtown Edmonds’ mixed commercial (BD2) zoning district. The council’s move was in response to concerns regarding the design of a 24-unit apartment building proposed for 6th and Main.

The Edmonds Architectural Design Board held a public hearing in January on a design review application for the 6th and Main 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.

A rendering of the project as viewed from 6th and Main, looking east along Main.

Senior Planner Mike Clugston told the council the moratorium allowed staff to develop interim regulations for BD2 zone multifamily residential properties that don’t have designated street front requirements — and to “come up with some type of setback for these properties.”

Given the tight time frame for developing the proposal, Clugston cautioned that staff weren’t able to take a comprehensive look at the BD zones or the city’s multifamily design standards.

Added Development Services Director McLaughlin: “In the interest of really seeing successful multifamily developments, we think it’s critical that the design standards support that, that community members can really support and celebrate these types of development that add character to the downtown core.”

All graphics taken from the city council presentation.

Edmonds has five downtown business zones, Clugston explained. (See graphic above.) Those located around the fountain, at 5th and Main, are considered the retail core and are designed BD1. Outward from there is the BD2 zone, with mixed commercial; BD3 — toward the downtown’s south end — is convenience commercial; BD4, toward the downtown’s southwestern edge, is mixed residential, and BD5 is the arts corridor. These zones were created in 2007 and prior to that time all of the downtown business properties were zoned community business. “I think the intent was to apply them (the five zones) to the businesses that were there at the time,” Clugston said.

Most of the BD2 zone has designated street front standards (everything indicated next to the blue lines in the graphic above), including floor height minimums, transparency and access at the sidewalk, and required detail at ground level.

But on the edge of the BD2 zone, there are parcels that don’t have these designated street front requirements, Clugston said, adding “they are a little unique.”

These parcels are “transitional” to the downtown core and typically are multifamily residential but in some cases single-family residential. These include, as outlined in red in the map above, a small area on Main Street and another on 2nd Avenue South, a few up 3rd Avenue, and two parcels on Sunset Avenue. As a result, some properties are immediately adjacent to residentially-zoned property while others are located next to other BD2 zone property.

To address the missing street front requirements for the parcels outlined in red — which include the 24-unit apartment — staff came up with three interim design standards involving materials, private amenity space, and a street-side amenity space or pedestrian area.

Graphite building, top, and North Sound Church, bottom

Regarding materials, right now there are no specific materials standards in the city code, Clugston said. But suggested exterior materials that could break up building mass are natural stone, wood, architectural metal, brick and glass. Among the downtown buildings using those materials: The new Graphite Building and the North Sound Church (formerly the Edmonds Conference Center).

Street-side amenity space overview.
Street-side amenity space section view.

The street-side amenity space concept involves a setback from the back of the sidewalk to the building front, with the idea of improving the pedestrian experience along the sidewalk. “It functions like a setback,” Clugston said. “It’s moving the building back from the sidewalk, yet creating that area between the building and the sidewalk that’s activating that space.”

Private amenity space provides discretion to design the space in any number of ways and can include balconies, decks, patios, yards or even a rooftop deck — together with a dwelling unit or grouped for resident use, Clugston said.

Councilmembers then had a chance to ask staff about the proposed interim standards, with a reminder from McLaughlin and Clugston that they could not address how those standards would apply specifically to the 6th and Main apartment, but more generally would speak to the red-outlined BD2 zone properties in question.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis asked how the city can allow for a residential project to be part of a business zone when there is no mixed-use involved. McLaughlin noted that those areas in question are in a transitional zone and are allowed by city code.

Councilmember Neil Tibbott said he wondered what it would take to extend the downtown business zoning beyond where it is now located. That topic, McLaughlin said, is something that should be considered as part of the city’s next Comprehensive Plan update — with consideration given to Edmonds’ future retail and housing needs.

Both Tibbott and Council President Vivian Olson asked how the city can ensure alley access for existing residents near new projects, especially when city guidelines call for deliveries, moving vans and similiar needs to use alleys so that main thoroughfares are kept clear. Clugston replied that the city reviews every building permit application to ensure that alley access can be maintained safely.

A public hearing has been scheduled on the design standards moratorium April 5, and staff said they are hopeful that the interim design standards will be adopted at the same meeting.

In other business Tuesday night, the council:

– Unanimously approved the details for reinstating the Citizen’s Salary Commission, which sets the salaries for councilmembers and the mayor. The commission — which was disbanded last summer — will restart its work in 2023. The five-member commission — to be appointed by the mayor — will meet between July 1 and Sept. 30, in every odd-numbered year starting in 2023, to review salaries of elected officials, and determine whether that pay should be increased or decreased.

– Heard a presentation from Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz of the Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 8 Salmon Recovery Council. The City of Edmonds for years has participated in the council, which includes local elected officials, citizens, scientists and representatives from business and environmental interests, water and sewer districts, and federal and state agencies. There was a fair amount of discussion about the priorities of WRIA 8’s efforts, with Councilmember Laura Johnson asking Mulvihill-Kuntz to confirm that it was specifically because of Chinook salmon restoration efforts that WRIA 8 has identified the Edmonds Marsh as its priority, and that Lake Ballinger — located between Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace — is not a focus for the organization. Earlier in the meeting, during public comments, Lake Ballinger resident Natalie Seitz said she would like to see council presentations from entities such as the Lake Ballinger Forum, which are working on     environmental sustainability in that part of Edmonds.

– Agreed to continue the practice of including written comments in its weekly agenda packets, an effort started when the council began meeting remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Discussed a proposal to require that city notices be sent to both a property owner and a taxpayer when county records show these as two different addresses. After hearing that the change could cause more work for city staff, the council agreed to a proposal that staff come back within the next six months to report on how the idea would affect their workload.

— By Teresa Wippel



6 Replies to “Council considers interim downtown design standards, OKs details for restarting salary commission”

  1. Citizen commentator Ken Reidy, specifically asked the mayor/council to explain to the citizens why the salary commission was disbanded in the first place during his in person three minute comment last night. I left the meeting before that part of the actual discussion took place so my question is, did any such discussion or explanation occur during last night’s meeting regarding Mr. Reidy’s very reasonable request for public information?

    I’m encouraged by the fact that the current council has gone back to the idea that citizens should have the last say about what our elected public officials should be paid for their services. I’m very concerned, however, that mayors are in the position of appointing the people that will determine their compensation, even if council ratification is required. It seems to me that a simple drawing from all the applicants until the commission is filled would be a much better approach to this. H.R. could be tasked with vetting that the applicants are actual city citizens and luck of the draw could determine the rest.


    1. Clint, The mayors office has always appointed the salary commission. ( in my 12 years of experience with 4 mayors)


      1. Adrienne, the world was flat, until it wasn’t. Being the good liberal thinkers we are (you and I), would it be so awful to try something else just for the change of it, if nothing else? Political science tells us that the Conservative mind believes most strongly in the good of the status quo and any change in thinking and actions should be very rare and usually not a good idea. The Liberal mind believes continual assessment of new found knowledge and change for change sake is the path to greater happiness and the greater good for the society. Names drawn at random would eliminate any question of manipulation or favoritism for this commission, in my view. I know, I’m just a crazy radical extremist.


  2. As a member of a previous Salary Commission (disbanded by the council in 2014), I find it ironic that the council is (again) reinstating a Salary Commission. This will be the 3rd version of the commission to be created in the past 8 years. The 2nd version was also disbanded by the council in 2021. While the commission sounds like an important and necessary tool, the council has a pathetic record of honoring the work and findings. These commissions require many, many hours of voluntary work by citizens. I was impressed with the caliber of members on my commission (including three retired human resource executives) and the hard, honest effort that was put forth to inform and guide compensation of the council members and mayor. Unfortunately, if the council disrespects the findings, they can then identify loopholes to disregard the recommendations, including disbanding the commission. It is insulting to the process and purpose of the commission. So, anyone considering service on the salary commission, be aware of the recent track record and proceed with caution!


  3. Those pesky citizens with all their nosey uneducated questions keep getting in the way of our top down processes, so cherished by the pro entertainment and big development establishment that’s grown like a cancer here for 30+ years.

    Our councils don’t have to shut up and do stuff just because our mayors and staff tell them they have no choice in any given matter. Weak councils are why we now have things like Streateries and mega multiple family cracker boxes popping up all over town. Mr. Tibbott, Ms. Bucksnis and Ms. Olson all made good points last night that we may want to look at expanding our business district rather than transitioning it into high density dwelling places with no connection to business beyond consumption of the preferred products now offered in OUR town.

    At least it used to be our town to some extent. Tough minded non – pushover Council persons might just make it our town again with some common sense input and actions.


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