Council agrees to extend by two weeks emergency moratorium on downtown building permit applications

Acting Planning Manager Kernen Lien, far left, talks about city zoning in the downtown business zones during Tuesday’s Edmonds City Council meeting. To his left are Development Director Susan McLaughlin and Senior Planner Mike Clugston.

After hearing opinions from both residents and the city attorney that more time was needed to study the issue, the Edmonds City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to extend by another two weeks — until April 21 — an emergency moratorium on building permit applications in downtown Edmonds’ mixed commercial (BD2) zone.

Addressing concerns regarding a 24-unit apartment building proposed for the 600 block of Main Street, in the BD2 zone, the council at its Feb. 15 meeting had approved a two-month moratorium on the building permits in that zoning district. The moratorium, which applies to projects that are not subject to the city’s designated street front standards, was intended to give staff time to create interim design standards to address gaps in the code that apply to those sites.

The council at its March 29 meeting learned more about proposed interim design standards developed by staff, and Senior Planner Mike Clugston summarized those again Tuesday night. He explained that most of the BD2 zone has designated street front standards, 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, and that’s what the proposed interim design standards — involving materials, private amenity space and a street-side amenity space or pedestrian area — are designed to address.

Several community members who offered public comments during Tuesday night’s meeting stated they didn’t believe, after conducting research on the topic, that city code allows for construction of multifamily housing only — minus mixed commercial use such as street-front offices — in the BD2 zone. “Commercial must be part of any new development,” said Edmonds resident Jay Hoag.

Councilmember Neil Tibbott then proposed that the moratium be extended by two weeks, but before any vote was taken, council had a chance to hear from staff regarding some of the concerns raised. Acting Planning Manager Kernen Lien went through how the downtown zones have been revised over time, with various map and text amendments, and said that staff concluded in its review that “an entirely multifamily building could be located in the BD2 zone outside of the designated street front.” Council President Vivian Olson then asked Lien how many other multifamily projects without commercial use on the first floor have been approved in the BD2 zone, and Lien replied that there have been two: The multifamily-only project on the corner of 3rd Avenue North and Edmonds Street, and the first phase of the apartments involving the Edmonds Post Office property, on 2nd Avenue North.

Councilmember Laura Johnson asked City Attorney Jeff Taraday whether the council would be justified in extending the emergency moratorium, since staff have already created interim design standards aimed at addressing the concerns that prompted the council’s Feb. 15 vote.

City Attorney Jeff Taraday talks about the value of extending the moratorium.

Taraday started out by saying he agreed with the analysis provided by Lien regarding how to interpret the city’s existing zoning code. He noted that during a four-year period — from 2008 to 2011 — multifamily residential-only development would not have been allowed anywhere in the BD2 zone. In 2011, the city adopted a new ordinance — 3865 — that revised the definition of designated street fronts in the city. That left “these small pockets in the BD zone where there is no designated street front,” and where entirely residential buildings may be constructed, Taraday explained.

Adding to the confusion, in 2014 the council adopted another ordinance — 3955 — that focused on street front uses in the BD1 zone, which includes those businesses located around the fountain, at 5th and Main, and are considered the city’s retail core. That ordinance limited designated ground-floor street fronts in the downtown Edmonds core to retail uses rather than service-based businesses.

“It does not appear that the city council, when it was adopting 3955, that it intended at that time to undo the change that had been made in 2011,” Taraday said. “It seems to be entirely focused on BD1 commercial uses.”

Given all that, Taraday said he believes there is a value in having a short extension of the moratorium — and he proposed extending it until April 21. In reviewing the 2011 ordinance, he said, “it’s not yet clear to me…to understand whether this leaving of pockets where all of a sudden we have the ability to do an entirely residential structure, was that something that the council really understood in 2011.

“If it appears that that was a sort of unintended consequence of Ordinance 3865, then I think the council could justify taking a crack at that unintended consequence,” the city attorney said. Extending the moratorium for two weeks would allow staff to put the details of the ordinances in writing for the council and the public. That, he added, could help everyone understand “how the code got to where it is today, and we might get a little bit more information about what is known or intended by 3865.”

The council then voted unanimously to extend the moratorium until April 21, as Taraday recommended. A motion by Kristana Johnson to expand the moratium even further — until May 17 — failed by a 2-5 vote (K. Johnson and Diane Buckshnis voting yes).

Developer’s rendering for the proposed 611 Main Street Apartments.

As for the proposed 24-unit apartment building in the 600 block of Main, the Edmonds Architectural Design Board held a public hearing in January on a design review application for the project, 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. (The Architectural Design Board is scheduled to take up the issue again at its Wednesday, April 6 meeting. See agenda here.)

In other business Tuesday night, the council:

– Agreed to next steps for the draft Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) plan. The council unanimously approved a proposal from Parks, Recreation, Cultural Services and Human Services Director Angie Feser to have her work with a paid consultant to address the concerns expressed by councilmembers who wanted the plan to undergo further review and comment.

– Discussed amendments to city code regarding residential occupancy, which are aimed at addressing the requirements of Senate Bill 5235. The state legislation lifts caps on the number of unrelated people allowed to share a home. The next step is for the council to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes, with a date to be determined.

– Heard an introduction of proposed amendments to city code that would establish a formal process for permitting special events that impact city right-of-way, public property and other facilities or services. This item will be considered at a later date.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

  1. During the council meeting last night C.P. Bucksnis pointed out that ten small business’s will be displaced if this questionable at best (my words not hers) land use is allowed to proceed as planned. I think this is something the general public should be made well aware of.

    Highly informed and civically active resident ,Ken Reidy, also commented at the meeting that in his opinion the public hearing as in progress was an illegal action since finding of facts regarding what was being discussed had not yet been established, As the meeting progressed Mr. Reidy’s observations proved true as the City Attorney actually acknowledged that the there is ambiguity in the codes that the City Staff are interpreting in order to allow the project to be permitted.

    Another commenter noted that our City Development Manager, in the prior City Council Meeting addressing this issue, had commented (paraphrasing here) that approving this project was addressing the well known need for more and more affordable housing in the downtown core area. This commenter felt that her (the employee’s) statement was inappropriate for a paid staff person who should be neutral in such matters to make. Another valid point in my opinion.

    Staff people have been referring to these three pockets of BD2 as “transition zones” for some reason. In their review of this matter the Council needs to research that term, where it came from, and is it ever actually used in the texts of the codes being discussed. In my view, zones should be zones, not subject to paid staff persons interpretations of what codes intended at some given point in time.

    The current Council now has to decide what their prior counter parts were thinking and intending when they enacted these various codes. Mayors and their paid staffs pretty much run this town and this is the kind of silliness we put up with as a result. Might as well just go ahead and build this high class ugly tenement, after all, Mayor and Staff and two C.P.s are obviously all in for it.

    1. I re-read several times the reporters coverage of the zoning issues discussion at the city council meeting.
      It appears Mr. Wright needs to reread the article, or is purposely reframing the discussions for unknown purposes.

      1. Mr. Croake, my comments were based on what I “actually” observed while watching the “actual” meeting on our local government access channel 21. My observations were based on some things that were not reported in what I felt was a somewhat incomplete article in terms of the details about the “actual” meeting. Nothing against Teresa’s reporting, she does a great job and I respect her very much.

        It appears to me that you, sir, need to know what you are talking about before you cast aspersions on what someone’s purposes supposedly are. To enlighten you some, my only purpose is to try to force some better bottom up government in Edmonds and get away from the favoritism and special interests that are always in play here, with the mayor and staff telling the citizens what they should want, which is backwards as to what it should be. There, you now know my “unknown purposes” and you can quit making insinuations in print that you can’t back up with any factual information.

        1. Just wanted to weigh in here. As a journalist, my goal is to try to provide objective coverage based on what I learn during the course of the meeting, as well as background information prior. There are many citizens who attend and have their own perspectives, and they are welcome to offer them here. But there are many roads I will not go down in terms of offering opinions related to how our government is being or should be run. I try to be as even-handed and fair as possible. — Teresa Wippel, publisher

  2. This is a pretty good analysis of the current situation and council meeting. Ultimately the Edmonds City Council is going to have to decide who they work for, the Mayor and the city department managers, or do they work for the town citizens that voted for them in a election.

  3. Thanks Clint. Last night was heartbreaking. I continue to hope the day will come when citizen input is valued and appreciated at a higher level. I am trying to stay positive in that hope. Lately, I am often thinking: Why even try? Is it really worth it? Hopefully, it is worth it. Hopefully citizens who engage with City government won’t give up the effort.

    Executing city government is challenging. That said, we can do much, much better.

    Last night, City Council failed to discuss findings of fact justifying the action Council took on February 15th. The State’s Growth Management Act requires that they adopt findings of fact immediately following last night’s public hearing. City Council failed to vote to do any such thing. They didn’t even vote to instruct the City Attorney to prepare findings of fact that City Council could approve at Council’s next immediate opportunity.

    If our City government functioned properly, the mayor would see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city. As it is now, even when citizens inform Council of applicable laws in real time, City Council is still willing to act contrary to state law.

    Hopefully that changes someday.

  4. All the average citizen can do is try to speak some objective truth to power when the need arises, which is often. Never easy, and never a comfortable thing to do. In lesser countries people get killed for doing this. We are the lucky ones and often we don’t appreciate that fact. Keep making “good trouble.” The world needs it now more than ever.

  5. Thanks Clint,

    I feared Council was about to take a big misstep, so I attended the Public Hearing and asked them three times to please halt the Public Hearing. I encouraged Council to start over.

    They didn’t do so.

    Anytime between the adoption of Ordinance 4247 on February 15, 2022, and the Public Hearing on April 5, 2022, City Council could have adopted Findings of Fact justifying Council’s action taken on February 15, 2022.
    Doing so would have been in the public interest. Doing so would have reduced uncertainties, reducing the amount of time interested citizens spent trying to figure out the mysteries of the Moratorium. Doing so would have also promoted a better legislative process.

    The 2022 City Council chose to not adopt Findings of Fact justifying its February 15, 2022, action before the April 5, 2022, Public Hearing. As such, City Council had to do so immediately after the April 5, 2022, Public Hearing.

    Again, they failed to do so.

    They failed to do so even after I told Council during the April 5th Public Hearing: “Tonight’s public hearing is supposed to be so city council can adopt findings of fact on the subject of the February 15th moratorium…”

    Hopefully elected officials will inform the public of their conduct and notify state officials in charge of enforcing state law.

  6. Wil the city council please look at the alley access of that proposed building. There doesn’t seem to be any concern for the residents on the other side of the alley. The Bellmont and their next-door neighbors in the town homes will have a very tight area coming in and out of garages if the builder is allowed to construct an apartment building up to the alley without clearance.

  7. Perhaps it is too late for this, but I wish there were a way for the city to acquire the property and turn it into a plaza with some covered benches, planter boxes and a fountain perhaps. There is a dearth of public sitting areas in the downtown core. I don’t know if there’s any money available, but perhaps a public/private partnership could be formed with fund-raising through donations or selling of bricks. Heck, I’d kick in a hundred bucks and you don’t even have to print my name on it. My point is, I wonder if there are some creative solutions that haven’t been explored. Maybe there could be an appeal to the conscience of the land owner/developer. Maybe a land swap could be arranged. I’m neither a mover nor a shaker, but surely there is a well endowed philanthropist out there who could step in and get the ball rolling. Surely we can do better than this ugly, imposing apartment building.

  8. Great idea, Vince, but I’m afraid that ship has probably sailed in our professional city planner’s collective minds. It’s been decided for us by the current mayor and past mayors and their professional management class staffs that our city is to be an area hub of arts and entertainment and we “need” lots more density in the downtown area to achieve those goals for the future. Fear not though, I”m sure part of the rest of the great “plan” will be to turn the downtown area streets into a walking mall and sitting area for all our downtown residents and visitors. So, in the long run, I suspect we will get what you now advocate, but not in the way you or I might desire it. What ever happened to the sleepy little fishing village by the Sea with lots of little cottages vibe? Progress at all costs you know; and big brother always knows what’s best for you.

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