Council Thursday unanimously OKs extending downtown building permit moratorium; approves interim design standards

Edmonds city councilmembers and Mayor Mike Nelson listen as City Attorney Jeff Taraday, bottom row – right, discusses ordinance language during a special virtual meeting Thursday.

The Edmonds City Council voted 6-0 at a special meeting Thursday to extend its moratorium on building permit applications in the downtown BD2 zone until June 2, and also unanimously approved staff-recommended interim design standards.

Councilmember Laura Johnson was absent from the meeting.

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

At its April 5 meeting, the council agreed to extend the building permit moratorium by two weeks, after hearing opinions from both residents and the city attorney that more time was needed to study the issue. By again extending the moratorium until June 2, city staff will have time to research a topic raised in earlier council discussions: Whether it is appropriate to expand the limits of the city’s designated business zone map to require at least some commercial use of new structures within that area.

Thursday’s ordinance outlining the moratorium extension was approved following an amendment from Councilmember Diane Buckshis, which was approved on a 5-1 vote (Councilmember Susan Paine dissenting). Buckhsnis’ amendment added a whereas clause that describes the impact of a 2013 ordinance — 3918 — in which the BD2 zone is defined as downtown mixed commercial use.

“To me, it’s just a further acknowledgment that there’s a number of ordinances on this BD2 topic that are important to us to understand,” Buckshis said.

As explained by City of Edmonds senior planner Mike Clugston during the council’s March 29 meeting, Edmonds has five downtown business zones. 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.

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. Whether additional parcels should be included in those requirements — by expanding the BD2 zone further  — has been the topic of conversation among both councilmembers and members of the public in recent months.

The ordinance approved Thursday notes that development regulations in the downtown business zones “can vary depending upon whether the subject property fronts on a designed street front.” It also states that “there is concern that the existing development regulations in the BD2 zone may not regulate proposed development in a manner that would produce development projects that reflect community values or that was intended by the previous city councils.”

The approved extension will give staff time to analyze possible extensions of the designated street front and report back to the city council no later than May 17. That presumably would be followed by council action to adopt any appropriate designated street front revisions on May 24, in conjunction with the moratorium being lifted on June 2.

The interim design standards approved Thursday reflected some changes based on council requests Tuesday night. The goal is to ensure multifamily housing units are compatible with the downtown area, with a focus on three requirements: building materials, private amenity space, and a street-side amenity space or pedestrian area.


– Building facades must be clad with preferred building materials that include natural stone, wood, architectural metal, brick and glass. Concrete, laminates, veneers, fiber cement products and the like may be permitted by the development services director or the city’s Architectural Design Board if they replicate the appearance of the preferred materials.

– An exterior area equivalent to at least 10% of the project’s gross lot area must be provided as private amenity space for residents of the development. This standard can be met through a combination of balconies (cantilevered, recessed or semi- recessed), decks, patios or yards forindividual dwelling units or the site as a whole. Based on council concerns Tuesday night related to safety and privacy, rooftop decks were removed as an option for a private amenity space.

– An exterior area equivalent to at least 5% of the project’s gross lot area must be provided as a street-side amenity space or pedestrian area.

– Based on another council-requested change Tuesday night, some roof modulation is required, with a preference for step-downs that follow the slope when such a slope exists.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Thanks for this recap of yesterday’s Special Meeting. This has been a very difficult legislative process to follow, with twists and turns.

    One thing I am wondering about is the mystery of Ordinance 4254, passed 4-3 by City Council on Tuesday night. The motion made no mention that it was an emergency, so Ordinance 4254 would have been effective five (5) days after prompt publishing even if it had passed 5-2, 6-1, or unanimously.

    I imagine Ordinance 4254 will be effective April 27, 2022. I requested an executed copy of Ordinance 4254 yesterday morning, but City Officials refused to provide. One thing I wanted to ascertain is when Ordinance 4254 will be effective.

    Another thing I wanted to know is what date Ordinance 4254 extended the Moratorium through. I think the City Attorney mentioned May 19th during yesterday’s meeting. That doesn’t sound right but when citizens are kept in the dark, how are we to know such things?

    Council voted to pass a third Moratorium extension last night. The related state law does not mention “extension”. Rather, the state law discusses “renewal” of Moratoriums. Renewal requires a subsequent Public Hearing PRIOR to renewal.

    From memory, I think Council amended this latest Moratorium ordinance to ordain as follows:

    The Moratorium imposed by Ordinance 4247 and extended by Ordinance 4253 and Ordinance 4254 is hereby further extended to remain in effect through June 2, 2022.

    If true, this new Moratorium extends off the back end of the Moratorium established under mystery Ordinance 4254.

    I imagine that means the City is in a period of time where the Moratorium related to Ordinance 4253 has expired and the Moratorium related to Ordinance 4254 is not yet in effect.

    If so, I hope the City will disclose what all of this means. As Council declared yet another “emergency” last night to adopt interim design standards, why is a Moratorium still needed?

    I’m having a hard time tracking all of this. Maybe City Officials can provide the public a flow chart showing us how the Moratoriums and Interim Design Standards coordinate with each other.

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