Letter to the editor: Raising building heights a financial reality for better development

Editor:

During Tuesday night’s Edmonds City Council meeting, the last resolution regarding the development code to pass was a measure supported by a 3-4 minority to provide a loophole for submission of development application prior to new (hopefully) design codes and standards. This is shameful of the councilmembers support. Where is the support of diversity, opportunity, community and the environment by council?

Form follows function still applies to design and should apply to council’s action. Focusing on materials, minor modulations and rooftop decks is a waste of all our time.

What do we want new development to provide to residents, visitors and community alike? How will it function in our community? How will new development provide opportunity, diversity, social and environmental benefits? That should be your focus.

Let’s cut to the chase. You’ll need to raise building heights to provide the economic ability for the developer to provide the necessary components that will be required under new comprehensive and community-based development guidelines, thus providing a vibrant and sustainable community. I know it’s the third rail of Edmonds politics, but it is the financial reality if we want better development.

It’s our small beautiful place on this amazing little planet. You can make it better. Please take the time and effort to do so.

Thank you,

Will Magnuson
Edmonds

27 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Raising building heights a financial reality for better development”

  1. Raising the building height standards for Edmonds is the third rail a politics for a reason. When you touch the third rail you have a very unpleasant experience which I don’t recommend. Who the heck wants to make the town more developed? I think it’s pretty darn good as it is now, and there is not one bit of evidence it’s broken.

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  2. Allowing additional height to buildings will also include services like cell phone towers , air conditioning equipment and others . These considerations for additional height don’t look at the entire picture and if implemented will spread throughout the area beyond its proposed scope . I look at the services lost from these choices as time goes on and find little benefits to the community……..try finding parking near the new post office location as an example. For those of you that want to preserve the environment what sort of trees can grow if they are constantly shaded ? Perhaps a small town was never intended to grow bigger than the space it has and that by itself is why Edmonds should stay within is space including going up.

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  3. Fighting those that want a building height increase is the number one reason we need to constantly be on guard. Edmonds is a small town. Increasing building height will lead many to add a 3rd story to downtown Edmonds, or demolish a building and build a three story one. Progress is not overbuilding. Do we really want to look like Kirkland?

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  4. From what I see, the developers must be doing okay financially; “available” properties are purchased quickly and building appears to proceed as soon as possible.

    I can’t see “[o]ur small beautiful place on this planet” staying small or beautiful with taller buildings.

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    1. Taller buildings all over town. Now that’s a brilliant idea that should really take off here. I’m amazed no one ever came up with that gem of an idea before. I think there’s still time to tack 5 more floors on the Ebbtide and really make that baby pay for itself this time around. I can’t believe this. We’re in a time warp of some kind. That’s it; I’m just imagining this LTE. No other explanation.

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  5. Let’s examine this statement and cut to the chase: “You’ll need to raise building heights to provide the economic ability for the developer to provide the necessary components that will be required under new comprehensive and community-based development guidelines”

    What this really means is: You’ll need to raise building heights so the developer can build big enough to make enough money to cover the cost of providing required things like parking, bike storage and outdoor living space.

    In shorter words: The developer won’t make gobbs of money if they have to meet current city & building codes, and raising building heights are the only way to address this travesty.

    Be careful folks Edmonds is about to become the new Ballard.

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    1. EXACTLY!!!! Why can’t our city staff say No to developers who keep pushing the limit? Do dollar signs clog their eyes and ears on what the majority of their Community has been fighting for – for YEARS? Before they come to work in Edmonds, city staff should learn about the city and it’s history and What exactly it IS that draws people here. It’s a Quality of Life issue- NOT a bigger is better issue. That is why Edmonds has the New Comprehensive and community-based Development Guidelines. I’m so tired of ‘developers’ pushing, pushing, pushing here because – let’s face it, they are running out of room in surrounding areas and they are greedy. If Developers and Business Entrepreneurs can’t be Creative, then Let them Move On!! (find other investments!) I realize we are privileged to live here in Edmonds. But I would rather pay a bit more and have enough-walkable views, corridors of blue skies and sunshine , parking, walkability to goods and services, and good neighbors, than Density. There IS room to build affordable housing East of downtown. Why can’t Edmonds learn to live within its tax means?! IF City officials want big city salaries, then let them move on! And if taxes have to be raised a bit, then so be it. Can’t creativity and the concept of ‘less is more’ and the Vibe of ‘small town life’ prevail???? It Can and Should in Edmonds because that is what draws people here. The parks and beach access. The “small town’ events: Plant sales, 4th of July celebration, Halloween, Christmas caroling etc…. Do they have that in other towns around the area? No! Edmonds is unique. Citizens Care. Dare to be Different. Dare to Remain “Edmonds”. (now let the hate mail commence, so be it).

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  6. “It’s our small beautiful place on this amazing little planet. You can make it better. Please take the time and effort to do so.”

    You think “our small beautiful place” will be better with higher buildings? You think that packing in more and more people into more and taller buildings in our downtown will provide environmental benefits, diversity and opportunity? I don’t get it. But then maybe it has more to do with Magnuson Construction Management, LLC?

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  7. Just say NO to raising building heights in the bowl/ view corridor of our downtown.

    I believe our touristy town deserves better than looking like Kirkland or Ballard with high, over arching buildings covering our light. How many people that don’t live in those cities go to Ballard or Kirkland anymore to enjoy the amenities?
    How many of those buildings block the beautiful views of the waters around them?

    I can just picture driving down Main Street or any of our other residential streets and not being able to see the water due to buildings blocking?
    Do you think that will increase tourism in our charming city? I think not.

    Edmonds has always been known as a charming, artsy community with some of the best food anywhere around. While on the council I voted against allowing a third story in the BD one zone. (zoning was two stories plus space on roofs for ventilation ducts, air conditioning units or elevators) I lost that vote, DB was very vocal and supported the increase to allow building another story. Now you see the buildings that are surrounding our post office.
    Keep our city charming with the continued zoning of the height limits. Do you want buildings high? Come up to Highway 99, we’ve got plenty of room!

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  8. “Charming” Edmonds is quickly becoming a phrase of the past. I no longer think of Ballard or Kirkland as either quaint or charming.

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  9. I’ve got the perfect ideas for a better Edmonds. Let’s knock down that useless new Waterfront Center and build a twenty story High Rise with 700 sq. ft. apartments, $3000/mo. rents payable directly into the city coffers. Our city funding prayers are answered.

    Likewise, the Port District will build a giant 20 story business/small apartment complex at Harbor Square, with a magnificent view of the Marsh that we just forget about restoring. The Marsh is just fine the way it is after all. Seen one salmon, you’ve seen them all. Same goes for Orca Whales.

    Quit wasting all our public money and available view property on frivolous things like public use, public access and environmental enhancement. Have you no vision for the future of Edmonds with great density and live in town patrons for all the bars, art galleries, and blocked off street fairs? It’s just there for the taking, for heaven’s sake. Let’s go for it – Greater Edmonds Inc.

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  10. A constant fight here in Edmonds for not increasing building height. Leave well enough alone.

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  11. Thanks Don, and thanks AFM for your good and wise words on this subject. Woodway City Council just said no to rampant bad “professional” planning and over density many years ago. They had to lower standards a bit to annex in enough population to become a pretend city, but they “gotter done.”

    Our current city Council needs to step up to the plate now, like Woodway representative citizens did in the past, and represent all the people who elected them and not just the interests of the mayor and the special “professional” planning staff he has tried to saddle us with. I just don’t see a vast public outcry in favor of more density and higher buildings in our downtown area. The Council should honor that, even if they have to risk a law suit of some kind by a disgruntled overzealous developer.

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  12. What does building codes have to do with “diversity”? LOL! This is getting out of control. These woke buzz words are silly.

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  13. I am not involved in this issue at all, but it is kinda interesting to play around with some of the issues. 1) land and structures in the puget sound area are super valuable now 2) people, via lucrative careers, wealth management, etc who buy as investments and/or as living space like to have options, whether they choose to invest in urban cities (neighborhoods close to DT Seattle, Bellevue), upscale towns (DT Edmonds and Kirkland), sleepy bedroom communities (Brier), rural communities (Arlington).
    And developers constantly look for opportunities, and try to influence leaders in these various communities.
    Activists do their best to make their concerns known, whether they are residents who have “skin in the game”, or whether they are informed, passionate, and vocal about their overall values, as they observe county and municipal codes being made, all of which have an impact on all this stuff.
    I don’t want to say anything in public about any of the above folks. If a number of buildings in DT Edmonds get taller, the. I imagine that saying “If you build it they will come”, will come true. Although, and I know nothing about this question either: do any of you wonder how inflation and resultant recession would influence any of this stuff ?
    That’s all I can think of to contribute. Toodles!

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  14. Interesting comments about concern over view corridors. Don’t believe there was that same concern when the tree ordinance was discussed. Kind of like city charging $30,000 + for a building permit and then be crying about lack of affordable housing.

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  15. I would like to add clarification to the building heights letter in 2 parts.
    Part 1 – The Problem
    Part 2. – Where We Are Now

    Part 1- The problem

    I understand the fear of building heights and change, but it’s complicated. Here’s the condensed version of the problem.

    Unlike residential property developed to an individual’s budget for their residence, a developer builds an apartment on a property as an investment. The property developer investor(s) seeks a rate of return on their investment much like a stock or mutual fund investor. Multifamily properties are basically a single use residential (apartment or condo) building that only provides residential living space and (hopefully) parking on the developed property. Mixed use properties include a mix of commercial and residential space as the name implies. Mixed use construction is much more expensive than single use construction due to many factors associated with financial, leasing, and operational costs as well as increased construction costs due to building, fire and developmental codes.

    We need mixed use in our core areas such as downtown Edmonds to provide not only residencial space but commercial space for businesses and offices. Mixed use is more expensive to build so the developer needs more area(floors) to provide more revenue to cover these additional costs.

    Will Magnuson

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  16. Building Heights

    Part 2 – Where we are now

    Now we have multifamily 3 level high box apartment buildings proposed in our downtown core instead of mixed use projects including commercial and community oriented amenities. We know there is no downtown or core without commercial and community space. It just takes additional money to build mixed use and that’s money a property development needs to cover. A developer will not build a project just to lose money or earn a reduced return of investment. They’ll take their money elsewhere to another city or town. You might say fine, but the city of Edmonds needs to be competitive and viable to be sustainable into the future.
    The less expensive option of a basic multifamily apartment box is all we as residents will get without more opportunity for a developer to recover costs. Many have referenced the “post office” building at 2nd and Main. I commend Mr. Spee for building a high quality mixed use building within the present building height requirements, but not every project has the same financial advantages including a long term federal government tenant. This is not common.

    I understand the fear of change and wanting to keep things “the same”. Regardless, we have witnessed significant population and economic growth over the years. Growth will continue to happen creating even greater pressure for additional residential and commercial space in our beautiful city. We can wish it not to happen and not plan for the future. Not planning is just planning for failure. We have an opportunity to improve. I know many will say “ok, I understand all that but I just don’t want things to change, at least not while I’m around.” Well change is going to come, change will come. Don’t fear it. Plan for it.

    Will Magnuson

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    1. ohhhhhh!
      “The less expensive option of a basic multifamily apartment box is all we as residents will get without more opportunity for a developer to recover costs. Many have referenced the “post office” building at 2nd and Main. I commend Mr. Spee for building a high quality mixed use building within the present building height requirements, but not every project has the same financial advantages including a long term federal government tenant. This is not common.”

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    2. Will – thank you for validating my earlier comments. As you stated, it’s all about the developer and their expected profits, and the residents who are left with the eyesore for the next 100 years just better deal with it. Nice.

      We know there is misalignment between a developers requirements (profit margins) and the city’s requirements (codes, regulations, etc). Developers in the past have been able to find a way to align all requirements and make it work – why no longer? Likely developers are demanding higher and higher returns, which comes at the expense of the city’s residents and its core charm.

      If a developer can’t make it work within Edmonds requirements, then by all means they should move on to better opportunities – it wasn’t a good fit in Edmonds. But it is only a matter of time before another developer will come in with a plan that will work within the city’s requirements (and not ask for special waivers only to cut corners and suede out more profit). They will be welcomed for bringing change while also maintaining the Edmonds’ charm.

      Is there a reason developers wouldn’t want to do these projects in Madison Park, or Medina, or Hunts Point. Based on your logic, don’t those areas need to develop and build tall buildings in order to “stay competitive”?

      Honestly, Edmonds staying the same is already sustainable and viable and doesn’t need developers pushing unsightly projects in the name of so called progress to compete with the likes of Ballard or Kirkland. Edmonds, in its current state, is already miles ahead of them and staying a local quaint village will keep it that way. If you haven’t noticed, the local charm of Ballard and Kirkland have been destroyed by development.

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      1. Ohhhhhhh!
        “…. it is only a matter of time before another developer will come in with a plan that will work within the city’s requirements (and not ask for special waivers only to cut corners and suede out more profit). They will be welcomed for bringing change while also maintaining the Edmonds’ charm.“

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    1. Well, I agree but remember all of Edmonds not just the bowl. I think that is what you mean by residential. In five corners we are packed. If homes are torn down and replaced with apartments or houses they should not be so tall we cannot enjoy any view of anything. WE have lost many trees up here so many it astounds me. What was advertised as territorial view when I bought was truly a beautiful territorial view. Now I see few eagles as well there trees are gone. The idea of having a tall building against my fenced in property is too much to take. So build but not tall. That is a slap in the face to those who bought in Edmonds up hill. Many of the new owners payed a million or more for there properties. SO do it just keep them no more than two stories or less if possible. That will make everyone happy all over the city. No one wants to look at a wall instead of the sky and trees. I don’t care what giant developers want. I care what our citizens want. All of them in the Bowl and the rest of Edmonds. High rises on 99 are already I believe in progress and I would like to see businesses up there too. To help with the taxes we need and to make it look nice. I don’t consider it a lost part but a place to make better. Not too crowded. And I think a Cultural Center there is a great idea. IT will bring in people. It will provide jobs and that is just one idea. SO I hope it all works out fairly for everyone. That is all.

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  17. Good point. We, ALL of us, need to remember that if we have no big trees, we have no eagles etc. Just silence.

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