With no decision reached on interim design standards, councilmembers to meet again Thursday

Councilmembers discuss the staff-proposed interim design standards Tuesday night.

After being unable to agree Tuesday night on next steps regarding staff-recommended interim design standards for downtown Edmonds’ mixed commercial (BD2) zone, the Edmonds City Council will hold a special meeting Thursday to continue discussing the matter.

The virtual meeting will begin at 5:15 p.m. You can find the Zoom link and agenda here.

The design standards were aimed at addressing council concerns prompted by a 24-unit apartment building proposed for the 600 block of Main Street, in the BD2 zone. In response to that development proposal, the council at its Feb. 15 meeting approved a two-month moratorium on the building permits in the BD2 zone. 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 standards to address gaps in the code that apply to those sites.

At its April 5 meeting, the council agreed to extend the moratorium by two weeks, after hearing opinions from both residents and the city attorney that more time was needed to study the issue.

On Tuesday night, the council voted 5-2 to approve a resolution adopting the findings that supported the Feb. 15 moratorium. That vote came after the council majority also approved, by a 5-2 vote, an amendment by Councilmember Neil Tibbott to add a whereas clause stating “that some councilmembers felt it was important to reconsider whether the city’s design street front map should be extended.” That amendment, Tibbott said, reflects the council’s previous discussion “that we realized that development downtown has been filled out. My question at that time was, what would it take to extend…(zoning for) those street fronts.” Such an extension would mean any developments in that extended zone would include floor height minimums, transparency and access at the sidewalk, and required detail at ground level.

Two councilmembers — Susan Paine and Laura Johnson — opposed Tibbott’s amendment. Laura Johnson said extending the zone would work against the idea of promoting multifamily development downtown. “We are very limited in this city in terms of where we allow multifamily to begin with,” Johnson said. “This is just one more attempt to further limit it.

“This is the reaction that our community does over and over and over to multifamily development, and I cannot support this,” she added.

Paine said she also was troubled with the addition of the whereas clause. “I think we are trying to create the solution that is very short-sighted before we have any additional information with an economic and residential needs assement for our community,” she said.

Later, during the portion of the meeting reserved for councilmembers’ comments, Johnson said that “developers are not the enemy. Any of us fortunate enough to be housed are housed because of work by a developer. It appears that we accept developers maximizing profit when they build huge single-family homes but not when they wish to build multi-family homes.

“Everything seems to speak to the goal of not allowing expanded and very needed multi-family housing options,” Johnson concluded.

The interim design standards — involving the use of materials, private amenity space and a street-side amenity space or pedestrian area — were proposed as a way to ensure that properties in the BD2 zone have some type of setback from the street. (Read more in our previous story here.) Senior Planner Mike Clugston told the council Tuesday night that the proposed standards received generally favorable feedback from the public as well as the city’s Architectural Design Board, although some concerns were offered about whether rooftop decks would be the go-to amenity space of developers in lieu of patios or other individualized spaces for residents. Some councilmembers also wondered about the safety and privacy of rooftop decks, as well as whether they would prevent roof modulation and slopes.

Amendments were then proposed to address those concerns, but as the council got deeper into the discussion about next steps for approving the standards, some councilmembers indicated their desire to take more time with the issue and further extend the moratorium. Council President Olson voted to table the issue, which was approved on a 5-2 vote, but the council couldn’t get the supermajority vote needed for a proposed one-month moratorium extension. (That vote was 4-3, with Councilmember Will Chen joining Councilmembers Paine and L. Johnson in opposing the extension.)

As a result, the council will gather again Thursday night in a special meeting to further discuss next steps for the design standards. Council President Olson also indicated that she will add to Thursday’s agenda two items the council didn’t get to Tuesday — an update on American Rescue Plan Act funding  and consideration of amendments to the city’s special events permit code — due to a lengthy executive session. That executive session, closed to the public, was added to the agenda at the beginning ot Tuesday’s meeting and was focused on pending or potential litigation. It was also the focus of sharp comments from Paine during her councilmember comments at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, stating her “dismay at some of the behavior we saw in the executive session. It was very disrespectful. It should never happen. We are all peers and we should not be making derogatory comments toward one other.”

In other business, the council received two presentations: an update from the Snohomish Health District and the 2021 Public Defender’s Office annual report.

— By Teresa Wippel

4 Replies to “With no decision reached on interim design standards, councilmembers to meet again Thursday”

  1. Councilmembers Susan Paine and Laura Johnson are missing an important fact. Multifamily is allowed in the BD2 zone just not 100%. Why? Because BD2 is Business District Zone 2 Mixed Commercial. It was created by our wise predecessors for business commercial, while also allowing for multifamily. The first 45′ of the ground floor from the sidewalk or rights-of-way must be commercial. Behind that and on the floors above can all be multifamily. That allows for a lot of multifamily in this downtown zone, just not 100%. We need this to preserve, protect and promote business in our downtown business district. If we allow residential to expand and take over 100% we will not have a healthy downtown. A mix of business and residential creates a vibrant downtown. The five councilmembers Neil Tibbot, Diane Buckshnis, Vivian Olson, Kristiana Johnson and Will Chen should be commended for supporting our BD2. Thank you, Councilmembers!


  2. I bounced between the Mariner’s game and the meeting last night and the meeting was suddenly on hold when I bounced over to it. The Mariner’s game was great. They seem to be pretty good this year.

    I did not understand the “missing” council meeting until I just read this article. That arena seems to be floating along looking like business as usual. The fight between homes for the masses (ultra liberal take) and space for business and low density (business Conservative take).

    My personal conclusion at this point is that, just like the Connector, this residential development is the right solution in the wrong location based on bad professional planning. Newsflash, the supposed name calling in executive session is pretty much of no interest to anyone except those alleging it. Also, these marathon executive sessions look an awful lot like closed door government that is supposed to be illegal. Not accusing anyone of anything, just saying how it looks to Joe Sixpack, trying to make sense of it all.


  3. Sometimes the best decision is to just say No.
    Leave Edmonds alone. Do not cram more people here.


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