Council approves interim extension of dedicated street fronts in downtown business zone

Under the interim ordinance approved Tuesday night, designated street fronts will be extended in the purple shaded areas noted on the map. (Graphic courtesy City of Edmonds)

The Edmonds City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to approve an interim extension of designated street fronts in certain areas of downtown Edmonds’ BD2 zone, ensuring that the action is in place prior to the expiration of a city moratorium on building permit applications there.

The decision — supported by Councilmembers Vivian Olson, Diane Buckshnis, Kristiana Johnson and Neil Tibbott — is related to a 24-unit apartment building proposed for the 600 block of Main Street, located in the BD2 zone. Citing concerns about that development proposal, the council at its Feb. 15 meeting approved a moratorium on building permits in the BD2 zone. The moratorium, which applied 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.

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

Under city code, new buildings in the BD2 zone located along a designated street front must have a street-level floor with commercial uses at a minimum 12-foot height. New buildings located outside of the designated street front, on the other hand, are not required to have commercial uses on the first floor and may be multifamily residential-only buildings.

Last month, the council approved staff-recommended interim design standards and also extended the moratorium until June 2. The idea was to give staff 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.

The answer to that question came in the form of a report, completed by consultant Otak, that recommended that the city not extend the designated street fronts. Expanding on the consultant’s findings, Edmonds Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin noted that “the risk associated with the long absorption time (supply vs. demand) for retail spaces coupled with drastic reduction in rental residential units would make mixed-use projects not feasible for the average boutique developer.”

Otak performed a market demand analysis that looked at three questions: 1) whether designated street front restrictions downtown would inhibit market demand for residential development, 2) the existing market demand for mixed commercial/residential and 3) the market demand for solely commercial buildings.

While the statistics on commercial office space in downtown Edmonds indicate a stable market, the vacancy rate for downtown’s 425 multifamily housing rental units is 1%, indicating a short supply and high demand.

During a question-and-answer session with councilmembers, McLaughlin pointed out that the downtown area’s current zoning already can accommodate a mix of uses — retail, commercial and residential. “If we extended street frontage, it would limit what developers can do there and we may not see, in fact, any development in the near term. And in terms of limiting the residential potential to build residential units downtown, staff does think that’s problematic given the fact we do have a very, very low supply,” she said.

Councilmember Tibbott, who originally raised the idea of extending the street front zoning beyond its current limits, reiterated his belief that the extension was the right thing to do. “One of my concerns is that as our downtown continues to grow and (becomes) more and more robust, we’re going to run out of that type of space for our downtown areas,” Tibbott said.

Councilmember Laura Johnson, who opposed the ordinance, asked why councilmembers aren’t more focused on addressing the existing housing shortage instead of worrying about the loss of retail.

“We have a housing shortage. We should be prioritizing multifamily — not fighting against it,” she said. She also noted that Otak’s report suggested that the city consider raising building heights by 2 to 5 feet to better accommodate mixed-use development. “If it’s a priority of this council to increase commercial…then let’s talk about increasing heights,” Johnson said.

Explaining that concept further, McLaughlin noted that the 12-foot, ground-floor height suitable for commercial office space makes it hard to add two stories of residential above. Some Edmonds developments — including the mixed-use apartments at 2nd and Main — have addressed this by building a below-grade commercial space. Increasing downtown Edmonds’ current 30-foot height limit –even by 2 feet — would enable the developer to get “three solid floors, which would then pencil out for the mixed-use development option,” she said.

While “applying that (increased height limit) to the City of Edmonds is challenging,” McLaughlin said, “…if council is willing to support that, yes, I think that’s a solid recommedation to get what we want —  mixed-use development in the BD2 zone to support the retail core.”

Councilmembers Tuesday night discuss the idea of extending designated street fronts in downtown Edmonds.

In proposing the ordinance to extend the designated street front, Council President Olson noted that because it was an interim measure, it would give the Edmonds Planning Board time to discuss the ramifications and also give the public a chance to weigh in. (That was especially critical for some councilmembers since the Otak report came to the council Monday night, with not much time to review it.) Olson’s motion also included a recommendation from staff to amend language in the permitted use table for the BD zone to eliminate ambiguity.

Laura Johnson proposed an amendment to remove the designated street front extension from the ordinance, leaving only the language amendments, but that amendment failed by a 3-4 margin (Will Chen, Susan Paine and L. Johnson voting for it and Buckshnis, K. Johnson, Olson and Tibbott against). In voting on Olson’s original motion, Chen joined Laura Johnson and Susan Paine in opposing the ordinance, stating he needed more time to consider it before voting.

A public hearing on the ordinance is set for the July 19 council meeting.

In other action Tuesday night, the council held a public hearing regarding how the city so far has allocated its $11.9 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars for COVID-19 recovery. The agenda item didn’t generate much in the way of public testimony, but councilmembers agreed they wanted to talk further at a later date about moving funds from one area to another. The money is currently allocated for city expenditures ($750,000), household support ($4.15 million), business support ($1.1 million), nonprofit support ($500,000), job retraining ($600,000) and green infrastructure ($4.8 million).

The council also unanimously agreed to place on the next meeting’s consent agenda amendments to the city’s stormwater code based on state Department of Ecology requirements, and also unanimously approved the city’s 2023-2028 Six-Year Transportation Improvement Program. A discussion of Edmonds waterfront issues that need to be addressed as part of the city’s 2024 Comprehensive Plan update were delayed to a future meeting due to the lateness of the hour.

The council won’t meet next week as it’s the fifth Tuesday of the month.

— By Teresa Wippel


  1. I could be wrong, but this discussion (especially in terms of what is presented by the consultant) appears to be a debate as to whether to build *commercial* space or *housing* space. For many of us, that’s not the primary issue. It’s what the structure looks like and how it fits into the neighborhood. We need to have architectural standards that preserve the QUALITY of the buildings and the quality of downtown. Building giant boxes is not the answer. Setbacks, parking, landscaping, etc. are to me the primary issues.

    1. Chris, I think you have hit the nail on the head here. I couldn’t agree with you more. We need to focus on what our city core will look like as well as provide needed space and features for the future.

    2. Aesthetics and neighborhood charm were not part of the equation for Susan Paine and L. Johnson or Director Susan McLaughlin last night. I have gone to downtown Ballard in Seattle and wondered how they ended up with so many squared off buildings and out of control homeless on the streets, then after listening to these three, it becomes much more clear how it happened. The assertion by the consultant that mixed-use buildings are D.O.A. in the downtown core seemed a little too self-serving. Preserving the quality of the neighborhood, and not “killing the goose that laid the golden egg”, should be the priority.

  2. The consultants work for the Mayor and staff and their recommendations for what is best practices for Edmonds are highly suspect. We need to just shine them on until the next election and limit their damage as much as possible until we clean house hopefully.

  3. Wants and needs. I for one neither want or need more people or business in Edmonds, how do either of these things benefit me? I understand things are going to change over time whether it suits me or not. In this case a smaller more appealing structure with business on the ground floor with apartments above might be more fitting for this location. The only good thing about it is you can’t see it from my house.

  4. Thank you, Council President Olson and Councilmembers Buckshnis, Tibbot and K. Johnson for valuing our businesses and protecting our downtown business district and BD2 Zone!  This is important if we are to have a healthy, vibrant downtown.  We can’t allow housing to take over at the expense of business.  There is housing all around Edmonds and more is being built every day.  I heard 35% of downtown Edmonds is multifamily.  The lack of available housing is regional with so many people moving here and squeezing business out of our downtown isn’t going to solve the problem.  Now, the focus must be on aesthetics.  Most of us want attractive buildings that fit the size, scale, and character of our historical, quaint downtown.  As Chris Walton said, setbacks, parking and landscaping are important. So are modulation, rooflines and exterior details. Let’s update and rewrite our codes and design standards so that plain, square, oversized boxes with zero lot lines aren’t allowed to be built that detract and mar, especially at 6th and Main, which is the gateway of our charming downtown.  Let’s ensure that what gets built there fits in and is worthy of our special Edmonds that we all love and cherish.

    1. I also want to point out that the BD2 zone allows for residential. It’s mixed-commercial, meaning the first 45 feet from the sidewalk on the ground floor is designated business/commercial, but behind that and on the floors above can all be multifamily. That allows for a lot of residential in the business district but also preserves business space.

  5. The real joke is calling it needed affordable housing. I predict people will pay around 2K/mo. for 750 sq./ft at that location. High class tenement territory. Our tax dollars at work to “improve Edmonds” Let’s vote in some people that will quit trying to fix paradise and save the world before it’s too late.

    1. Clint that is exactly what we need. Leaders that want to preserve paradise before it’s too late.

      1. Fairchild, what does that mean? I am not trolling you or being rhetorical, I’m really asking. You already conceded in an above comment that people are going to come here whether we like it or not, so the only responsible thing for our civic leaders to do in response is to manage that growth and change. On that count, while I don’t agree with all of them I do believe that our councilors are responding to that challenge in the ways that they consider most appropriate. An increasing population is going to require increasing amenities, and that includes services and businesses that cater to that demand. Where do we want those local residents to then go to spend their time and money – Lynnwood and Shoreline?
        We need a thriving retail core/business district, and to people like me there is at least as much priority in preserving/enhancing our existing business district as there is in creating residential spaces in that same business district. As a separate issue, where we do allow residential spaces within that business district, I just don’t know that “Lego cubism” and “vanilla fenestration” are the design standards that we should be encouraging.
        Attractive places attract people, and so we are going to see some change. It is the price of our success. Besides, have you ever been to a community that nobody moves to, and where new businesses are discouraged from opening? You want a council that works to that end?? I only speak for me, but I cannot imagine electing such a person, or in living in such a place.

        1. Gill. I said change was going to happen, does change require population or business growth? Is woodway suffering because they have little to no growth? Yes people want to come to Edmonds and as property changes hands or rental units become available they will. Do we largely have a prosperous community? Do we need more people or businesses to make us prosperous? Does more growth mean we will be more prosperous, the same amount of, or less of as a community? I my opinion our quality of life is pretty darn good and more growth is no guarantee of better and is likely to decline. A recent article has us as the 5th on Zillows list nation wide and I can tell you it is not because of our growth in business or units of housing being built in the last few years. In general growth has been good for Edmonds up until now, I am not so sure the same amount of growth going forward is going to be a benefit to our quality of life. So I am in the preserve paradise camp not the pack all the people and businesses we can possibly fit camp. Hope this helps.

  6. That is one ugly building and does not fit into the charm of Edmonds….just sayin people..

  7. This isn’t about managing growth. This is about promoting a shoddy looking, over populated building with more to surely come, if allowed, and meeting some powerful higly politically biased individual’s “vision” for what downtown should look like and be used for.

    City government is supposed to be non-partisan and promoting the good of every citizen not just the chosen “in with the in crowd” few. This is not what we have at present. Time to prolong the debate and then throw the partisans out. Limit the damage and quit fixing what ain’t broke.

    You can manage growth by limiting it, as well as increasing it. “Management” should be about balance, not excess.

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