Letter to the editor: Deciding the future of Edmonds in 140 characters

Publisher’s note: This letter was written and submitted last week, and I missed it in my inbox. Since it was submitted prior to my post published today stating our new 250-word limit on letters to the editor, I’m publishing this one as written.

My fellow citizens of Edmonds:

I am writing to alert you to concerns around the ongoing Comprehensive Plan Visioning Mini-Surveys recently offered by the Edmonds Development Services Department.

I am concerned about the surveys’ inability to elicit meaningful input on the elements in the Comprehensive Plan.  I also want to offer a caveat about responding to an especially problematic question posed in the survey.

Each of the six weekly mini-surveys asks a question or two about a theme generally relating to Comprehensive Plan elements. The survey asks forced-choice questions requiring specific answers on narrow subjects.  The survey doesn’t allow feedback “outside of the box” on the full range of issues or subjects in the plan element. The responses to the questions must be no more than 140 characters, or about one and one-half lines of text. It is impossible to speak to a plan element in such a short reply.

Let’s look at this week’s survey on the theme of Economic Growth, or Economic Development, element 4 in the Comprehensive Plan, which many tell me is very important. I am asked if I work in Edmonds and the neighborhood I live in. The only additional query on the survey this week that I can speak to is this:

What types of businesses (goods/services) do you travel outside the city for? (Again, 140 characters.)

I travel outside – and also inside – the city for some of the same services, such as restaurants. I travel outside the city for medical services, not because they are unavailable in Edmonds, but because I have long-standing relationships with providers outside Edmonds. I don’t know what conclusions you can draw from my answer here.

Does my input on this question, 140 characters or less, give the city substantive feedback on this economic development element? I don’t think so. Is my answer a thoughtful contribution to the decennial update of the Edmonds Comprehensive Plan, looking out to 2050? Again, I doubt it. Can my brief chance encounter with city staff at a market or on a street corner enhance my contribution here? Again, I am skeptical that it will.

I want to draw readers’ attention to another question in the survey for the final week, Sept. 12-18, on the theme of Livability and Land Use. It is:

  • What types of housing could you see fitting into your neighborhood? Select all that apply. (Fourteen housing types are listed with check boxes).

My neighborhood is RS – single-family residential, which makes up 64% of Edmonds housing. Currently, the only housing type that fits into my neighborhood is single-family homes.

In this leading question, Development Services is inviting – and encouraging – nearly two-thirds of Edmonds homeowners to blithely indicate a willingness to see a plethora of additional housing types allowed in their RS neighborhoods.

If I were to answer this question rather conservatively, I could respond that I would welcome duplexes in my neighborhood. By so doing, I would thus be stating that I approve the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission’s (ECHC) proposal on Missing Middle Housing in Single Family Neighborhoods. That would allow duplexes or two-unit townhouses on every/any lot in Edmonds, theoretically doubling living unit capacity from 11,685 to 23,370. That would be an extreme action, and only one of the 14 options on the survey. Selecting multiple options would invite opening up Edmonds through rezoning to unplanned and unlimited growth!

Additionally, the survey does not elicit enough information about the respondent’s location to give the input meaning.

I would like to caution and encourage citizens responding to these surveys to be circumspect and careful. The question above, for one, has insidious implications for upzoning. This is a leading question, like several in the previous ECHC surveys.

In the ECHC surveys past, four of five Edmonds residents (78%) did not favor rampant growth in rezoned single-family neighborhoods. Four of five Mukilteo residents (82%) similarly voted late in 2021 against helter-skelter growth in their residential neighborhoods. Some have tried to discount these survey findings, saying they are not scientific surveys, the samples are too small, the survey questions were unclearly defined. But as general assessments of citizen feelings in these communities, these surveys clearly reflect opposition to radical changes to residential neighborhoods.

The full survey is available at: https://bit.ly/2024CompPlanVision

Thank you, and please approach these Development Services surveys thoughtfully,

Larry Williamson

  1. Thanks for writing this excellent Letter to the Editor. Under the topic of Community Engagement, MRSC states:

    “Due to small sample sizes and low response rates, many local government surveys have difficulty achieving results that are statistically valid. When that is the case, their primary value is to provide general insights into community attitudes and opinions that may or may not accurately represent the opinions of the entire population.”

    Even if the current surveys being issued did not ask forced-choice questions requiring specific answers on narrow subjects and only allow for 140-character responses, citizens are exposed to City Staff recommending action that is different than what citizens want.

    An example of this is provided by City Staff’s attempt to update the Street Vacation Code back in 2019. City Staff ended up recommending action different than what the Citizen’s Planning Board recommended. City Staff did so after a lengthy public process.

    A related concern is the public open house to kick off a major update of the City of Edmonds development code on March 11, 2015. Code errors brought to the attention of City Staff by citizens in 2015 still exist in City Code to this day.

  2. I too have been disappointed in these Mini-Surveys. They do not allow an open discussion of a serious subject; in fact the articles and the surveys do not seem to be open to any opposition thinking. They feel like a trap…an instrument to get to the desired outcome of the originating department. What to do? Do I respond at all? This Comprehensive Plan for Edmonds is important and should reflect the community, but the surveys are not a serious attempt for meaningful input. Perhaps that is the intent? In the ECHC surveys past, four of five Edmonds residents (78%) did not favor rampant growth in rezoned single-family neighborhoods, but the current mini-survey ignores that fact and attempts to dictate a new outcome.

  3. Thanks for the link to the survey. I just took it. “Single family homes” is one of the options and at the end you tell them where you live, so it seems to me this was designed in a way that allows you to ask for what you want.

    Remember that what you want and what works for you is not the same as it is for other people in other areas of this city that stretches from the ferry to 99 and beyond.

  4. Please do not Ballardize Edmonds! I live in a condo here in the Edmonds bowl area by choice. Just because I choose to live in a multi-family building, I would not inflict that on others who do not. I greatly appreciate the single family neighborhoods that it is my privilege to walk in. I truly enjoy the gardens that so many of my neighbors tend. I love the Edmonds that we have now. Most multifamily units are never required to be built with sufficient off street parking or common areas for their residents to gather in. Our public transit is woefully inadequate for my needs so parking is a very sore spot for me. I feel that some duplexes would be ok but dense apartment complexes wedged into areas that were not intended for them, are not. If more apartment complexes are needed then I would hope that they would be restricted to the Hwy 99 corridor rather than destroy our established neighborhoods.

  5. CJ,
    Do you not consider the HWY 99 corridor also an “established neighborhood”? Admittedly many of us choose to spend time in MLT given its proximity to our HWY 99 neighborhood (and we love the greater diversity there, ) but our little enclave 2 blocks east of 99 is an established neighborhood. And we are in Edmonds.

  6. Kim,
    My apologies for not being familiar with all areas of Edmonds. What I have seen in the Hwy99 area are mostly businesses and apartment complexes which seem to outnumber single family homes. I will do a little more exploring to better educate myself on what lies within the boundaries of the City of Edmonds.

  7. In the spirit of parity, I suggest, Susan McLaughlin, Edmonds Development Services Director weekly letter in MEN be limited to 140-characters. The consequences of one’s actions will have to be dealt with eventually.

  8. Thanks, CJ. Our neighborhood is mostly homes built in the 1950s, well-established, diverse in all ways, and definitely part of Edmonds.

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