Council Tuesday showcases the arts, discusses plan to update Edmonds city code

From celebrating Edmonds’ trees and public arts to outlining a work plan for updating the city’s development code, there was something for nearly everyone at Tuesday night’s Edmonds City Council meeting.

The meeting began with a series of four presentations: First, members of the Edmonds Tree Board received a proclamation recognizing Oct. 1 as Arbor Day in Edmonds — with a reminder that board members would be at the Edmonds Museum Summer Market this Saturday giving away trees to celebrate the day. Then, a proclamation was issued in honor of National Arts and Humanities Month, which is in October. Following the arts theme, the Edmonds Arts Commission presented its annual report, highlighting the commission’s many activities — from citywide concerts to On the Fence art installations to the Best Book I Ever Read poster exhibit for third graders.

An artist’s rendering of the welcoming figure superimposed on the exterior of the Edmonds Waterfront Center, which was shared with the council Tuesday night.

The council also learned about a new indigenous artwork that will be installed on the exterior of the newly opened Edmonds Waterfront Center, complete with photos and video of the work in progress. Waterfront Center CEO Daniel Johnson stressed that the center is committed to building strong partnerships with the Coast Salish tribes and to integrating indigenous art into the new building. Former Edmonds Diversity Commission member Diana White, an enrolled member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Indians and also of Cherokee descent, serves on the center’s indigenous arts subcommittee and also participated in Tuesday’s council presentation.

Native American artist Ty Juvinel, who also produced the “Marsh Life” cedar carving on display outside the Edmonds Historical Museum, is creating the 15-foot-tall welcoming figure made out of a single cedar tree log. Welcoming figures, White explained, are often found outside long houses in the tribe’s territories. “Usually the hands are open — it’s a gesturing sign of welcome and to come and greet visitors,” she said.

The carving depicts a grandmother and a child, “which is very indicative of what the waterfront center is about,” White added, referring to the facility’s intergenerational focus.

The waterfront center plans to hold an event, open to the public, later this year to celebrate the addition of the artwork, Johnson said, with exact date and time still to be determined.

Susan McLaughlin

Also on Tuesday night, Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin provided councilmembers with a draft work plan for modernizing the city’s development code.

The development code, McLaughlin explained, helps the city comply with the state’s Growth Management Act and is also “a tool for implementing our guiding policies in the Comprehensive Plan.” The city passed its first zoning ordinance in 1959, and there have been hundreds of zoning and development code amendments over the years, she added.

McLaughlin, who has been with the city less than a year, acknowledged that previous efforts to modernize the code have been done in “fits and starts,” due to a lack of dedicated staff who are able to support extensive legislative changes.

The council allocated budget this year to fund the hiring of a full-time employee to focus solely on the code updates, but McLaughlin said the candidate pool was small and those interviewed didn’t meet the position requirements. So a decision was made to reallocate most of Senior Planner Mike Clugston’s work to other staff and have him focus on the code modernization effort. Consultants will be brought in when necessary to assist, she added.

McLaughlin then defined what a code rewrite is — “A continuous process of improvement” that includes changes to both structure and content. “It’s legibility, it’s searchability, it’s predictability,” she said, adding that the code should be presented in a user-friendly online format.

She also stressed that the code updates will be continuous and never really be completed because they are responding to a variety of policies and mandates that are frequently updated.

She then proposed a new amendment process for code updates that fall into two categories: minor and major. Minor updates would be compiled and presented to the council on a semiannual basis or more frequently as needed. Major amendments, which would require more analysis and public engagement, would take additional time. She then provided a graphic that showed examples of a minor amendment (removing references to a zoning district that no longer exists) vs. a major amendment (EV charging infrastructure requirements):

While councilmembers were generally supportive of the work plan, some of them expressed concern that Clugston wouldn’t be able to work full time on the effort. McLaughlin replied that she plans to hire two additional associate planners with the idea of taking work off his plate.

In other business, the council:

– Agreed to place on next week’s consent agenda a proposal to replace a public sewer-storm easement with a privately owned sewer main for the 255-unit Apollo Apartments, planned for southeast corner of 236th Street Southwest and Highway 99.

– Heard a report from Parks, Recreation and Human Services Director Angie Feser regarding the city’s efforts to receive Salmon-Safe Certification. The certification program involves assessing the city’s policies and operational practices and recommending changes to help improve Puget Sound water quality and watershed health.

The program identified 12 conditions — among them removing fish passage barriers and developing comprehensive habitat restoration plans — plus three pre-conditions that the city must meet within five years to receive the certification.

Councilmembers were asked to take a look at the costs associated with the conditions — which could run several hundred thousand dollars —  and provide advice on whether they wanted to proceed with certification or pause it while the city has further discussions on the certification timeline. Pausing the program, Feser said, would give staff an opportunity to negotiate new timelines with the Salmon-Safe program to ensure the process fits the city’s budget and staffing availability.

Councilmembers agreed with the idea of pausing the program.

– Received an update from Economic Development and Community Services Director Todd Tatum on how the city has spent some of the nearly $12 million it has received in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Tatum noted that councilmembers have already discussed ideas for changing some of the allocations, which include grants to households, small businesses and nonprofits, as well as job retraining at Edmonds and Shoreline Colleges and green infrastructure. Discussions about reallocating some of the money will be part of the 2023 budget process, set to start next month, Tatum said.

During council comments Tuesday night, Councilmember Dave Teitzel noted that attorney Ann Marie Soto has been hired to independently review a one-year contract extension submitted by Lighthouse Law Group. The city’s current contract with Lighthouse, which provides city attorney services to Edmonds, expires Dec. 31, 2022. The council is looking to extend it for one year to allow additional time to review the firm’s work and whether it continues to be the best choice for the city.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. There is nothing minor in a code re-write and I’ve been waiting 12 years.

    Where Is the attorney review in all this since he has to defend it against citizens and actually was in charge of the process 10 years ago. Major rewrite for the quasi-judicial which removed Council from some important variance was crafted by the attorney along with the emergency management code 6.60 two years ago.

    The recent tree code or comprehensive plan update (to remove Edmonds Crossing) are two examples of issues where staff became too busy to finish these projects. recently with the BD2 debacle, the attorney and administration completely ignoring the BD design standards found in ordinance 3918 (which took thousands of hours of citizens input to create these five zone). suddenly BD2 has residential and the residential guidelines are looser than the BD4 standards which does outline residential in its zoning. More confusing is CM voted extending the store front map for BD2 which once again prohibits residential – but the code is now bifurcated with design for BD2 first to approve – then street-front. Vesting could easily occur in that gap in time. Another reason to hire a qualified FTE code writer.

  2. Regardless if Mr. Clugston has any help, he is an associate planner for the City of Edmonds and reviews and approves many major projects in the City of Edmonds for the Development Department.

    Allowing him to rewrite any of our City code in any way is the proverbial “fox in the hen house”.

    An independent, reputable third party needs to do the code rewrite to avoid any bias or thumb on the scale.

    1. Thank you CM Buckshnis, and John Hoag, DDS. I’m in total agreement with your assessments and comments.

      An independent, reputable third party needs to do this important work for Edmonds.

  3. Let’s protect all of BD2 for mixed commercial, then get on with the overdue code rewrite. It needs to be completed so it can mesh up with the upcoming comprehensive plan. We need to hire a full time, independent code writer. Council has already approved the funds.

  4. For years now, since before the 70’s really, Edmonds is a town that has been run mostly, by strong mayors city planners, and sweetheart city attorneys who’s best friends are big time developers, entertainment industry functionaries of all sorts, and patrons of the various arts. Lately party politics has also been inserted into this already toxic mix. It’s slowly become a place pretty much run, by and for the more wealthy people in our society. There are really two Edmonds; the bowl and everywhere else. In my opinion our city government is badly broken and can’t be fixed as it exists. That said, I admire all the good people on the council and in the ranks of the more enlightened citizens who are trying to make it all somehow work. We are all swimming against the tide of so called progress being pretty much foisted on us by strong mayors and a well meaning but misguided staff of professional city planners. The citizens need to take our little village by the sea back, but how?

  5. The City gave the code rewriting task to Mike Clugston, a Senior Planner already on staff, because no qualified person applied for the job when it was posted. I’ve met Mr. Clugston and believe him to be a person of integrity who just wants to do good work for the people of Edmonds. There’s just no reason for anyone to infer that his knowledge or experience should translate into “bias or thumb on the scale.”

    There will be lots of eyes on him and his work. Every code change, every text revision, every map change, must first go through Planning Board where it will be rigorously examined. That Board is composed of 8 independent-minded residents of Edmonds, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by City Council. We are nobody’s tool.

    The Board will solicit citizen input and hold a public hearing on every code change, no matter how minor. After passing through Planning Board, changes move on to City Council and through their process and another public hearing. I wish people would reserve judgment and give us a chance to make this work for the people of our city.

    Roger Pence, Chair
    Edmonds Planning Board

    1. Roger, I consider you one of the people I very much admire who are tying to make this Model T of a local government actually function in the interest of all the citizens. That said, how long do you propose that the people just reserve judgment and give you a chance to make this work? As another local person I respect and admire very much, Ken Reidy, has pointed out to us all, this code re-write has been batted around, politicized and swept under the rug to pursue supposedly more pressing business for over fifteen years now. That strikes me as a pretty good record of the people reserving final judgement.

      In my view, the fact is that public apathy by all but a few of us die hard policy wonks and trouble makers is why we are where we are at now. There are some very good and honest people on the current Council and in the general public who are trying to get this city government back on a track that actually works for everyone. The keep it just like it is crowd is what is keeping it just like it has always been.

  6. A Code Rewrite is a major update resulting in delivery of a vastly improved City Code by a date in time. For example, there was a time when the intent was to begin the rewrite last year (2006) and finish this year (2007). See source of this representation in the Edmonds City Council Approved Minutes for November 20, 2007.

    I hope City Council will prioritize the Code Rewrite. I hope City Council will make sure the proper amount is budgeted to complete the entire Code Rewrite.

    The entire City Code needs to be updated. It is especially important to recognize the two parts of the Code, the Edmonds City Code (ECC) – (sometimes called Edmonds Municipal Code – EMC) and the Edmonds Community Development Code (ECDC). The ECC consists of Titles 1 through 10 and addresses issues such as health, safety, finance, officials, boards and commissions. The ECDC consists of Titles 15 through 23 and addresses issues such as building, planning and land use, public works, design and natural resources.

    Both parts of the CODE require Rewrite and that has been true for many, many years.

    1. The Edmonds Community Development Code (ECDC) “rewrite” requires alignment with the Comprehensive Plan. And with the Comprehensive Plan update just around the corner, it would be premature to embark on changing the ECDC now. We don’t need city staff to waste time and money without the insight gained through the Comprehensive Plan update process. At the end of the day, we need these two artifacts to be in alignment.

      However, we can, and should, start now with rewriting sections of the Edmonds City Code (ECC) which are not so directly tied to the Comprehensive Plan. This may require a different knowledge and skill set to effectively rewrite this section of the code than what has been proposed by city staff. Afterwards, we can tackle the ECDC with the knowledge gained while updating the Comprehensive Plan.

      Let’s get the horse in front of the cart this time.

  7. Mr. Oganowski and Mr. Pence both seem to be on the right track here. Who and what we are now and who and what we want to become in the future should generate only from the grassroots citizenship organizations, such as Mr. Pence’s planning board, neighborhood groups and associations, ACE and ECR, and just the citizens in general. Right now we have a mayor and his staff trying to manipulate what the citizens should want in the way of a viable city. They are trying to tell us what to do with “our” streets, what buildings to build and where in “our” town and; they cultivate people who agree with them and put down people who don’t. This is not a healthy state of affairs. Planning board public hearings, fair and unbiased Comprehensive Plan first and foremost with the ECDC taking a back seat to it all. That would be the proper way to do this in my view.

  8. My apology to Mr. Clugston for not correctly stating “Senior Planner”. That said,
    “There’s just no reason for anyone to infer that his knowledge or experience should translate into bias or thumb on the scale” is indeed the case. He knowingly misstated to the ADB, Council’s wishes on roof decks in BD2 zone (did not want them and even doubled down Council wanted them included when an ADB member pushed back saying Council was clear roof decks were not to be included) and led them by the nose to recommend them to…the Planning Board, which thought the ADB wanted them and so on. So now Council thinks ADB and Planning Board wants roof decks. Nice how this works. Council pushed back for now(Comp Plan).
    Again, find an independent third party to do the code rewrite. City staff is too vested in particular outcome.

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