City council scheduled Oct. 4 to discuss ‘minor’ height increase in BD2 zone

Among the items on the Tuesday, Oct. 4 Edmonds City Council agenda: Revisiting a May 24 council discussion about whether to consider a 2- to 5-foot increase in the current 30 feet of allowed building height in the BD2 zone and possibly other BD zones.

That May 24 discussion occured as the council approved an interim extension of designated street fronts in certain areas of downtown. According to a consultant report prepared on the topic, the height increase would create more flexibility for a developer to design a three-story mixed use development.

The council’s decision to approve an interim extension of designed street fronts downtown was spurred by a 24-unit apartment building proposed for the 600 block of Main Street, located in the BD2 zone.

Under city code, new buildings in the BD2 zone 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.

The council agenda memo for Tuesday night notes:

Given the challenge of constructing a three-story building with a 12-foot ground floor height and two floors of residential above and still meeting the 30-foot height limit for the BD2 zone, extending the designated street front to all BD2 properties may significantly impact the development potential of these properties.

As a result, the Planning Board and Economic Development Commission discussed the possibility of pursuing zoning changes to facilitate two floors of residential above the commercial space with the comprehensive plan update.  As the consultant noted:

“It is recommended a minor increase in allowed building height be considered in the BD2 zone, as well as any other BD zones similarly affected. This height increase would create more flexibility for a developer to design a 3-story mixed use development. An increase of two (2) to five (5) feet in building height would encourage more 3-story mixed use redevelopment by making a third story feasible on more sites and allowing already feasible sites to be developed in a manner that avoids less desirable subterranean first floor commercial space. This recommended change is intended to make the Designated Street Front commercial requirement as feasible to integrate into a 3-story development as developing an all residential development. Any increases in height should be crafted with code language that limits all BD2 development to no more than 3-stories in height.”

Also on the council agenda for Tuesday night:

– Consideration of an emergency interim ordinance to ensure new development across the street from single-family zones provides stepbacks as envisioned in the Highway 99 final Environmental Impact Statement.

– Presentation of City of Edmonds Stormwater Management Action Plan (SMAP) to meet federal stormwater permit requirements. (See our earlier story here.)

– Updates to the city’s employee reimbursement policy

– An amendment to the city’s bicycle parking code.

– An update on the city’s summer outreach regarding the 2024 Comprehensive Plan Update.

The hybrid meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in council chambers, Public Safety Complex, 250 5th Ave. N. in downtown Edmonds. To attend virtually, click on or paste the following Zoom meeting link into a web browser using a computer or smart phone: zoom.us/j/95798484261. Or comment by phone: US: +1 253 215 8782 Webinar ID: 957 9848 4261

Regular council meetings beginning at 7 p.m. are streamed live on the council meeting web page, Comcast channel 21 and Ziply channel 39.

  1. Keep it at 30’ either it works for a developer or it doesn’t!
    Maybe consider a 10 or 11’ first floor but max height of 30’
    We’ve been down this road before

  2. Once a “ minor” change is made it will just continue. I love living in Edmonds- not Edmonds/ Kirkland. Don’t do it

  3. The slippery slope of lifting height limits. I am reminded of a developer who was in the pockets of the city council in the mid 2000’s. Number one goal was to get the heights lifted so his retail floors didn’t have to be underground. Of course, the buildings were paid for by the condo owners. He just wanted to make money off the retail spaces. The council at that time did not lift the heights. We went into a housing recession and now we are here again.
    If height limits are raised property values go up. We don’t add any more housing units by lifting them we just add ground floors above ground level. Building owners in this zone that don’t want to raise limits (there are some houses still out there) will receive receive property tax increases which they won’t be able to pay and this will start the mass developers cycle of a new downtown. Not to mention once the city council agrees to this lift they will consider all other area’s height limits.
    Keep Kirkland, Redmond, Lynnwood, and Ballard out of Edmonds!

  4. This “small” change could change the whole feel of our downtown Edmonds. Charming Main Street could be a road surrounded by towering buildings. Not the feeling we love today as we walk through our city. Please don’t allow developers to determine the future of our city. This type of increased density will impact so much–traffic, parking, schools, water, and on and on.

  5. I don’t think they should change the height limit but I can see it being allowed as a variance if the added height does not negatively impact someone else view. I don’t know if any code was changed but in Richmond beach one property would remodel or new construction would block the next houses view they in turn would do the same. You could see it work its way up the hill

  6. Developers and architects need to design and build within current requirements. Don’t be bullied into any “small” changes. Vote NO please city council.

  7. Bad idea. Don’t do it another “small step” in a big plan to change Edmonds into something the majority of Edmonds citizens/have repeatedly said they don’t want.
    Gerald Bernstein

  8. Anytime anyone (usually a developer or friend of a developer) in Edmonds says, “It’s really not about the overall building heights,” you can be absolutely sure it really is “all about the overall building heights.” Building heights became THE Edmonds’ issue when the Ebb Tide was built and it has been so ever since. The third rail of Edmonds politics is building heights. A word to the wise should be all it takes here, but I’m fairly sure some will not listen.

  9. To anyone who values the quality of life in downtown Edmonds, any proposal to increase building heights is a horrendous idea. Please listen to those who actually live here, not the developers who will build the biggest thing they possibly can, charge the absolute maximum they can, and then take the money and run. We will all be closely watching this vote.

    1. So far, 16 comments and not a single one in favor of raising building heights. The message is pretty clear. But will the council listen?

  10. If the Mayor, staff and Council want building heights increased, please explain why this is a good thing for the citizens of Edmonds. Stop hiding behind a quick analysis from an out of town consultant. Previously, building heights were 25′ plus 5′ which was intended to give room for roof modulation not a third story. With some crafty design standard language the planning department did away with that and made it 30′ of developers’ choice. They already have their 5′ increase. Stop the height creep! If it doesn’t work for a developer then move along and Ballardize some other town. The majority of Edmonds citizens do not want this. We want to keep our small town charm.

  11. Thank you to all of the citizens who are standing up to keep our town small!
    We do not need building heights increased.
    This will really tell us how much our city council considers our opinions tonight.

  12. Citizens of Edmonds do NOT want building heights increased. Mayor and City Council, if you admire what has taken place in Ballard or Kirkland, than the citizens of Edmonds should reconsider who we vote for to represent us. The citizens of Edmonds would like to keep Edmonds a single-family quaint town. Every inch you give into will destroy what we love about Edmonds.

  13. Sent to Council: Thanks for discussing building heights, always a touchy topic, but it doesn’t have to be. Any height always brings out the “slippery slope” argument and the “Charm of Edmonds”. But, as a community we should discuss what really is the heart of these issues. Many always are opposed to any such discussion but what they say is all about “Preservation”. This applies mostly to the downtown but can pop up in other places.

    The primary reasons the EDC and the Planning Board suggested a height discussion was to see if there were ways add a 3rd story to our DT and to add to our housing stock. The 12 and 15 foot first floor requirements are not really about how business can be conducted but is a way to prevent an owner from rebuilding their property and create a 3rd floor. Current height restriction on the buildings could accommodate a 3rd floor but the first floor height mandate prevents a 3 story plan and stay within the current height limit.

    This would suggest the best outcome is to set into motion a discussion on a “Preservation District.” Where? Why? And how do we do it?

    1. There was likely a reason our leaders of yesteryears had the foresight for the building height limits as they are today – they wanted to preserve Edmonds charm and didn’t want 3 story buildings in the downtown core to ruin that. If it doesn’t pencil out for a developer within the current requirements, maybe their profit expectations are too high? Around Puget Sound, there are so many examples of communities that let developers rule the roost and destroyed the neighborhood charm (Kirkland, Ballard, Fremont, etc) and other examples of communities that stayed with their core values and maintained that local charm. Which will it be Edmonds?

  14. @Darroll: There is a way. Developers and architects need to do a split build on the buildings. Retail is street facing and does not go all the way back. Dwellings start on the back side with equal heights on each floor. In other words, you need to build like a split level. Parking can be integrated very easily into that design. It’s costs more to do so developers would rather have the city lift the height limits.

  15. Darrol’s comment here brings us back to the need for some sort of grassroots ordinary citizen based and formatted Comprehensive Plan that functions to benefit all; or at least the majority of the citizens and the general environment they must live in together. That plan once outlined and officially accepted by our elected Council Representatives would then be used as the basis for the entire code update process with the economic development code portion being the last part of the puzzle addressed instead of the first; or stuck in the middle based on some one individual or special interest groups input(s). The town needs to work for everybody who lives here. The Ebb Tide visioned as a sky scraper did not work for almost everyone early on and as a result it was brought into some sort of of realistic proportions, based on public outcry for reason and the good of all. That need has not changed over time. All we can do is try to make the process better and more equitable for everyone, not just whatever benefits the profit motives or artistic whims of individual landowners.

  16. The agenda item, starting on p. 613 of Council’s packet for tonight, states that staff is not asking for a decision tonight. There is a planned Public Hearing on October 25, proposed action related to BD2 zones on Nov. 15.

    In scanning the materials presented by staff (p.613-685 of Council 10-4-22 packet), and consultant, Long Bay Enterprises, it appears staff is proposing the “minor” height increase, and allowing mixed use in all of downtown, including the waterfront. This is to increase housing, which is really the goal, not more commercial space. One seriously concerning issue is that housing is being proposed at the waterfront, located in an extensive seismic hazard area. Housing is not an “allowed use” per Edmonds code in seismic hazard areas.

    Staff is proposing these changes be adopted into Edmonds Comprehensive Plan. If Council votes to do so (on November 15?) it’s a done deal, and even Council will not be able to undo it. In other words, developers will have at it, and Council will no longer have any recourse.

  17. Political contributions are public information. Watch who is giving money to whom and vote accordingly. I’ve been watching developer contributions for decades and witnessed their results.

  18. As the Chair of the Architectural Design Board, I feel the need to weigh in. My comments are personal and not representing the ADB as a whole. They are also not in regards to any particular project, or design, so I should be cleared from any city interference of stating my opinions here. I do not favor any additional height limit to the BD2 zone so I wish staff and commenters at the City Council meeting would stop using the ADB as leverage to make their point for recommendations to change the code in this zone. There has been many reasons stated as to why this does not make sense for the citizens of Edmonds. The last ADB meeting had 2 members missing and the votes taken were not unanimous. The majority of the vote rules in the end; however, please don’t take the ADB support as everyone was excited about what the city agenda presented.

  19. Thank you Glenn Nelson for the reassurance and the support to keep Edmonds as a small town we deserve to protect our community.

  20. Please don’t lift the height limit. I lived in Kirkland for several years before owning and living in Edmonds. Kirkland is unbelievably ugly to visit now. The council was invaded by tech industry personnel, and now the older businesses that remain need headlights and lamps on in the day due to the towering buildings. The beauty of that city is destroyed, please don’t let that happen to our lovely town of Edmonds.

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