Council OKs permanent design standards for Hwy 99 area, approves Edmonds Marsh MOU

Council President Neil Tibbott

After approving amendments to strengthen community engagement efforts, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night unanimously passed permanent design standards for Highway 99 area development projects.

The vote followed a public hearing last week on the permanent standards for certain projects zoned general commercial as part of the Highway 99 subarea plan.

The proposed standards — discussed at the May 2 city council meeting — replaced those contained in an emergency interim ordinance approved by the council Dec. 10. The council ordinance was aimed at addressing concerns voiced by Gateway neighborhood residents regarding the planned 261-unit Terrace Place apartment building there.

The council approved a planning board recommendation to revise the interim ordinance so that it requires a 10-foot stepback at 25 feet and a 30-foot stepback for buildings over 55 feet when adjacent to or across the street from single-family zones. Buildings 55 feet and under would be exempt from stepback requirements. Also approved was a planning board recommendation to eliminate an Architectural Design Board review for such projects required in the interim ordinance. That was to comply with the state Legislature’s recently approved House Bill 1293, aimed at streamlining development regulations.

However, the council did approve an amendment by Council President Neil Tibbott to require developers to host a pre-application neighborhood meeting so those located near any proposed project would have a chance to learn more and ask questions early in the process. Tibbott also had proposed that a notice of such meetings be mailed at least 14 days in advance to all property owners located within a 500-foot radius of the project. (That’s an increase from the 300 feet contained in the draft ordinance, which is standard in other parts of the city.) After Councilmember Jenna Nand commented that as a renter, she thought all residents should be notified, Councilmember Susan Paine moved to amend Tibbott’s motion, changing the notification to go to all residents — rather than property owners — living within 500 feet of a proposed development.

The applicant would pay for all costs related to the mailing.

“I, and I’m sure a lot of my fellow councilmembers, have heard over and over again, people tell us I didn’t know about a particular project,” Councilmember Dave Teitzel said in supporting Tibbott’s amendment. “I think we should lean toward more notice as opposed to less, and this does that.”

Paine then asked if the notification requirements could be applied citywide. City Planning Manager David Levitan responded that such an action could be accomplished as part of the separate ordinance at a different time.

The council approved both the amendment, as amended by Paine, and the main motion, unanimously.

In other action, the council revisted a proposed memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) related the Unocal property located next to the Edmonds Marsh. (A memorandum of understanding is a nonbinding agreement that states each party’s intentions to take action.)

An aerial photo of the Unocal property undergoing cleanup.

In January 2005, WSDOT and Unocal entered into a purchase and sale agreement for the property, a former bulk fuel terminal and asphalt production plant. At the time, WSDOT intended to use the site for a multimodal transportation center known as Edmonds Crossing, but that plan has been abandoned. Since 2017, contractors for Chevron — which purchased the property from Unocal — have been working under a Department of Ecology order to clean up contamination on the site.

City of Edmonds officials and marsh advocates have been hopeful that the city could eventually purchase the property from WSDOT, which would assist with both the city’s marsh restoration and Willow Creek daylighting efforts and promote the return of salmon runs there.

The council spent nearly two hours at its April 18 meeting discussing the MOU, which was advocated by Mayor Mike Nelson as a way to ensure marsh restoration. As councilmembers debated the issue, they voted 4-3 to draft a letter to the state that demonstrates Edmonds is committed to the state’s environmental goals when it comes to the Unocal property — regardless of when or whether the MOU is signed.

That draft letter was presented for council consideration Tuesday night. However, after much discussion about its contents, councilmembers voted 4-3 to support a motion from Councilmember Diane Buckshnis to table it until after the State Department of Ecology releases its latest findings on the Unocal property cleanup. Those are expected later this summer.

Then it came time to discuss the memorandum of understanding itself.

Edmonds Community and Economic Development Director Todd Tatum, who has been the staff lead on the MOU effort, assured the council that the city is aware of the risks related to owning a property that is undergoing containmination cleanup. He said it’s important that the city conduct its “due diligence” as part of the memorandum of understanding.

“If we find out something through the due diligence process that makes us not want to own the property, the MOU doesn’t force us into it, nor does it obligate a dollar in the process,” Tatum said. He also recommended using a portion of the dollars set aside for the property purchase to hire a consultant to aid in “getting a better understanding of legal risks of the property with potential toxins and getting a better understanding of what the value of that property might be out there in the market.”

Noting that there was much concern in the community related to the marsh cleanup and what next steps should be, Nand moved to table the memorandum of understanding until July, to allow for more information to come forward from the Department of Ecology. But that failed on a 3-4 vote.

Councilmember Will Chen then moved to direct the mayor to sign the MOU. Councilmember Vivian Olson followed with an amendment to require council authority to impose spending limits on the project. Paine then suggested that Olson’s amendment would be better positioned as a separate resolution related to internal city spending, a point confirmed by City Attorney Jeff Taraday. As a result, Olson withdrew her amendment and moved to table the MOU until a resoluation regarding spending limits could come before the council. That proposal failed on 3-4 vote.

More amendments followed. First, Buckshnis proposed adding language that specifies property cleanup “should be commensurate with city’s use of site for salmon restoration.” Tatum replied that the level of the cleanup was not in the purview of agreement and didn’t think that WSDOT would accept it. So then Teitzel amended Buckshnis’ amendment, stating the city’s intended use “is to rehabilitate near-shore habitat for salmon and related species.” After hearing from staff that language was likely to be acceptable to WSDOT, that amendment was approved.

The final vote on the MOU was approved 6-1, with Buckshnis voting no.

The issue of a budget control did arise later in the meeting, however, when the council approved a motion by Olson to direct the city attorney to bring back at a later date a resolution related to spending limits for the MOU.

In other business Tuesday, the council adopted a proposed 2024 budget planning calendar, which includes community outreach events in June. A discussion regarding adoption of an ordinance to add a compost procurement requirement to comply with state law was delayed to a future meeting.

South County Fire Commissioners and staff meet with the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night.

Prior to the business meeting, the council held its annual joint meeting with the South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority Commissioners. Among the items discussed was the financial implications of the City of Edmonds joining the Regional Fire Authority, which now includes surrounding cities where voters have approved annexation. (Edmonds’ fire services are provided under contract to South County Fire.)

Councilmember Olson said she would like to learn more about how such a move would affect Edmonds residents, and Mayor Mike Nelson stated he believed that move made sense.

“I think if you just look at it objectively, with all the cities that have joined, the amount of fire staffing that has increased at all the stations, the public safety benefits alone of joining the RFA are undeniable,” Nelson said.

— By Teresa Wippel


  1. I think joining with RFA is reasonable. What I don’t like at all is the location mentioned at the old Value Village location. Way too much traffic W and E ane N and South. Our hospital was for sick people. Sirens already all of the time. Crime too. I would suggest another idea for location.

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