The Edmonds City Council spent most of its three-plus-hour meeting Tuesday night debating the merits of a $649,000 consultant contract for completing the city’s 2024 Comprehensive Plan update, ultimating approving it on a 5-2 vote. Councilmembers also voted 5-2 to double the city’s vehicle license fee — from $20 to $40 annually — to cover increasing road maintenance and construction costs.
While discussing the proposal to authorize the mayor to sign the Comprehensive Plan contract with VIA Architects, councilmembers offered numerous amendments — some approved, others rejected. There were also requests for clarification and worries about the cost.
The Comprehensive Plan is a document that guides the city’s decisions over a 20-year time period, serving as a blueprint for development. It is also meant to reflect the vision and priorities of the city and residents, while meeting the requirements of state and federal law.
Washington State’s Growth Management Act (GMA) requires that cities and counties update their Comprehensive Plans on a periodic schedule. The purpose of the 2024 update is to ensure the city is planning for the next 20 years of population and employment growth. It gives the city an opportunity to review and revise the plan and development regulations to ensure they comply with GMA requirements.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Edmonds Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin and Planning Manager David Levitan were asked several times by councilmembers if there were ways to reduce the scope of the project to save money. The council had originally budgeted $400,000 for the work, but McLaughlin explained that additional community engagment efforts– especially related to the Highway 99 neighborhood — did add to the cost.
That Highway 99-area engagement is a key component to address concerns by neighbors living in the Gateway neighborhood. Councilmembers voted in October 2022 to conduct a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the area after listening to neighbors’ worries about how future growth could impact them, from infrastructure to the environment.
Staff, however, suggested it would be more effective and efficient to conduct a citywide EIS — rather than two separate efforts — as part of the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update, and that concept was included as part of the approved contract.
Edmonds’ projected population in 2044 is expected to be 55,000 to 56,000 people — almost 10,000 more people than were anticipated in 2015, Levitan explained. “It is hard to be looking at the Highway 99 area in a vacuum, when you’re looking to accommodate 9,000 additional units within the entire city,” he said.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis stated the city should reject the contract, and in the end voted against approving it. She said the $650,000 price tag was too expensive and goes beyond what the city needs. She also expressed concern over the list of documents that city staff planned to provide to the consultant, noting that some of them either hadn’t been fully vetted by the council or contained inaccuracies. She also suggested adding other relevant documents that weren’t initially on the list.
This effort prompted questions from Councilmember Jenna Nand regarding the value the city will receive from the contract. She asked if the firm would be rewriting the entire plan or just updating the current one. Planning Manager Levitan replied that there could be “significant changes” in portions of the plan, especially related to housing given recent bills approved by the Washington State Legislature.
Later in the discussion, Nand asked if the planning department could prepare an alternative scope that is $100,000 to $200,000 less than what has been proposed.
“It is our job to bring you a contract that meets the need as well as the most fiscally conservative,” McLaughlin replied, adding she wouldn’t be comfortable reducing the dollar amount “without very specific council direction on what they’re willing to give up.
“I honestly… can’t think of a way that we would slim this budget down and if it would, it would be $20,000 and we would be delayed another month,” McLaughlin continued. “I think time is money and I think we have the best scope we can get with the amount of funding that we have.”
During the discussion of various amendments, Nand also asked if staff could provide a billable rate for the various tasks included in the contract. After Levitan said he didn’t have those figures immediately available, Nand replied that without that information she didn’t feel comfortable voting on amendments that would change the scope of work.
In the end, Nand joined Buckshnis in voting against approval of the Comprehensive Plan contract.
The city council will hold a public hearing during its Tuesday, Aug. 2 council meeting on the draft community vision statement for the Comprehensive Plan and to kick off the next phase of the plan’s public outreach. You can learn more about the development of that draft vision statement here.
The discussion about increasing Edmonds’ vehicle license fee was relatively short, with Public Works and Utilities Director Oscar Antillon explaining that the city’s revenue has not kept up with expenses — with the gap currently at half a million dollars.
Washington state law gives cities the authority to establish transportation benefit districts (TBDs) to impose a car tab fee, with the money designated for transportation improvements. The City of Edmonds formed its own district in 2008, with the Edmonds City Council acting as the district’s independent governing board. In 2009, the Edmonds TBD board authorized an annual $20 fee on vehicle license renewals within the City of Edmonds, but the city can go as high as $40.
The measure will generate an additional $700,000 in revenue for city road improvements, and can only be used for that purpose.
Buckshnis spoke against the measure, callling it a regressive tax and stating further that this shortfall should have been addressed as part of the city’s regular budget process.
Nand agreed that the increase will be difficult for some people to absorb. After Councilmember Will Chen moved to approve the vehicle license increase, Nand proposed an amendment offering a fee refund o those who qualify for other social services programs.
Nand’s amendment failed on a 3-4 vote. Some councilmembers said that while they appreciated the thought behind the proposal, they believed it should be further vetted — especially in terms of how it would be implemented by city staff.
The fee increase was approved 5-2, with Chen, Teitzel, Council President Neil Tibbott, Susan Paine and Vivian Olson voting in favor and Buckshnis and Nand opposed.
The third item on the business meeting agenda — a resolution regarding 2024 council budget priorities — was moved to next week’s consent agenda for approval.
The council also approved as part of its Tuesday night consent agenda five community members appointed to fill positions on the Edmonds Citizens Salary Commission, as well as vacancies for the Edmonds Tree Board and an alternate on the Edmonds Planning Board.
The council reinstated the salary commission in 2022 after disbanding it in 2021. It will review salaries of elected officials, and determine whether that pay should be increased or decreased.
The new salary commission members are Kathy Ehrlich, Gary Holton, Angela Zhang, Bill Taylor and Brook Roberts. The new tree board member is Ian Higgins and the planning board alternate is Emiy Nutsch.
— By Teresa Wippel