The Edmonds City Council at its Tuesday meeting agreed to increase the number of hens allowed at a single-family residence from three to six, voted to ban dogs from Brackett’s Landing North Park and had a lengthy discussion about a staff request to use $250,000 of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pay for consultant costs related to the Landmark 99 proposal.
A decision on the Landmark 99 funding is scheduled for the Aug. 22 council meeting.
Three department directors — Parks, Recreation and Human Services’ Angie Feser, Community Services/Economic Development’s Todd Tatum and Planning and Development’s Susan McLaughlin — came before the council Tuesday night to make their case for the $250,000 allocation. The 10-plus-acre site is home to the current Burlington Coat Factory and Aurora Antique Pavilion and the now-closed Mick Finster’s.
The asking price for the property– located at the southern end of Edmonds’ Highway 99 corridor — is $37 million. During its June 27 meeting, the council voted 3-1 with two abstentions and one absence to authorize Mayor Mike Nelson to sign an option agreement for the possible future purchase of the site, putting down a $100,000 deposit that is refundable if the council chooses not to pursue it by the end of the year. Some of the ideas put forth so far for the site include parkland, a community or civic center, a police station and affordable housing.
The $250,000 staff is requesting for the project was originally allocated for facade improvements to businesses impacted by the COVID pandemic. Staff admitted they have not advertised the facade program — approved by the council as part of the city’s 2023 budget — because they determined it would be difficult to administer.
Some councilmembers stated that using the $250,000 for consultant fees wasn’t an appropriate use of ARPA funds. These concerns were echoed by a few community members who testified during the meeting’s public comment period.
However, Planning Director Susan McLaughlin disagreed, stating that the objective for the facade program “was to revitalize, recognizing the impacts to the pandemic.”
“Staff fully believes that investing in the southern corridor of Highway 99 will truly lead to revitalization at a grander scale” than the facade program, she added.
McLaughlin then described how consultant dollars would be spent, including due diligence, master planning, development strategy and project communication.
Councilmember Jenna Nand said that although she is a strong supporter of the Landmark 99 project, she believes that funding is still needed for the facade program — adding that she could think of numerous businesses that could use the money. She suggested that if the city couldn’t administer the program, perhaps the money should be given to the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce for distribution.
Councilmember Will Chen agreed with Nand that the city shouldn’t use the designated ARPA funds for consulting fees. In fact, Chen said, it was too soon for the city to be spending any money on consultants and that should wait until the council decides whether to move forward with the property purchase. In addition, Chen expressed concern that the proposal was taking up considerable time of the three department directors and that impacted their ability to work on other key city projects.
Councilmember Susan Paine asked McLaughlin about the ability of staff to complete a master plan on the site before the end of year. McLaughlin replied that staff believes it’s critical to complete such a plan before further decisions can be made on the property.
The city has issued a community poll as a first step “in engaging people about what they want to see on the site,” McLaughlin said. It asks respondents to rank the top three desirable land uses for the property. As of Monday, 714 people had responded and the top four choices were housing, park space, a police annex and a community center.
The city also plans to do a mailing to those living within a half-mile radius around the site, she said.
Councilmember Vivian Olson stated that the project was a large undertaking for a small city like Edmonds and wondered if it would be better for the city to engage with nearby jurisdictions to partner for any future project there. Both Tatum and McLaughlin replied that they have done some initial outreach to other jurisdictions but stressed they believe there must be be a plan in place before any partnerships are formed.
“It’s really important to have an idea that’s really clear to attract partners,” Tatum said. “When you’re just kind of going fishing in the dark with a worm hoping to catch something, you don’t often catch something.”
Council President Neil Tibbott asked whether staff could make do with less than $250,000. “I think that $250,000 is a fair and lean estimate for the work that we think should be done to give us all the tools that we need to make decisions,” Tatum replied.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis was the last to speak, stating she believed the council needed to be realistic about the heavy workload it has ahead for myriad other issues, from the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update to addressing Climate Action Plan implementation to tackling troubles at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
“I think this is a very expensive and risky venture,” she said.
Buckshnis then made a motion that the council “walk away” from the Landmark 99 project, rescind the option agreement and request return of the city’s $100,000 deposit.
That motion was hotly debated, with both Councilmembers Paine and Nand arguing the Highway 99 area has been underserved and deserves the same type of investments seen in other parts of Edmonds.
Olson replied that the Landmark 99 project “wasn’t about investing in a community. This is a development plan, I do believe it’s too big, it’s too risky and it’s too distracting from our core city functions in terms of staff bandwidth.”
Chen said he wasn’t ready to walk away from the project yet, but he did reiterate his belief that no consultant dollars should be spent on researching the property. He also cautioned about focusing on low-income housing for the site, noting that such projects should be spread throughout the city.
Teitzel added while he agrees that the Highway 99 area is underserved, he believes there are other projects the council could implement in the area involving public safety, parks and green space that community members have asked for.
Tibbott responded that “there’s nothing of that size and that scale that would allow us to do a whole variety of things. Maybe small pieces here and there but nothing where we could have the kind of impact we’re talking about with this site.”
In the end, the council vote on Buckhsnis’ proposal was 3-4, wth Buckshnis, Olson and Teitzel voting in favor and Chen, Nand, Paine and Tibbott opposed.
The council also had a robust debate about a proposed code amendment that would close Brackett’s Landing North — which is a marine sanctuary — to dogs. This would only involve the portion of of the city’s waterfront walkway that runs along Brackett’s Landing North, located north of the ferry terminal. The rest of the walkway, from Brackett’s Landing South to Marina Beach, would rmain open to leashed dogs.
The code amendment, which was discussed at last week’s parks and public works committee meeting, was developed by Buckshnis. She explained that volunteers who maintain the City’s Dive Park — also located at Brackett’s Landing North — approached the city about closing the area because dogs were disturbing sensitive wildlife areas.
A major bone of contention among some councilmembers was whether and how the ordinance would be enforced. There is a $100 fine for violators, but some councilmembers said tickets are rarely issued. No one from the police department or animal control was present at the meeting to address those questions, and Olson proposed tabling the discussion until the council could get more clarity on the plans for enforcement. That was defeated by a 3-4 vote.
The council ended up passing the dog ban by a 6-1 vote. The sole opponent was Tibbott, who had attempted earlier to remove the language banning dogs from Brackett’s Landing North — essentially keeping the rules as they have been. That proposal failed on a 1-5 vote with Tibbott voting yes and Olson abstaining.
In other business, the council:
– Unanimously approved an ordinance that increases the number of allowed hens per single-family residence from three to six. This was also discussed during last week’s committee meetings.
– Received a 2023 second-quarter financial update from Finance Director Dave Turley. Buckshnis noted that the city is “outpacing our expenses over our revenues terribly compared to last year” and asked Turley if he had plans to address that. He replied that he is working on those numbers and will be submitting information to the mayor, who will be reviewing it as part of his development of a proposed 2024 city budget.
– Also approved by a 6-1 vote (Teitzel opposed) an ordinance to amend city code related to city attorney and city prosecutor hiring practices and performance reviews. The measure permanently creates a legal assessment committee — consisting of councilmembers — to assess city attorney and city prosecutor’s performance.
— By Teresa Wippel