Council agrees to let staff finish work on Landmark 99 proposal; OKs parkland agreement and utility rate increase

Edmonds City Council President Neil Tibbott, center, ran Monday’s meeting in Mayor Mike Nelson’s absence.

After impassioned debate, the Edmonds City Council Monday night decided not to move forward with a resolution asking the city to stop work on the proposed Landmark 99 project. Instead, councilmembers voted 4-3 to postpone a vote on the matter until Dec. 5, which gives staff another month to finish its work on recommendations for the nearly 10-acre Burlington Coat Factory site in southeast Edmonds.

“We are in a fiscal crisis now,” Councilmember Dave Teitzel said in introducing his proposal to direct the city attorney to draft a resolution expressing the council’s intent not to move forward with the project. Teitzel noted that he was the swing vote when the council in June voted to approve a $100,000 refundable deposit on the property while staff explored the possible $37 million purchase. It is being considered as a possible site for housing, parks and public and community spaces — possibly as part of a private-public partnership. Now, the city is facing increasing budget stress, yet is spending money on real estate experts, land-use consultants and staff time to look at options that it can no longer afford, Teitzel added. “We need to get back to basics,” he said, adding the money spent on the Landmark site could instead be used for services ranging from sidewalks to streets to more park space to public safety.

Edmonds faces an ending budget fund balance of $6.64 million this year, requiring the city to dip into its reserves. The council held a special budget workshop in October to discuss possible solutions, including Mayor Mike Nelson’s proposal to transfer to the general fund budget $6.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $2 million from the building maintenance fund. The mayor has also proposed installing red-light cameras at six of the city’s most traffic crash-prone intersections, which he said will address traffic safety but is also projected to generate millions of dollars in revenue from violators.

Teitzel’s motion to have the city attorney prepare a resolution to effectively cancel the project was supported by Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis and Vivian Olson. Buckshnis said the city simply doesn’t have the money to pursue the measure. “It would be great if we had money grow on trees, but it doesn’t grow on trees,” she said. Also citing the city’s budget woes, Olson said she was hopeful that private entities would come forward to invest in the site.

Councilmember Jenna Nand, who lives close to the Landmark property, strongly pushed back against Teitzel’s motion, calling it premature because staff hasn’t had time to fully investigate options for the site. Pointing to the $13 million invested in the newly opened Civic Playfield in downtown Edmonds, she stressed that southeast Edmonds deserves investments too. “I encourage my colleagues not to kill this project tonight,” Nand said.

Teitzel countered that during a recent community meeting on the Landmark project, he spoke with two mothers who lived in the neighborhood and “they both told me they’d love to go to Mathay Ballinger Park…but we need sidewalks. That’s what we want.”

Councilmember Will Chen asked the two of the three department directors working on the project — Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin and Community, Culture and Economic Development Director Todd Tatum — how much money had been spent so far on the project and McLaughlin replied that it was less than the mayor’s budget authority of $100,000 without council approval.

Addressing cost concerns, Tatum said he doesn’t believe the city’s investment in the property will be close to $37 million. “I don’t think that we have been allowed to get to the point where we can tell you specifically what those funds are. I know that it will be significantly less than that,” Tatum said. “Once we get a partner on board, we’ll be able to understand what our investment in this property will be.

“I frankly am not committed to making this project happen,” Tatum added. “I am very committed to getting the right answers so we make an informed decision.”

Chen made a motion to postpone further council discussion on Teitzel’s motion until Dec. 5, and that was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Buckshnis, Teitzel and Olson voting against. Under that timeline, staff will hold another community meeting Nov. 18, then prepare a presentation to council — set for Nov. 28 — on site design options and community input, with council action the following week.

The Landmark 99 decision came after the council earlier in the meeting voted to approve a resolution declaring a fiscal emergency and authorizing the city to use general fund operating reserves for 2023 general fund expenses.  The “fiscal emergency” language had originally been proposed by Councilmember Diane Buckshnis during a council meeting two weeks ago. However, there weren’t enough votes at the time to support the language, and the council agreed instead to title it a “structural budget imbalance” — although the final resolution wasn’t approved and a revised version was introduced Monday.

“I cannot go without saying we are in a fiscal emergency and so I am going to go back to my original resolution,” Buckshnis said. That resolution, with a few amendments, was approved unanimously.

L-R: The first two photos show the Mee property, which borders Mathay Ballinger Park. The third photo shows a view of the park from the property.

In other business Tuesday, the council unanimously approved a purchase-and-sale agreement for a one-acre property in southeast Edmonds that would allow for the expansion of Mathay Ballinger Park. Councilmembers expressed delight about the potential purchase, which would expand the park’s footprint by 55%.

The purchase price is $925,000, which could be covered by the more than $1 million in the city’s parkland acquisition fund, said Parks, Recreation and Human Services Director Angie Feser said. However, Feser added that the city has applied for a 2023 Snohomish County Conservation Future Program (SCCFP) grant that will cover 75% of acquistion and related costs up to $880,000. The city’s grant proposal received a green light from the SCCFP board and is now awaiting county council approval in December.

Mathay Ballinger Park is already scheduled to see several improvements in 2024, including construction of an accessible path to the playground, a permanent restroom, parking lot improvements, a picnic shelter and tables, benches and a drinking fountain.

The council also unanimously adopted an ordinance that will increase the average bimonthly residential utility bill by $24.84 — or 9.5% — followed by a 9.6% increase in 2025 and a 9.3% hike in 2026.

The increase reflects wholesale cost increases from Alderwood Water and Wastewater District, which sells water to the city, along with ongoing water main repairs. In addition, the city plans to invest $20 million in stormwater utility projects that include long-discussed Lake Ballinger infiltration and critical work to address flooding in the Perrinville Creek Basin.

During a Monday night public hearing on the 2024 budget, the majority of public comments were focused on supporting a city budget request for a Climate Action Manager to help the city move forward in achieving its 2023 Climate Action Plan goals. Some commenters also expressed their opposition to a proposal for red-light cameras.

The council will hear more about the red-light cameras during a presentation by Police Chief Michelle Bennett during next week’s Nov. 14 meeting.

Finally, the council had additional discussion about, and made amendments to, the city’s proposed 2024-2029 Capital Facilities Plan and Capital Improvement Program.

Consideration of a 2023 budget amendment that would transfer $6.5 million in American Rescue Plant Act (ARPA) funds to the city’s general fund was delayed to a future meeting.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Vote people. Today is the day to vote. Red light cameras (that have been proven to increase rear end accidents, result in very few dollars for public interest, and are better served at hot spots), Fiscal emergencies, overspending, continuous tax increases and growth in government, and some new administration staff members should be enough to either support what is happening or change it. The power of the vote IS the power of the people.

  2. I was hopeful that we’d have a sane council next year, but now those hopes have been dashed with two of the current sane ones, Buckshnis and Teitzel, being soon gone. The vote on the Landmark 99 project showed that we have four very questionable councilmembers. It doesn’t matter how great a project this would be for our city – WE DON’T HAVE THE MONEY FOR IT. And because the city blundered spending so much money on the City Playfield doesn’t mean that the blunder should be repeated.

  3. From a budgetary perspective, this decision on the Landmark site can’t be kicked down the road to the next Council and administration. How does this current Council adopt a balanced budget for 2024 not knowing the direction we’re taking on this Landmark site? How much do they budget for it with money we don’t have? Last night was the worst possible outcome – not knowing. Something has to give. I’m not sure some of our council members really understand the financial situation we’re in. I hope those who voted to do nothing last night are the first to stand up and tell city employees they’re about to be laid off. That’s where we’re heading.

  4. Utility taxes going up to pay for the ship problems our government created for us with their experimental sewage system 30% in 3 years. Property taxes going up because our government can’t live on record revenues, it needs more. Schools want ever greater funding but fail to deliver well educated students. Property taxes continue rise because assessed valuation sees no indication of slowing down just like inflation has increased the cost of everything way more than government admits to. The result is people ever closer to the edge and a government growing by leaps and bounds with few dollars ever funneling down to the people their policies impact most. As sad state of affairs if you ask me, I hope you voted because we need to start throwing the bums out.

  5. This is just craziness. Property the City does not need at a price it cannot afford. This terrible idea needs to die. In the mean time water and sewer rates increase 32% over five years. Too bad Seniors on fixed incomes, Edmonds is not for you. Maybe you will enjoy living in Pe ELL.

  6. One thing for sure, is the potential new Council Members have had a really great chance to observe how it shouldn’t be done and, if they are really smart, they will key in on how Dave and Diane have approached the job in the interest of all the citizens. If Nelson, Paine and Eck win this election, you can count on layoffs and desperate schemes to keep all the financial balls in the air. Even if they don’t win, things will become tight in the next few years. Financing this town with traffic fines is not going to fly and buying the Landmark property is not and never has been a viable option; yet these people keep it dangled in the air for political purposes. (Yes that’s you Will and Jenna). Frankly, I don’t know how they sleep at night, buying into this obvious scam.

    1. CM Chen Has a problem. As a financial professional he makes his money giving sage advice. The council is just a side gig. If he keeps playing games with the nonsensical Landmark project, it’s probably start hurting his personal image brand, and that will be very bad for his main financial business.

  7. Well we need to at least spend the 100k because as McLaughlin said we have spent less than the 100k which means somewhere between $1 and $99,999, which seemed to be a satisfactory answer to the new council squad. Why is acceptance of that answer not surprising considering the financial mess the city is in. Hopefully we have a new mayor and a few new adult council members to end this madness and get the house in order.

  8. Looking at these first election returns this morning, I’d say there is now some hope for a better tomorrow for Edmonds’ governance but the results, if they hold, are a bit of a mixed bag really. We aren’t totally ridding ourselves of partisan party politics interference but getting rid of Nelson would dampen that trend substantially, which is a good thing. Over all, it looks like we might be headed for a better place, if these results hold. Succeeding Diane with Michelle as a CM is a great result and will go a long ways toward obtaining better financial policy, I hope. Like Diane, Michelle is a strong woman who has been a success in the private sector and I think we need many more people like this in our government systems in general.

  9. On the downside today, is the fact that Ms. Eck will take her seat on the Council before the Landmark decision is considered again and she will almost without doubt push for the continued support of this program into the next Administration. That, I think, is unfortunate for the future financial health of our city.

    1. Leaving action on the Landmark issue until immediately after CM Teitzel leaves the coumcil is inappropriate and sleazy. I have requested that Council President Tibbott reschedule this issue to a meeting prior to Teitzel’s departure.

  10. Yes, Clinton mixed results. As you have pointed out many times Edmond’s government is top heavy in favor of the mayor. The mayor elect has come out against the Landmark project as being financially implausible. The project may linger a little longer like a bad odor but eventually it will clear because it doesn’t make sense. He is probably going to want to have his own team, which means some current directors might want to start beefing up their resumes, at least a couple of them have been questionable. The city had some serious financial problems and they’re not going to be solved with red light cameras or free gifts (grants). The city will probably muddle along but hoping for the best.

  11. Some of these races could tighten but 10 % differences generally don’t get overcome. As Mr. Reidy points out, our elected officials often don’t know what their proper roles are and even if and when their official actions go against Washington State Municipal law. Our city Attorney has not had a good record of advising as to what is legal and what is not; way to often stating hunches or theories as to what might be right or wrong.

    Mr. Rosen will have much to learn and much to try to fix and I don’t envy him the task. If Ms. Paine and Ms. Eck go ahead to win, I hope they will think a lot more about what their proper role should be in terms of representing everyone in town and I feel the same about Mr. Chin and Ms. Nand. I’m going to try to be more open minded and maybe more open to understanding where these folks are coming from in their actions. This is going to be a good test of how much of our problem is systemic in nature, rather than just choosing the right people to represent us. If things don’t drastically improve, it’s time to look at the system and make some changes.

  12. Congratulations and thank you for your time to all the others. I am thrilled to see Mayor Elect Rosen in action, and I am good with all of the other votes too. I think Ms. Eck will be ok here on our council and I do like here inclusive attitude with housing all over our city. At this stage we don’t know much about our new council members, so I am eager to see them in action. I am not so sure that Ms. Eck will support Landmark. I like to think that it is pretty obvious that most citizens for fiscal reasons don’t want that acquisition that she will be reasonable in that decision. I am happy to see Susan will still be with us and she too I think will support all of Edmonds. Making money and not spending when we don’t have it is key and once, we do have it we can do much more everywhere. Everyone should like this I think. I do.

  13. Councilmembers voted 4-3 on November 6th to postpone a vote on Councilmember Teitzel’s Main Motion until Dec. 5.

    Council failed to do so last night. Now what?

    I’ve asked Council President Neil Tibbott to please inform his constituents how the Motion to POSTPONE to December 5 should have been handled.

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