Reader view: Why Landmark property purchase should not be pursued

On June 27, 2023, the Edmonds City Council approved pursuit of the potential purchase of the 10-acre Burlington Coat Factory parcel on Highway 99 — now known as the “Landmark property.” I was the swing vote in the council consideration of this issue that evening and voted in favor due to my perception of the very low financial risk of exploring this purchase. It was explained to council the only requirement to explore the potential purchase was a deposit of $100,000, which was fully refundable if the city declined to pursue the purchase of the property beyond Dec. 31, 2023.

However, it is now clear the expenses and risks associated with the purchase of the Landmark property far exceed those council understood on June 27. In hindsight, I regret my vote and hope the new council determines it is not the right time to pursue purchase of this parcel.

The city is in a council-declared fiscal emergency in 2023 and will continue to be in 2024 without immediate, strong actions. The administration and council have a duty to be responsible stewards of taxpayer funds and need to act to enhance revenues and control expenses to deliver the services our constituents expect. We know our citizens have these clear expectations about services provided by the city: great public safety, more and better sidewalks, streets in good repair, more parks and open space within comfortable walking distance for all residents (this is a particular priority identified in the city’s current Parks/Recreation/Open Space plan), excellent fire/EMS services, responsive government, etc.  In other words, they expect us to deliver the basics and do them well. Especially in times of an extremely stressed city budget, we certainly need to get back to the basics. Pursuit of speculative property acquisition and development is well beyond the basics.

While imagining a range of potential uses for the Landmark property can be exciting, the $37 million purchase price (not to mention future development costs) — coupled with the high cost in 2023 and 2024 of pursuing the purchase as well as the significant investment in staff time — is simply not a prudent use of taxpayer resources at this time.  Further, it is clear our residents desire more parks and open space well distributed in areas that currently have little of this space — including in the greater Highway 99 area. A large, expensive parcel such as the Landmark property at the very southern border of Edmonds that isn’t within easy walking distance for most southeast Edmonds residents does not satisfy the need for well-distributed parks and open space, and such a large investment in a single parcel will reduce available funding for well-distributed park and open space amenities.

It should also be noted that, should Edmonds decline to pursue purchase of the Landmark site, all new tax and fees revenues associated with standard development of the site will flow to Edmonds, such as: traffic impact fees, park impact fees, real estate excise taxes, sales taxes, etc. These fees and taxes could well run into the millions in new city revenue — revenue that can be used to invest directly in desperately needed new sidewalks, parks/open space and other amenities for southeast Edmonds neighborhoods on both sides of Highway 99.

Especially at this time of extreme financial stress for the city, now is not the time for Edmonds to be engaging in financially risky real estate speculation. I strongly encourage citizens and Edmonds City Council to oppose continued pursuit of the purchase of the Landmark property at this time.

— By Dave Teitzel

Dave Teitzel is a former Edmonds City Councilmember

  1. Dave, Well said, we all seem to have 20/20 hindsight. I hope “they” are listening. However, the train seems to be coming down the track with a bunch of deaf ears, and no common sense. The first thing is the HUGE financial cost, which will be constant for more years than anyone knows and the City is flat broke now. Why it is even being considered is beyond average comprehension, makes NO sense. As you and Diane have made very clear .

  2. I agree with Dave. The purchase of this property is best left to private investors and not the city. I don’t think we are in a position to be spending or borrowing this much money and setting ourselves up for much more in expense to develop the property.

  3. Thanks for your candor, Dave. You made the best decision you could given the overall business environment and City financial information available at that time. However, both have changed for the worse in the six months since that initial decision. Hopefully the new council will have the character and financial understanding to pass on this “shiny babble” of an opportunity.

  4. Thank you, Dave, for your insightful and clear-eyed observations.
    The city has a great amount of power in and of itself. Not only can it issue any number of taxes and fees, as you stated, but it controls zoning, permiting, regulations and rules. It can use those powers to significantly govern how the property gets used. Point Wells is a good example of how things can slow down indefinately.
    However, if the city buys the property and needs a public/private partnership to afford it, it will likely have to get in bed with powerful financial interests – see the articles in the Seattle Times on the Woodinville Gardens District. Or raise taxes.
    It’s asking to get stuck in a decades-deep financial and political quagmire.
    Plus, we simply can’t afford it.

  5. Thanks Dave,
    Kristiana Johnson would be proud of your comments. You had big shoes to fill in taking over her position after she passed away.
    You did it very well, and always, in a thoughtful manner with respect to everyone involved.

  6. It seems like this project is more of a résumé building program for certain department heads.
    Perhaps it’s time for them to actually dust off their resumes and seek employment elsewhere. And thanks Dave, for your letter and service.

  7. Edmonds has once again blown through taxpayers’ (I have been paying property taxes for 25 years here) money with multiple lovely upgrades to downtown. I remember listening to the council meetings around the Creative District spending and the Civic Field project and those were touted as doing the “right thing” for Edmonds. Close to divinely anointed. My neighborhood? Zero improvements. Seriously zero. The fiscal responsibility mantras seem to be raised only at projects outside of the beloved bowl. I’m behind this is not the right time to purchase another large property but the fiscal responsibility chorus is falling flat on me.

  8. I think it should be very clear that the financial situation did NOT change in the past 6 months . What changed was the post election disclosure that our finances are worse than previously disclosed and a mess. I’m convinced this information was purposely withheld until the election was over. I’m also convinced if the Mayor we recently fired had won the election we might very well still not know the true financial situation until the decision on Landmark was made. This is my opinion but I hope the new mayor and council will get to the bottom of it and hold those responsible accountable. Regardless, either information was purposely withheld before the election or those in charge of city finances are incompetent to miss the mark by so much and not realize sooner the financial disaster the community faces. It’s all fixable if we have a strong mayor and supportive council that wants to fix it. I hope we do.

    1. It seems apparent that as long as the City Council and city staff pursue the Landmark 99 project, they are not serious about addressing our budget crisis. The basics which are the core of a well functioning civil government will continue to be back-shelved so don’t expect those services to operate as they should.

    2. Folks – in addition to NOW having a projected FYE ending general fund balance of less than $1mm (recall the City receives the lions share of revenue via property taxes) means drastic measures have to occur as the “burn rate” could take the City to borrowing sooner than anticipated.

      Please read my commentary on why Hwy specific ordinance #4079 was repealed! It dealt with the lack of adequate codes or updated environmental reviews to name a few. Without good code, especially on developer agreements-someone will make money and it won’t be the City!

      Ask ANY commercial developer and they will tell you that property’s value is no where near $37mm. Why use fear of potential sale to jump in? With current interest rates – developers are not purchasing and developing.

      The purchase agreement benefits the seller with “as is” clauses and a non-refundable $500k (next step) clause. Where is the $$$?

      We must face reality that “taxpayers money” is at stake; this expensive and time consuming review needs to stop. I speculate we’ve spent about $1mm on bandwidth working all angles to come up with three models and they look great! But too much risk given lack of code, no operating money, overpriced off-market deal at $37 million, no environmental update, bandwidth of staff, and challenges in purchase agreement.

      We are not playing “Monopoly”!

  9. As long as we are “The Bowl,” and “Not the Bowl,” Edmond’s government and finances will be a total mess, especially with the top down system dynamics of Mayor/Staff power over and controlling of actual grass roots citizen input. Our part-time Council is routinely fed biased half truth or cherry picked information to make decisions on and then blamed when the decisions go South for one reason or another. Our City Attorney’s legal advice is too often borderline useless, based on “hunches” and “assumptions” about what the state codes clearly state or mean.

    Connie Weintz’ comment here is totally right. When I saw all those truck loads of dirt and drainage pipe being hauled onto the Civic Field project, I knew the city was probably going broke. Instead of making a natural pond where it wants to develop, the city spent thousands putting in fill and drainpipe in just another form over function project which was ill thought out from the get go. I guess it’s just high time Hwy 99 gets it’s biased and ill thought out special project too. At least that’s how many on our new Council will see it based on the last CC meeting. I hope Rosen can “stop the crazy” but “they” will not make it easy for him.

    1. Clinton,

      Yes, “the city spent thousands putting in fill and drainpipe” and destroyed a peat bog, , irreparably damaging a valuable environmental asset and dramatically increasing Edmonds’ carbon footprint in the process. We could have left the peat bog intact AND created a beautiful park, but Edmonds’ administrations’ “think big” attitude eliminated that possibility. That same “think big” attitude, expressed by Councilmember Tibbott who has consistently supported this project, has led Edmonds to this critical decision making point.

      Landmark 99 can’t be accessed via Highway 99 so, if this purchase happens, neighboring property owners will be subjected to years of massive trucks, hauling debris out, construction materials in, spewing pollution into the air they breathe. The same neighborhoods will accommodate most, if not all, traffic going into and out of the development, once completed.

      Back out of the option, get our $100,000 back. Explore purchase of the forested area for a park. Focus on other options for a community center and other amenities that are needed in South Edmonds.

  10. This whole highway 99 housing project has been very frustrating to watch as the Edmonds administration dishonestly presented and pushed it forward. A few of the council members who are well meaning but naive and frankly financially illiterate have gone along. I suspect the whole thing eventually will fall like a house of cards. This is unfortunate, the area could really use some upgrades and this will either delay or bankrupt what would be practical solutions to enhance the neighborhood. And the righteous council members pushing this Highly Questionable project will raise their hands and say, “see we are victims again.”

  11. Thank you Dave for your thorough review, and analysis.
    For those of you who have not followed the Woodinville project, I’d like to include some quotes from a front page article in today’s Seattle Times. Header,” Developer drops project with Molback’s, apartments”
    This 19 acre project would have included Molback’s, shops and apartments. The reason for shelving the project was not given by the developer.
    City Manager Brandon Buchanan noted”developers across the industry are facing challenge at this time. Everything is more expensive than 3 years ago.”
    Susan McLaughlin and crew has sold this on the basis of three other projects which our Council Members will visit tomorrow. This will not be true comparison because of the current economic climate and the fact that our city is in a fiscal emergency. Moving forward with this project is fiscally irresponsible.
    Finally, this is not a Bowl vs 99 issue. We will all “pay” if the Council votes to continue ill advised project.

    1. Thank you Dave for your excellent summary and your leadership on the city council. You have stayed away from personal attacks and responded with integrity.
      I am hopeful that our new mayor and the CC will curb our spending “visionaries” and regain our fiscal responsibility, instead of going for the old “razzle-dazzle” which can sound sweet at the moment.

  12. This is a different Woodinville project. The one discussed by the City is the Woodinville Schoolhouse District project, which includes a YMCA, not the Woodinville Gardens District development. A completely different project. Google each of these projects and you’ll see they are distinct.

    1. Kim, I’m not sure what you are talking about. The one in the Seattle Times today is clearly described as the
      Gardens District Development.

  13. I just looked at both of these project ideas. One with the Garden District is a no go (This is the Molbacks sight) The other it seems are wine tasting tours and rooms and very upscale housing and or apartments? Sure doesn’t sound like what I hear being hawked as to what to expect at the LandMark project? Please let me know if I am incorrect Kim. I didn’t see a YMCA but I didn’t scour every line. Thanks Kim for that info. What I saw sure doesn’t look like Burien or Tukwila either.

  14. Hello. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. There are TWO Woodinville projects.
    The development described in the Times, involving Molbak’s, is the Gardens District project in Woodinville.
    That is NOT the Woodinville project that the City of Edmonds has been discussing as a precedent for the Landmark 99 proposal. As a MEN story noted, the City of Edmonds is looking at at the Woodinville SCHOOLHOUSE District project as a precedent. See
    The Gardens District project and the Schoolhouse project are two completely different projects. Here is an article that discusses various development projects in Woodinville that makes that clear.
    In that article, the Schoolhouse District is described as, in pertinent part: “One notable attribute of the Schoolhouse District is its YMCA early learning center, which opens out into public playfields. These family friendly amenities are part of the City of Woodinville’s Civic Campus Project, which is part of a public-private partnership that has been in development for over 15 years.” In contrast, the Garden District project, which is in the news, is in a different area: “However, it’s the future Garden District, which also will be developed on the north end of NE 175th Street, that has rightfully generated the most buzz. Located on the current site of Molbak’s Garden + Home, a longtime institution in Woodinville…”

  15. Dave, thank you for your comments and recommendations. I am in 100% agreement with your assessment. It was a risk free action to secure the option for a refundable $100.000 deposit subject to the deadline. The location of the property and its highest and best use is not consistent with the needs of the city. Let someone else develop the land and Edmonds will reap the benefits and save tens of millions of dollars.

  16. Robert Siew, I assume you are following the Council meeting discussions on your desire to sell your parcels to the City. Thank you for agreeing to significantly change the contract clause controlling the assignment of development rights. Now that you know we have a new mayor being installed in a few weeks, and you know the City may have to borrow money in 2024 to meet payroll, and you know our financial reporting is 2-3 months after the revenue and expenses are booked, will you also agree to a change in the 12-31-23 date after which the $100k fee is non-refundable? Perhaps you had a business dinner this week with a REIT from British Columbia who wants to buy your property after the City backs out, and you’re neutral on how the Council vote goes on Dec 5th. But if the only time your phone rings it’s Director Tatum from Edmonds, and if you are possibly ready to retire and sell this place, perhaps you’re becoming flexible on the terms of the option agreement. Edmonds isn’t stupid, but we do have an archaic financial management process and it’s killing us this month. How can you help ease the pain? Isn’t that also in your best interest?

  17. Thank you, Dave, for seeing the light. It is an expenditure that we cannot as a city afford. There will always be another property on 99 Highway to purchase, if in the future, we as a city have an excess of funds.

  18. I agree. Let’s end the conversation. Ritz furniture is going out of business. Opportunity?

    Thank you all for your very very helpful comments and insights.

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