Council learns more about growth options, OKs Edmonds Marsh grant

L-R: Edmonds City Councilmembers Chris Eck, Neil Tibbott and Will Chen and Mayor Mike Rosen during Tuesday’s council meeting. (Photos by Nick Ng)

In what is likely to be a preview of this Saturday’s public forum on the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update, the Edmonds City Council on Tuesday heard concerns from members of the public — and had questions of their own — regarding proposed growth alternatives in Edmonds for the next 20 years.

For the past two years, Edmonds has been conducting surveys, public meetings, data collection and assessment to begin developing a Comprehensive Plan — also known as Everyone’s Edmonds — that will allow the city to meet the mandates of the state’s Growth Management Act.

Over the next 20 years, the city is projected to grow by 13,000 people, who will require 9,000 new housing units. Edmonds currently has the capacity to add only 5,000 units, so the city and its consultant — Perkins Eastman — have been working on housing scenarios that would accommodate that added population.

The action dovetails with added requirements from the Washington State Legislature, which passed three housing-related bills — HB 1110, HB 1220, and HB 1337 that the city must comply with as part of the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update:

HB 1110:  increase middle housing in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing.

HB 1220: Accommodate affordable housing to all economic segments of the population of Washington state. Cities must also promote a variety of housing types and differentiate these housing types to affordability levels.

HB 1337: Permit up to two accessory-dwelling units in all single-family zoning districts.

The council got its first look at the three growth alternatives — which included a no-action alternative that wouldn’t meet the city’s growth targets plus Alternative A: Focused Growth and Alternative B: Distributed Growth. All three alternatives would be potentially studied as part of the draft Environmental Impact Statement, which must be completed prior to finalizing the Comprehensive Plan, Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin said.

Both Alternatives A and B include bonus height incentives, which refers to additional building height allowances granted to developers as an incentive to include specific features or amenities in their projects, such as neighborhood open space, affordable child care and small-scaled retail and cafes.

Alternative A “really focuses on our centers,” which include Firdale Village, Westgate, Five Corners and the Medical District, McLaughlin said. The alternative would permit additional height in those locations — allowing four to five stories instead of the typical three stories that now exist. Neighborhood hubs, shown in pink above, would be limited to low-scale mixed use of two to three floors.

“The Medical District Expansion is a key element in both of our alternatives,” McLaughlin said, calling it an opportunity to bring coherency and more vibrancy” to the area, which is located in the Highway 99 corridor near Swedish Edmonds Hospital.

Alternative B “is a more distributed growth,” McLaughlin explained, with three to four floors allowed in both neighborhood centers and hubs instead of the four to five in Alternative A.

Both alternatives have a “15-minute neighborhood plan” in mind, with the idea that residents can walk, bike or take public transit to daily necessities and services easily.

During public comments, two residents living in the Five Corners area expressed their opinion that there was little difference in appearance between the two alternatives. In response, McLaughlin shared pie charts showing how the growth would be distributed differently between the two options:

The small neighborhood hubs, shown in yellow above, have considerably less growth going into them in the focused growth alternative, compared to the distributed growth option.

She noted that each alternative has a different number of housing unit counts total, which are shown at the top of the chart. The reason for that? “It’s really important for the Environmental Impact Statement to bookend the amount of growth that we are anticipating, so that we make sure that everything is studied — so the most amount of development that we would anticipate would be studied — so we can always scale that back.”

Those numbers are also part of a broader conversation that officials are having about the number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that would be permitted per lot in Edmonds, she added.

A key date coming up is April 13, which McLaughlin describes as “pens down.” That’s when the city stops its work so the environmental subconsultant, Herrera, can develop a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) by Aug 22. The DEIS will contain information about the alternatives, potential impacts and mitigration measures.

McLaughlin also addressed the suggestion from some residents and councilmembers that there be additional alternatives. Having more alternatives “doesn’t necessarily make the EIS better,” she said, but would “make it longer and much more expensive, because it exponentially requires each of the alternatives to be analyzed against each other.”

However, she stressed that “new ideas can be incorporated” into the existing alternatives. “We’re not saying during this period we can’t make changes.”

Those proposing adjustments to the current alternatives have to be mindful that the the city has a target of adding to 2,700 new housing units by 2040. So if housing is removed from one area, those units need to be shifted elsewhere, McLaughlin said.

Noting that Tuesday’s meeting was the first time councilmembers had seen the growth alternatives, Councilmember Michelle Dotsch expressed frustration with the short timeline that councilmembers have to consider them and propose changes prior to the April 13 “pens down” date.

“I just feel this is really getting short shrift and we are getting very little information to really make an impactful decision for the next 20 years of our land use and what Edmonds will look and feel like, and we are at the mercy of what you bring to us,” Dotsch said. “I’m just very disappointed in this limited time.”

Dotsch said she hoped that the council would have a study session where they could discuss the alternatives in more detail. McLaughlin replied that she was planning to work with Council President Vivian Olson to scheduled such a meeting.

The Comprehensive Plan update meeting schedule

Addressing the idea of having more alternatives, Olson said she wondered why the city couldn’t eliminate the “no-action” option — which doesn’t help the city with compliance and therefore appears to be a waste of money to use as a comparison — and replace it with a third alternative. “Wouldn’t it be more valuable to do three of them that end up complying as opposed to the one of doing nothing, which is not an option that we have at our disposal?” she asked.

McLaughlin replied that the “no-option alternative” was a standard part of an EIS framework because it provides a baseline. Consultant Kate Howe of Perkins-Eastman said Olson’s suggestion was “an interesting idea” that required more research.

Councilmember Chris Eck said she had been receiving questions from constituents asking whether the city can challenge the projected growth of 13,000 people. McLaughlin said that she hoped to explain in more detail during Saturday’s public forum the process for arriving at that 13,000 target.

This Saturday’s meeting will be in the third-floor Brackett Room of Edmonds City Hall, 121 5th Ave. N., from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The public is also encouraged to review and comment on the growth alternatives through a month-long online open house here.

You can view the complete Comprehensive Plan presentation attached to the council packet here.

In other business Tuesday, the council:

– After hearing a joint presentation from Public Works and Utilities Director Oscar Antillon and Edmonds Marsh Estuary Advocates volunteer Greg Ferguson, authorized Mayor Mike Rosen to accept a grant that will aid in restoration planning for the Edmonds Marsh. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded the City of Edmonds $135,000 for studies and planning regarding soil contamination and flood risk. The total project cost will be $226,000. The grant requires local matching funds, which will be supplied through community labor ($22,000) from Edmonds Marsh Estuary Advocates volunteers and citizen cash donations ($35,000). The city will provide $34,000 in labor, which will be funded through its Marsh Restoration Fund. Ferguson noted that the grant funds will help pay for an environmental consulting firm that will provide flood modeling, contaminated soil impact and community planning expertise. It is important that this work be done now, while the Department of Ecology continues to oversee the decontamination efforts at the former Unocal property located west of the marsh, Ferguson said.

Olympic View Water and Sewer District General Manager Bob Danson offers public testimony Tuesday.

– Held a public hearing but took no action on a city code amendment regarding critical aquifer recharge areas (CARAs), which are established to protect groundwater and public drinking supplies from potential contamination and to ensure adequate groundwater availability. CARAs are treated as critical areas under the state’s Growth Management Act, and there are two locations in Edmonds where the Olympic View Water and Sewer District has drinking water wells. These wells — Deer Creek Springs near the Town of Woodway and at 228th Street Southwest — supplement the drinking water that Olympic View purchases from the City of Seattle. Among those testifying during the public hearing were Olympic View Water and Sewer District General Manager Bob Danson, who said that he appreciated the work of city staff and the Edmonds Planning Board over many meetings to develop the code. Danson added, however, that he still had concerns about city’s proposal to allow shallow underground injection control (UIC) wells at Deer Creek Springs as a method of protecting water quality. “Stormwater is a threat due to the pollutants in the stormwater, and using infiltration of any kind in stormwater mitigation in the capture zones is potential for concerns with the aquifer,” Danson said. City of Edmonds Senior Utilities Engineer Mike De Lilla said that the city’s plan for protecting CARAs exceeds requirements from both the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Department of Health.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Maybe someone can clarify this for me. At one point, the article says, “Over the next 20 years, the city is projected to grow by 13,000 people, who will require 9,000 new housing units.” Then later it says, “the city has a target of adding to 2,700 new housing units by 2040.” Does this mean the city will add the difference (6300 units) in just four years–2040 to 2044? Am I missing something?

    Also, I’m curious how Five Corners has been designated as a Neighborhood Center, vs. as a Neighborhood Hub. It’s hard to imagine how that area can absorb 40% of the projected growth (Alternative A). With 4-5 story buildings–presumably as ugly and imposing as Anthology up the street–the area will be unrecognizable, its low-key neighborhood character destroyed, with severe impacts to both Pine Ridge and Yost Parks and the water sources above and below ground that feed into Shell Creek.

    1. Vince — good question. I attached the Power Point presentation to the story and I’ll also include the link here:
      On page 15, there is a chart that explains the assumptions for arriving at 2,700 needed units. My understanding is that 2,700 approximate figure represents what is left over after the city factors in capacity filled due to two state-mandated changes required by HB 1337 (ADU Capacity) and HB 1110. I’m sure that someone else who is more knowledgable can expand on this explanation. — Teresa

      1. Editor, that is not how the 2700 count was derived. Readers who want to understand this issue should be watching reruns of planning board and city council meetings to see the slide presentations and hear the Q & A. It shouldn’t be a brief answer in the comments section here.
        I appreciate your continued coverage of City Council meetings. A lot of us rely on that. This past week I have been searching your article archive to find the dates that key topics were discussed at Council, then I go read the meeting minutes for that date. The City has no searchable data base of city meeting minutes- but MEN is searchable.

        1. Thanks for that update — seems like there should be an easy explanation that could be posted here. Most people are NOT going to be watching planning board and city council meeting reruns.

  2. Unit counts can be found in Planning Board meeting packet on 2/14. The total units allocated to Edmonds comes from the Snohomish County Housing Characteristics and Needs report, also known as the HO-5 report. 9,000 units was allocated per that report. The existing capacity per the Buildable Lands Report is 4,862 which gets subtracted from the 9,000. Additionally, the ADU capacity fulfilled by HB 1337 (1,642) and capacity fulfilled by HB1110 (42), also subtracted from the 9,000 gets you 2,454. There is also an allotted estimated unit increase due to potential zone downsizing that is also factored which is 246 units. 2,454 + 246 gets you the 2,700 units needed to meet the goals.

    1. Yes, thank you.

      On to the other matter–Alternatives A and B. I wonder if this is a version of the Either/Or Fallacy. To me, Alternative A seems so far out that it couldn’t be accepted, leaving us with and feeling grateful for Alternative B. At the same time, we’ve maybe lost a realistic second alternative, whatever that might be (discounting the pro forma “do nothing” alternative).

      1. Valid points, Vince. This feedback is valuable to the Planning Staff and the Planning Board and hope you are able to attend the 23rd Open House to discuss what that could look like.

        1. Thank you. I can’t attend, but I carefully read the Comprehensive Plan and filled out the survey. I hope the comments there will carry equal weight with the in person comments on the 23rd.

  3. Yesterday was the first I heard of the watershed management problems. Also a bit surprised that the city has been discussing those population growth plans for the last two years. I only heard of them recently. And it appears that we are heading towards a disaster (social and financial). Some great speakers yesterday and, like Vince, many keep questioning (me included) the 13,000 population growth, which is a figure more than four times higher than the historical numbers show. The city administration owes the Edmonds’ population a very good explanation of where these figures are coming from. The old saying “figures don’t lie but liars figure” come to mind when involving those individuals in Olympia and their minions. who cannot care less about the WA State’s population while pushing their own (shady) agendas. Therefore, it’s our job to keep our eyes open and protect ourselves. Are all the conservation issues (watershed, marsh, etc.) and the infrastructure issues (water, sewer, power, traffic, etc.) being taken into consideration in those growth plans? It does not look like.

  4. Couple of points here:
    1. There is ‘on the books’ (Comp. Plan), I believe a redevelopment/master plan study still in effect (not sure) for Firdale Village, completed quite a few years ago following MANY Planning Board meetings, discussions, and Council adoption, based on work done by the Shipiro architects/design group.
    2. Housing growth can only take place in Edmonds if and when:
    a. Land becomes available by any number of possible scenarios (usually involving a sale, however)
    b. Money– private, public, non-profit, etc., likely involving a developer, and builder.
    c. Overcoming zoning, code, and any other permitting challenges which continue to exist in this City.

  5. Why not a THIRD growth alternative that is specific to state required update of our ADU code. John Zipper suggested that:
    “the City include the state mandated city wide ADU rezone in the Comp Plan and leave out all the rest of this upzoning, then see how it goes far the next 10-20 years and revisit the big upzones later.”

    Councilmembers Paine, Eck, and Chen all mentioned our ADU code update and how that might come into play. In referencing ADUs, Eck also said she didn’t see enough diverse housing in the two “Growth Alternatives”.

    Councilmember Dotsch expressed disappointment in the alternatives presented by Director McLaughlin. She also highlighted that last night was the first time Council has seen the options, and expressed dismay at the “pens down” deadline of April 13 for the DEIS (draft environmental impact study) to begin, allowing just 3 weeks for Council consideration of the two alternatives.

    Council President Olson suggested “eliminate the “no-action” option” ….”and replace it with a third alternative.”

    Seems a focus on our ADU code update as a “third alternative” would address these five Council members expressed concerns.

  6. I have a question What is the percentage planned for the Medical District? 5 corners and the medical district are essentially the same thing. We all know this. Every area mentioned and maybe a couple more added should have equal percentages to be fair and to be able to maybe accommodate that kind of growth. No one wants this so all areas should be same %. NO Plan A. WE all have trees. We have light pollution and noise pollution now in 5 corners. Adding over half of that density to this, combined with no parking will destroy our area, our property values, our peace of mind, our ability to safely walk anywhere, and wildlife (birds) all of it. It is already a problem. There is no guarantee whatsoever of what those builders, developers large scale buildings will be used for at all. Do not change our zoning. I hope our CC just says NO and says pens up new plan. 3 schools, 2 new I voted for them. lots of kids, safety? I don’t think so. In the interim just make percentages equal South Edmonds, Firdale, Olympic View, Downtown, 5 corners and Medical district and Perrinville, Westgate. And Add a couple more. Those who want to take transit, bicycle and walk great. But so many won’t. WE HAVE NO PARKs for families, kids here.

    1. I know Donald. No sidewalks in so many parts of our city. So much neglected for so long it seems well I hate to say it again haha. But it is true one thing at a time would be prudent I would think. I know too we need $$$$ here. SO maybe as I suggested once before a large entertainment project on 99 would be great. Big Hotel all of it. A great additional spot for vacationers and just those who want to stay here for a night and enjoy our city. It won’t take away from Downtown Edmonds it will just bring in more people. A night at the clubs a night in Edmonds for dinner and daytime shopping and eating. I don’t why we don’t explore some other ideas for Tax Dollars here. I think there also should be an Amazon facility here. Too far to Seattle and Everett is the next spot. I think people would shop there and return things there thus cutting down on return and deliveries here. That should make many happy. I also don’t think that Amazon shoppers will take away from shopping in Edmonds. They are quite different. We also need a store that has more garden supplies close…I can think of many things to generate money for Edmonds and also jobs for these suggestions. Oh well.

  7. Good point Donald. While we are figuring out how to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need that may or may not occur twenty years from now; we let the things we really need to do just slide. It would be comical; if not so pathetic .

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