Letter to the editor: Pay attention to building heights in draft Comprehensive Plan


This is an urgent call for citizens of Edmonds to pay attention to Planning and Development Department plans around land use and housing in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan.

The majority of Edmonds’ citizens have repeatedly stated their opposition to increasing the building heights in Edmonds. Sam Bryan testified at Council (4/9) that 80 residents from Five Corners signed a statement against buildings there above three stories. Others have said the same about Westgate neighborhood. Judi Gladstone, Planning Board, said they would have to be “tone deaf” not to have heard the clear and consistent objection to high buildings throughout Edmonds.

In the Planning Board meeting of 6/26/24, however, Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin and Acting Planning Manager Michael Clugston stated the whole foundational premise around future growth strategy — and “exactly their intention” — is to increase density in all Centers and Hubs, except not along Highway 99. This will be achieved, both said, by going from buildings of two to three stories to four to five stories, i.e. 60 feet or more. (Watch meeting video at 1:20:30-1:22:30). The goal is to distribute growth more equitably, but ignores all public input about what future land use in Edmonds should look like.

Assigning no growth to Highway 99, for equity reasons, appears inconsistent with the reality that Highway 99 has less housing than elsewhere in Edmonds, though it has the capacity for more.

Please contact city officials to express concerns:




Karen Haase Herrick, MN, RN, LTC, USA, RET
President, ACE: Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds

  1. Does anyone know how accountable to the people planning staff people are?

    They can’t be voted out yet they are making decisions that will affect our city forever, basically ignoring taxpayers desire for 3 story heights. How can we hold these types of staff people accountable to the will of the people, the voters, the taxpayers? I think they need to be talked to by “someone”.

    Thank you ACE and Karen for keeping us informed.

  2. Rosen’s staff has “new” direction on housing? What about the massive “Funtasia” sight with over 400 units planned. Is the “directional change” because the “EXPENSIVE” Landmark proposal was finally voted down? Taxpayers took it in the “shorts” for millions on that corrupt process which was illegally pursued as no Council executive session occurred to allow staff to negotiate that $37M purchase option that excluded our Attorney? Whomever negotiated it, certainly did so without Legislative Authority as Council President Tibbott cannot represent Council as a whole.

    So back to “new direction” to build everywhere in any type of critical area – what does the Citywide Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) indicate? – oh wait, STAFF has yet to bring forth a “draft EIS” for the public and Council to vet. No surprise, staff continues to ignore the environmental impacts or infrastructure from these projected growth models and continues to give bias data to push this mentality.

    Building everywhere without the necessary infrastructure and science is a death to the environment: A DEATH to the Environment and future generations will suffer.

    Folks, start paying attention to what’s happening in local government as it’s not all about going broke and needing to pass a levy or fool us into joining the RFA (which will cost YOU millions more) – it’s about YOUR environment and looking regionally at growth.

  3. Simply stated, The Mayor sets the agenda and the general tone for city government. The City Council sets policy and holds the purse strings. The Mayor and Council jointly develop and control the budget while the Council pays the bills. Staff is hired and works at the pleasure of the Mayor. Staff’s job is to give the Mayor and Council the detailed information they need to support the agenda and policy goals.
    Staff may make suggestions, but ultimately, staff works in support of the Mayor’s and Council’s priorities.

    Planning staff should not be directing these policy decisions in any way. Their suggestions can and should inform the Mayor and Council in their decisions.

    The question here is are the Mayor and Council actually steering the ship, or are they letting their senior staff set the course? Just who in city government want these building heights increased?

    1. John,

      These are easy questions to answer. The city Directors run this city. As a member if the Citizens Housing Commission, I had first-hand experience seeing how staff manipulated the commission with what information we saw, how surveys were crafted, how we communicated and how our outcomes were presented. The comprehensive plan is no different.

      And as to who in city government want these building heights increased, it’s the majority of our City Council. They had opportunities to change the direction this was headed, and they voted not too. They surrendered to staff as they do 99% of the time.

      Make no mistake about it, unelected Directors run this city and have for a long time.

      1. Folks, a reminder that criticism of elected officials by name is allowed here but ongoing naming of individual city employees is not. They are not elected, as many have pointed out, and their employment is at the discretion of the elected officials — who are ultimately responsible for their actions. I will continue to remove names of individual employees in that context. Thanks. Teresa

        1. Editor,

          Since you appended this reminder under my comment, I’d like to assure everyone that I did not but names to anyone in my comment. It was posted unedited.

          Thank you for the reminder though.

        2. I hope this also applies to residents who volunteer on city boards and commissions. Attacking neighbors who are donating their time as a civic duty shouldn’t be subject to being called out negatively.

        3. I am not aware of that happening by name but will certainly watch for it.

  4. Good insightful comments here. Often it seems for this city that the planning staff is directing policy decisions with the mayor and council following dutifully three steps behind.

  5. Thank you John, for informing us of who does what in the local government was very informative. You also raised a very good question we should get an answer to “who is pushing this?”.


  6. With examples like Ballard and Kirkland near by. It is obvious city planning staff want to emulate those debacles rather than making sure the same does not happen to Edmonds.

  7. Tone Deaf is an understatement. They only give the appearance that they are soliciting feedback and asking for input from the residents of Edmonds yet I haven’t seen any instance where they have actually changed anything based on our feedback. So many times we asked for changing the direction of this plan, heights, locations etc. and the plan still remains the same. Thanks for another reminder and clear action to the city that they need to be representing the majority view.

  8. Why can’t we just have 2 floors? Seems like we have completely ignored our neighbor’s and their views and property values with these aggressive rezoning proposals. The one slide I viewed in March of this year had 3 floor upzoning from 9th and Dayton down to 2nd and Dayton street and additional upzoning around civic park and 4th Ave. I am pro development, but would like to see Edmonds and its leadership acknowledge the low profile buildings of Downtown Edmonds contribute much to its character and charm. More moderation and perhaps local neighbors speaking up would help. I am concerned about our local infrastructure and environmental impact to these broad zoning proposals, not to mention assimilating into neighborhoods look and feel. The Rick Steves building is 2 stories and looks and feels great why are we reinventing the wheel and proposing larger buildings than this? Just all about the tax revenue? Moderation would be a welcomed compromise.
    Nice article Karen Haase Herrick.

  9. Thank you, Karen, for your letter! Yes, we all especially need to pay more attention to what is going on with the Planning and Development Department. Number one, Planning and Development Director, needs to go. A Seattle hire by Mike Nelson and has wanted to make drastic changes to our beautiful city and neighborhoods since arrival on day one. (Remember, “Reimagine our neighborhoods”, closing streets to cars, permanent Streateries, etc, etc?) The majority of residents have never wanted increased building heights and it should be respected. We will become more like Ballard and Kirkland if we continue on this course and keep the old guard.

  10. Hi Karen, thanks for writing this. Would you mind providing the source for your claim that “[t]he majority of Edmonds’ citizens have repeatedly stated their opposition to increasing the building heights in Edmonds”?

    Anecdotally, I know a lot of people who have opinions about building heights: many who hold a very similar opinion to the one you expressed in this article, many who hold very dissimilar ones, and many whose views fall somewhere else along the theoretical “opinion compass” of “unlimited height changes, everywhere” ↔ “no height changes, anywhere” as the most appropriate policy choice for Edmonds.

    Making comprehensive statements that “accurately” reflect public will, in all of its dispersion, is a really difficult task: in my opinion, one that can really only be accomplished by a survey of a statistically significant number of randomly selected residents.

    Without that kind of evidence, I think we – myself included – tend to build normative observations that oversample the viewpoints most accessible to each of us. These statements certainly have an important role to play in our policy discussions, but it would not be accurate – in my view – to describe them as representative of aggregate public will.

    1. Yet, when the city Planning Dept. did a bunch of non-scientific “Survey Monkey” push type polls it didn’t seem to be such a bad idea to you as I recall, Mackey. You know, about the time you ran for City Council and lost to Michelle Dotsch, former President of ACE. Does that tell you anything at all? At age 14, the first City Council meeting I ever attended in my life with my Dad was about building heights in Edmonds and public outrage at what more than three story buildings would cause here (Ebb Tide Apts. started it all). I’m now almost 80. It Feels like I’m in a Star Trek time warp or Ground Hog Day movie as the issue never disappears. Here’s just a suggestion based on the experience of an old man – take everything you learned in college with a huge grain of salt and go more with good common sense. That’s when you will start winning in life. “Professional” Planners will destroy this city just like they destroyed Ballard. It’s happening NOW!

      1. Clint – lots to unpack here!

        My original comment exclusively dealt with what I see as a meaningful distinction between anecdotal evidence (which, as I noted, is still valuable in policy discussions) and statistically valid random sampling. I think it’s untruthful to claim that a majority of Edmonds residents support *any* policy unless you can demonstrate that you’ve asked a sufficiently-sized group of randomly selected people, which – while it’s certainly not guaranteed – will have the best chance of being representative of the entire community’s opinion distribution if we had asked every single person.

        “Majority” means “greater than 50%”. It is a provable claim: if you can’t prove it, it can’t pass as the truth. If Karen had written “many residents” – or even “a majority of people testifying at City Council meetings” – this would not be an important point of clarification to me, because I would agree with both of those claims, and could easily prove them. But to extrapolate that “the majority of Edmonds’ citizens” hold this view is not grounded in any evidence that I am aware of.

        Words matter: they affect the way we understand the world around us & the ways we behave to promote our interests. I hope you can forgive me for treating them as a matter of great import. (1/2)

        1. Running last year allowed me to learn a lot about Edmonds – incredible experience.

          I am interpreting your question (“[Do the election results] tell you anything[?]”) as a proposition that elections are a good way to assess public will. Did you know that 66% of eligible voters in Edmonds submitted ballots in 2022 (state positions), vs. 52% in 2023 (local positions)? This means we saw 27% fewer voters in our city council elections vs. state ones (in 2021, this “turnout penalty” was 7,600 voters, or 32%.) By your logic, should we should look to our state-level elected representatives to get a sense of what policies are desired by voters in Edmonds, since far more people make their voices heard? I’m curious to know what you think.

          Finally, I mean this kindly: I’m not a caricature, or a puppet, or a robot. I’m a person, just like you. I don’t think your views about the value of my education, or whether or not I’m winning in life, are relevant to any point I’ve made here: if you disagree with my views, please debate me on their merits, not on my background. (I’m not sure what you thought I was studying in college: if you have any insights that would fundamentally change my materials science coursework, there is almost certainly a Nobel Prize waiting for you!3/3)

        2. Moving on – which past comments of mine about “push polls” are you specifically referring to? Would you mind linking my specific language? I have no recollection of making comments to the effect you describe – that being said, if you are able to provide them, we could jointly celebrate the occasion of a man changing his mind.

          I briefly worked for Planning, and believe that they solicit opinions a from a larger, more geographically diverse group of people than most who try. I would certainly never argue that their approach meets the standard I believe is necessary to make claims that can be described as representative of the views of Edmonds residents. (To my knowledge, Planning typically doesn’t claim to speak on behalf of Edmonds residents: when they deliver presentations and reports, you will typically see the population described by their polls as “respondents”, not “Edmonds’ citizens”. There is self-awareness of this limitation.)

          There is a lot of room for improvement in the fidelity and breadth with which both Council and the City manifest public will in our deliberative organs, especially Council and Planning Board. Based on my own experiences, I see a need for a new institution that better fuses deliberative democracy with random sampling, something akin to a Citizen’s Assembly – more on that later. (2/*3*, oops)

        3. Mackey, with all due respect I don’t think there is much of anything here to “unpack.” All I’m saying is that Building Heights has been a matter of high contention here for the last 60 years or so and people that have run for City Council or Mayor suggesting we might want to raise them have, generally speaking, Lost. As to words mattering, I totally agree, but I have to constantly remind myself not to use too many of them.

      2. Clint: it is objectively untrue that “all [you said]” in your reply to my comment was about the contentiousness of building heights in Edmonds.

        In your first sentence, you made a claim that I hold specific views that I 1) do not hold, and 2) have no recollection of previously holding/sharing in any capacity. I am aware that my memory is fallible, so I made a good-faith request that you provide your evidence for this claim. You have, thus far, declined to either provide that evidence, or acknowledge that you made a mistake in attributing these views to me.

        In your seventh and eighth sentences, you suggested that my education was not serving me well in engaging with civic affairs, and that I would “start winning in life” if I ceased using it. Do either of those remarks have anything to do with building height? If my reply to you included the (verbatim) text, “Here’s just a suggestion based on the experience of [a young man] – take everything you learned […] with a huge grain of salt and go more with good common sense. That’s when you will start winning in life”, would I have improved your understanding of the contentiousness of building heights?

        I think you should use as many words as necessary to meet the standards of respectful discussion.

        1. Mackey, the beauty of unsolicited and unwanted advice like I gave you (and that was probably my bad and you deserve and have my apology, right here and right now) is you can always just consider the source and ignore it. Nobody is interested in this but us, (and me not much) so it stops here as far as I’m concerned. You can suit yourself on the matter.

        2. Thank you for your apology.

          I don’t have any issues with unsolicited advice: from my experience (more limited than yours), I agree with you that it is usually beautiful, and helps the world go round. I really appreciate your willingness to share personal insights.

          The concern that specifically motivated me to engage with your reply in the first place arose mostly from the substantial extent to which it seemed like a vessel for the introduction of your personal opinion of my background and qualifications to participate in building height regulation discourse (to which you are completely entitled!), rather than a critical response to/rebuttal of the specific arguments that I shared in my original comment regarding the dearth of robust evidence we have to assess the distribution of public opinion on building height regulations.

          While this comment section has many format limitations, it organically connects interested parties for policy-related conversations, and therefore has inherent promise as a tool for finding truth through critical discourse (and improving mutual understanding/respect in that process.) Creating the best possible chance for those outcomes is really important to me, which is the font of my rigid (and sometimes terse!) engagement here. Thank you for letting me know what you think and for hearing me out.

  11. I think it would be a great idea for Mayor Rosen to do the appointing of any volunteers, staff that is not elected and so forth. I think on these boards and commissions there should be an equal amount on each side of the different views many have in this city When your boards and commissions are maybe too one sided that is not equal representation of the majority of our city. Clearly many citizens of Edmonds are not happy with the major decisions being made. Yep, we can’t make our CC vote the way we want so I can only hope that they remember they are representing all of Edmonds and since they are elected without stating a party then they should not be partisan with their decisions. They should be responsible to citizens and maybe during votes they should explain why they vote the way that they do This amalgam of staff with some CC members is glaringly obvious. This is not a big city it is barely a small city and people here are very bright and they know who is friendly with who. As voters, we should really do our own vetting of each candidate present time and from years past. We can’t depend on politicians to be forthcoming while they are trying to win elections local state + Federal.

  12. We have seen no evidence anywhere that Edmonds must raise building height limits in order to accommodate expected population growth. Even that outlandish projection of 13,300 more people by 2044, that’s only 320 housing units per year~ easily within the capacity of existing zoning.

    Part of the problem is Edmonds’ planning program is directed by folks from big cities with a big city mindset. They hire similarly-minded consultants. They see all our low-density neighborhoods as opportunities for redevelopment, to make Edmonds less suburban and more urban~ yes, more like Seattle.

    We need to be especially cognizant of what staff presents to City Council later this year for inclusion in the new Comprehensive Plan. We need to work with our elected representatives on Council to assure the language of the new Plan reflects Edmonds’ values. We can and should preserve the look and feel of Edmonds as we know it, not sacrifice it on the altar of density at any cost.

    1. The real problem is we don’t elect dedicated non-partisan high knowledge citizens like Roger Pence to our City Council when we have the opportunity to do so. Now we pay the price with partisan and special interest motivated decisions. Nothing much good is going to happen here in at least the next two to four years and if you want someone to blame; the majority of you can just look in the mirror. Personally, I’m going to continue being a thorn in the side of all the partisan special interest players here that I can until we can find greener pastures, if there still are any, someplace close?

    2. Snohomish County’s Buildable Lands Report – which is the authoritative source for GMA-related housing supply calculation purposes – provides that under current zoning within municipal boundaries, Edmonds’ additional population capacity across all types of homes is 9,493 people. (Esperance – unincorporated, but considered part of Edmonds’ municipal urban growth area, and relevant when considering the implications of annexation – has capacity for 852 people.)

      These figures are from p. 185 of this document: https://snohomishcountywa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/84919/Letter-to-Dept-of-Commerce—Snohomish-County-Buildable-Lands-Report

      From a purely procedural standpoint, zoning changes to enable the construction of homes for about ~3500 people by 2044 *are* required to reach the required growth figure of 13,113 people, at least from the methodology of the Buildable Lands Report. (The math here is just subtraction: required growth – existing capacity for growth = required increase in growth capacity.)

  13. I believe the staff of the Planning and Development Department (and the Planning and Development Director) was in place when Mayor Rosen took office. He inherited a lot of staff from Mike Nelson and I’m not sure that as mayor he has the power to change all or any of that. More’s the pity. I really do hope that the final decisions on building heights and development are in the hands of the Mayor and City Council – our elected officials.

    1. I do know that the director was approved by CC under Mike Nelson. I remember all of that quite well. I thought that the position was for a certain period of time. 4 years maybe? So possibly if it was a position only for a certain period of time the mayor can choose to interview others when that time period is up? Anyone know? I remember that I searched a lot on the internet about our director Where from and all of that. I remember at the time not having a dislike for the appointed one but was a bit concerned as yes Seattle transportation I think, and I thought before that CA and Australia. I am not sure but that is what I remember. Does this make our director a bad person no probably not, but it is true that big city ideas in very small cities in a totally separate county would very likely not want the same things. We all know right now we must reach state quotas it’s how we do it so that it’s fair and as pleasant as possible for every berg or hub or HWY or Downtown ED that matters. It also matters for the new citizens who will move into these areas. They too deserve some consideration with their views and traffic etc.

  14. I share the view that for most of Edmonds three storys is a good limit. However, I do not know why the Hwy 99 corridor should be exempt from greater density. What “equity interest” is served by this?
    There are lots of condos and apartments within the “bowl”. Thanks to Democrats like Strom Peterson and Marco Liias we have had removal of local jurisdiction control of zoning and higher density requirements crammed down our throats by the State Legislature and Gov. Inslee. I see no justification for exempting the Hwy 99 corridor from the higher density requirements. Since it is closer to the light rail stations one could argue there should be more density focused in that area.

    1. Mark – 7 story buildings (75′) are currently legal to build along the entire extent of Highway 99 in Edmonds. That is, to my knowledge, three stories taller than anywhere else in Edmonds.

  15. The Edmonds Westgate QFC is on the list of proposed properties to be sold in the Albertson/Kroger deal. What wonderful opportunity for the Edmonds planners to build some nice high-rise buildings (With limited marginal parking). What could possibly go wrong? It’s all about equity right? Also, It’s about saving the planet and our grandchildren…

  16. Also on the list are the QFC’s in Lynnwood and Richmond Beach as well as the Safeway in Lynnwood’s James Village. Let’s hope that the current lawsuits are successful in preventing this proposed merger.

  17. Karen and members of ACE, thank you for the LTE on this crucial topic. There’s another important dimension to the story about the message from the city staff. At the March 23, 2024 meeting at City Hall for the staff to get feedback from the public on the land use changes, the participants were clear: the proposed buildings are too tall. At the next Planning Board meeting, the Planning Director stated to that board that the staff and consultants reviewed the metrics and they could plan for the required growth in housing units by keeping the buildings at 3-4 stories. The message was “The city heard us, and they were developing a land use map that addressed our concerns and kept buildings as short as possible.” What happened between then and the June PB meeting you gave us the reference to?

    1. Theresa,

      The Development Services (Planning) Director “happened” to the Planning Board. Just as the Development Services Director “happened” to the Architectural Design Board at their June 27 meeting. The ADB was presented with a six point approach to design guidelines called “Integrated Placemaking” with no background on why they were being asked to review this new approach. The senior planner at the meeting was also not informed as to why, or by who this change was being implemented. The ADB had previously reviewed design guidelines, provided input, and were given no feedback from staff on their work.

      In addition, the packet for the ADB meeting included “In support of urban design frameworks, the city should develop a process for a citywide “public life study.”

      A “public life study.” Wonder how much in consultation fees it would cost to develop this process.

  18. May be an uninformed question but…
    Is it possible to get something on a ballot – for people to VOTE on what they want for Edmonds’ new building heights and/or environmental impact?

  19. I checked and our Director was put in power in November of 2021. It was Santa Barbara CA first and then New Zealand I believe then to Seattle for 9 years I believe and then here. I just wanted to have my facts straight. The election for our New Mayor was in the fall of 2022. So Nelson stayed in power until Jan 1st 2023. AND as far as surveys the best one to me was the one that at the end of the questions that weren’t really great there were the comments. That is the part I thought was good and their were tons of people objecting to heights and many who objected to their communities being the only ones effected. This is what really irritated me. No on wants it so lets just stick it all in basically one area. About 1 square mile area actually. To me that is about as entitled as a person can get thinking they are the ones who won’t accept it. 5 corners. I have no objections to a few 3 story buildings just don’t put them in neighborhoods right against houses. Spread them out all over and only do the minimum amount of these. And don’t build right against a SFH. This obscures all view all air and wild life and water run off a problem.

  20. I was wrong on the dates. Nelson did stay in power until Dec 31st 2023 and then Mike Rosen our current Mayor began Jan 1st. 2024. I guess that means our director has been here for almost 3 years. Right? I am tired I have been in my yard most of the day enjoying this beautiful weather. Ltr.

  21. Always appreciative of the passion members of the community have regarding all things land use. Just wanted to provide a few background and further supporting context to this LTE for those that haven’t been in the loop:

    1. There have been no land-use or building height decisions made yet, only study area thresholds where growth, in some capacity, will occur

    2. The DEIS comment period and impact / mitigation vetting is still being processed (prelim findings to PB end of July / beginning of August)

    3. Land-use updates will not be implemented until there is a selected preferred alternative (by council), slated to be after PB has done their review of the complete draft package and made formal recommendation to council

    4. There is still another few rounds of public engagement touchpoints forthcoming that will review all of these components, refer to the city website for the timeline of when these are slated to occur

    5. The land-use component should not be looked at in a vacuum, it should always be looked at next to the other elements so you have the complete story of how it was derived

    6. Stakeholders should direct their attention to the city’s website for the Everyone’s Edmonds Comp Plan Update for the most accurate information and the projected schedule: https://www.edmondswa.gov/government/departments/development_services/planning_division/everyones__edmonds

  22. There are many things in Edmonds that are a concern to its citizens. A very important one is Land use. Safe drinking water and avoiding concrete jungles. 2044 is 20 years from now. That is a very long time. So much has happened during the last 20 years it’s amazing. Not just here but all over. As far as citizens not wanting extreme heights packed in one small area or packed anywhere in our city and whether they have spoken out about it I think they have. The open comments in the one survey really showed so many saying they don’t want those heights. Also, the PB meetings very few show up for those and from the numbers I saw were less than 40 people not all are there in support. So, you have32 friends with your ideology PB and you think that doesn’t say something it says a small maybe 20% of home owners and long term residents do not want what is proposed. The 5 corners number showed a petition. 800 opposed. I will add 2 more as I didn’t see it and our door was not knocked on. The survey clearly showed that no Hub wants any ha. But it showed many fighting just for their own nests. That was disappointing for me. All areas = numbers for all Hubs. ALL.

  23. Mackey…I think maybe it is the time to tell us where you received your education? How much was in the class room and how much was remote learning. I saw a lot of hopping around and that is fine but questioning it isn’t so odd since you do have a lot to say here in our paper. Do you now have a Bachelors degree or a Masters degree? Again doesn’t matter but some are curious. And if you plan to run again for an office in Edmonds you might need those degrees. You write well but honestly all of your big words and confusing sentences are more like smoke and mirrors to me. I think maybe if you would suggest alternatives to to high and too condensed people might pay attention. Now all you are doing is siding with a side most here are not very happy with at all. This city needs money to run. The state is broke…the governor just said so. And yet he talks about electric ferries. Well I like that idea but we have no money and trying to lower amounts for Cap gains etc. And no new programs but fund the hell out of any new applicants (people). I am not voting for Ferguson. I am not voting for Strom and a few others either. I am going to..

  24. cont. research every single name in the pamphlet that came in my mail today. It will probably take me at least a day to go back and look at each of them. I am going to try to choose Moderate candidates. Not Libertarian I am not into that but moderates who feel the way the rest of the country feels in case you are all paying attention. Josh Shapiro GOV of PA. He’s a moderate. Essentially, Pelosi and others want an open contest. I think Josh would probably take PA and even Michigan and maybe Wisconsin. I encourage you all to vote wisely in every election from cities to counties to state. Thank you. VOTE.

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