Code change requires design standards downtown
When new buildings are constructed in downtown Edmonds, they will complement and reflect the older buildings already in place.
And heights, its proponents insisted, will remain unchanged.
At least that’s the intent of legislation a City Council majority approved Tuesday.
The Edmonds Community Development Code (ECDC) has been changed to apply design standards to business zones “BD2, BD3 and BD4 to replace the requirements for building setbacks.” The current codes calls for 15-foot setbacks. The codes are now similar in all Business District zones.
“We want to move towards design standards that try and move towards good building design,” said Rob Chave, Edmonds’ acting director of developmental services.
The changes will now be uniform for the entire retail core. There will be no mandatory setbacks, but there will be mandatory design standards that reflect the historical architecture already in place downtown.
The changes also attempt to make rules already in place easier to understand.
For instance, BD1 has a 25-foot height limit with a 5-foot allowance (25+5) that allows for 30-foot heights if a first floor height is 15 feet or more. But codes also require a 15-foot high first floor in BD1. So any building will automatically get the 30-foot height limit.
“BD1 is essentially the retail core,” Chave said. “Retail needs a higher first floor.
“But the other zones have some other uses; they may not have a retail first floor. The other zones will still have a different height requirement, depending on their uses.”
The City Council approval followed a lot of discussion. Several were concerned about whether this was “raising height limits” or had the appearance of trade-offs to gain height.
“If we adopt this, it’s not a trade-off; we’re forcing good design,” Councilmember Strom Peterson said. “We’re protecting BD1 with these standards.”
Council President Lora Petso proposed an amendment lowering the height limit to 25 feet, but that amendment was defeated.
A second motion by Petso to add the verbiage “Buildings shall echo historic design elements” passed and is included in the new code standards.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis agreed with Peterson that they were not raising heights.
“We did not raise building heights in our decision tonight; we changed design standards,” she said. “The design standards in BD-1 are now the same in the other BD zones.
“This approval tonight only removed a 15-foot setback between the 25 to 30 foot height requirement. There was no change in height as the maximum height in all the BD zone areas has always been 30 feet.”
The final vote for the code change: 4 yes, 3 no; with councilmembers Buckshnis, Yamamoto, Johnson and Peterson voting yes and Petso, Bloom and Fraley-Monillas voting against.
BD (downtown business) has five subdistricts:
- BD1 – downtown retail core
- BD2 – downtown mixed commercial
- BD3 – downtown convenient commercial
- BD4 – downtown mixed residential
- BD5 – downtown arts corridor
Also included in the code change is a provision that exempts small “blade signs” from sign code calculation limits.
The change also allows for “blade signs,” small thin signs that hang perpendicular to the front of the store. These signs allow traffic moving parallel to the store to see the sign more easily. The signs can be up to 4 square feet and will not alter the amount of signage allowed under the codes.