Council drives knife into Harbor Square redevelopment proposal

By Paul Archipley | Oct 10, 2013

Still divided on how to proceed with planning for the Edmonds waterfront – let alone agree on a vision – the City Council on Tuesday voted to deny the Port of Edmonds’ application to incorporate the Harbor Square Master Plan into the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

It was unclear why the vote was necessary. The Port had already withdrawn its application for an urban village, mixed-use concept after months of discussions revealed that a deeply divided council would have trouble agreeing on the redevelopment plan.

Discussions suggested the two major issues were whether to raise building heights and whether to permit residential development.

Those voting to deny the Port’s application said they would rather focus on a redevelopment plan that included all of the waterfront, not just Harbor Square.

Councilmember Joan Bloom said citizens had strongly opposed changing the current code in order to permit mixed use, and blamed the Port for not being open to changes.

“I feel this plan was driven by the Port,” Bloom said. “The council tried to take it to a level that integrated what we got from the citizens, but the Port was unreceptive to those changes.

“This is an opportunity to have a council-driven process, and come up with a plan for the waterfront that works for all of us.”

Others said it was time to take a step back.

“Maybe it’s time we had a cooling off period,” Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis echoed that sentiment. She said the many emails and conversations she had with the public indicated there was too much confusion about the Port’s proposal.

“We need to look at the entire waterfront area,” Buckshnis said. “We need to have a vision.”

Councilmember Strom Peterson, in opposition, said the opportunity to discuss that vision was lost in “obfuscation” and procedural motions.

Noting the Port’s application withdrawal, Peterson asked, “How are we going to move forward with a plan when we have completely alienated the main property owner?”

Following the council vote, Mayor Dave Earling expressed a similar concern, and said he was disappointed in their decision.

“My bigger concern is if you want to take a complete study of the waterfront area, the cost would be in the range of $150,000 to $200,000.

“We have no direction, other than we have taken away one plan.”

The mayor also questioned whether the Port would be open to working with the City.

“I can’t imagine the Port would be a participant in this,” he said.

Port commissioners said as much at their own recent meetings.

Commissioner Jim Orvis said it would be difficult to find common ground when the City Council can’t find any among its own members.

He said the Port’s proposal was the result of three years of compromise, research and study of different options, including some that the council turned around and rejected.

At the same Port meeting, Commissioner Bruce Faires said the Port had made every effort to develop a plan that was responsive to the community’s interests.

But with the City’s apparent rejection of an urban village, mixed-use concept, the Port would focus instead on more traditional redevelopment options, he said.

Those already have included a $500,000 re-roofing project on Building 2, one of Harbor Square’s main buildings, removing the likelihood of complete redevelopment.

Commissioner Orvis said the Port had come “to an irrevocable fork in the road at Harbor Square.” While changes in other buildings might still be possible, the Port’s large investment on that building made it too valuable to consider any large-scale changes, he said.

Commissioners agreed when Orvis said that the council’s failure to move forward with the Harbor Square Master Plan was essentially a decision “that the current development will remain unchanged.”

At another Port meeting, Commissioner Mary Lou Block said the commission felt the Harbor Square Master Plan had closely followed the City’s own Comprehensive Plan, even taking language directly from the Comp Plan.

Yet, when the plan was presented to the public, some citizens and councilmembers felt it was “diametrically opposite” of the Comprehensive Plan, she said.

In any case, some said the result of the council’s actions is an opportunity lost.

Citizens hoping for improvements in Edmonds Marsh, for example – part of the Harbor Square redevelopment proposal – were among those losing out, Orvis said.

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