Harbor Square talks move forward… barely

By Paul Archipley | Aug 01, 2013

If you want a glaring example of what it means to be wrapped around the proverbial axle, listen to a recording of Tuesday’s City Council discussion on the Harbor Square Master Plan.

People closely following the issue may remember that the Port of Edmonds submitted a redevelopment plan for the Harbor Square area in 2012. After numerous discussions and public hearings that failed to win a council consensus for approval, the Port withdrew its application earlier this year.

But the council decided to continue talks with an eye toward approving some version of a plan that could guide redevelopment of Harbor Square and, perhaps, other waterfront area projects.

Flash forward to Tuesday’s council meeting. Discussion ranged far and wide, including building heights, buffers, environmental issues, housing options, parking, commercial uses and more.

They were tangled up with the Harbor Square Master Plan, the Shoreline Master Program, the Comprehensive Plan, Exhibits 1, 2, 3, 4 and on and on… It was breathtaking in its breadth; onlookers drifted off at their own peril.

Ultimately, the council did make a decision, agreeing by a 4-2 vote to proceed with talks on a draft of major Harbor Square Master Plan issues (referred to as Exhibit 3, a four-page analysis in the agenda’s backup materials).

It focuses on seven areas:

• Residential Uses: what kind; how many; where to locate, etc.;

• Height and Bulk: whether to limit heights to 35 feet or allow increases with incentives for public benefits or other amenities; develop on a pedestrian scale; limit building “bulk”;

• Buffers, Setbacks and other Environmental Issues: requiring that new development comply with the Shoreline Master Program; provide adequate buffers and setbacks to protect marsh; emphasize “green building”; address geological hazards like liquefaction, flooding and other environmental concerns;

• Incorporation into City’s Comprehensive Plan;

• Special Districts or Incentive Zoning: ideas include a brewery/distillery/brew pub zone; tech firm campus; tourist destination, such as hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries, etc.; year-round farmer’s market;

• Parking;

• Connectivity: connecting waterfront and downtown; connecting to trains, ferries and buses.

Councilmember Kristiana Johnson, the maker of the motion, said the council had previously agreed on that direction.

“When the Port withdrew its application, we got sidetracked and never completed that analysis,” Johnson said.

“I believe all our concerns are embedded in those four pages.”

But, based on hours of previous discussions as well as Tuesday’s marathon, councilmembers seemed doubtful they would find agreement.

Johnson, an optimist, said, “My expectation is that we will reach consensus on the major issues.”

Council President Lora Petso wasn’t so sure.

“My expectation is we will not,” she said, “because we haven’t yet.”

Mayor Dave Earling, who earlier had expressed concern that the council was heading toward a decision that would overload an already taxed staff, nevertheless commended the council for moving forward, however tentatively.

“I appreciate you moving somewhere on this,” he said. “I don’t expect staff to move anywhere on this until they get some direction from you.”

That may come soon, if they can get unwrapped from that axle.

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