Public apathy may raise building heights

By Eric Livingston | Jun 28, 2012

On Monday the 25, the commissioners of the Port of Edmonds held a Public Hearing to finalize its Harbor Square Redevelopment Master Plan and forward it to the City Planning Department with a request that the Port’s Master Plan be incorporated into the City Comprehensive Plan.

At the very heart and core of the Port’s redevelopment plan is to have the City of Edmonds incorporate into its Comprehensive Plan a contract rezone exemption allowing the building height to be raised from 35 feet to 55 feet for the Harbor Square redevelopment.

If any governmental agency, like the Port, perceives a lack of interest by the public, it then becomes fairly easy to push through a project, like the Harbor Square redevelopment plan.

As much as I like the commissioners and the director, - please understand, they are to be commended for their years of service, dedication and their contributions to both Port and City – however, they are presenting a proposal that still has unresolved issues.

A complete listing of concerns can be found in a document developed for the Public Outreach phase and is a listing of the concerns noted in Phase I Feasibility Studies.

The document was presented at the May 5, 2010 Port meeting, (http://www.portofedmonds.org/docs/hsredevelopment/May5_Presentation.pdf).

The following is an abridged list and is in a white paper that I researched and wrote:

  • Train noise
  • The risk of putting more units on the market than the market can absorb
  • Linkages to downtown Edmonds
  • Traffic impact
  • Soil Conditions – foundation requirements
  • Water table/Flooding
  • Architectural theme[i]

 

A copy of the white paper was given to the Port’s director.

Since that meeting, listings of concerns have disappeared from subsequent Harbor Square redevelopment documents.

Regardless of the issues, the Port’s primary goal is to have the City of Edmonds grant a contract rezone to raise the building height.  They need the building height raised to attract a property redevelopment company to buy the Harbor Square property.

For the record, the current buildings on the Harbor Square do provide a profit for the Port, just not as much as in the past.

If the Port’s efforts are successful, then the question is, should a developer want to redevelop the Antique Mall property, will that developer want to raise building heights for that project?

If the public shows no real interest, then that developer will probably get the heights raised.

On the other hand, there hasn’t been any real effort to explore other options.

Some suggestions have been dismissed as too difficult and complicated, such as trying to have a small corporation place their headquarters on that property.

Other ideas ignored because project wouldn’t generate enough money for the city, plus which the banks like the mixed use residential concept so that getting loans becomes fairly easy by comparison.

What the Port is offering is an easy solution to their perceived problems and presenting their concept to the public and Edmonds City Council as a win-win scenario as to the potential tax revenue that this project might provide, maybe.

But they need a contract rezone and raise the building height from 35 feet to 55 feet to make it happen.

If this contract rezone is approved and the project is pushed through, then the Port of Edmonds in effect will have placed on the City of Edmonds, a crown of profits for the few and will have crucified the City of Edmonds on the cross of doing what is easy and not what is right.

In the end, we’ll be forced to accept being a mediocre city on the sound.

 

White Paper

Eric Livingston

April 2, 2012

Contents

Summary

Background

Issues in the Feasibility Studies, but largely ignored during Public Outreach

Research on the Issues

Recommended Action

Resources

Summary:

The Port of Edmonds needs to ask the City Council of Edmonds to grant an exemption in the City’s Comprehensive plan to allow a proposed redevelopment of Harbor Square, with building heights up to 5 stories, to proceed.

Research indicates that important concerns and issues regarding the Redevelopment of Harbor Square into a Mixed-use/Transit oriented development with residential, office and retail spaces have not been appropriately addressed.  The risk that this development will not meet stated goals is far greater than the probability of success.  Based on the information provided, it is recommended that City Council should vote down the Port’s request.

Background:

The Port of Edmonds in 1976 purchased 14.6 acres of marshland from UNOCAL Oil[1], specifically for the purpose of development.  Using material dredged from the construction of the north marina as fill, the Port partnered with Harbor Square Associates and built an office and light industrial campus, which was a popular development concept at the time.  This is the Harbor Square that exists.

In April, 2006, the Port completed the purchase of five buildings in Harbor Square.  At a joint meeting of the Port and Edmonds City Council, held on April 25, 2006, it authorized the organization of a committee to study redeveloping Harbor Square.

The Committee, on September 9, 2009, presented a recommendation to both the City council and the Port a recommendation “to authorize a creation of a Redevelopment Plan, via the Master Plan Process, and that a private-sector firm lead the planning effort.”[2]

In February of 2012, the Port of Edmonds mailed to every home in Edmonds, an informational brochure which presented a Preliminary Redevelopment Vision for the redevelopment of Harbor Square.  The redevelopment proposed is a mixed use, transit oriented concept – the current trend - containing residential, retail, and some office space.

The brochure explains the Master Plan Concepts as developed by the joint efforts of Makers (a private-sector firm) and the Steering Committee.  The brochure presents eleven design principals, renderings to illustrate these principals, a view-shed analysis and a list of benefits the Steering Committee believes will:

  • Expand the tax base for the Edmonds and Woodway communities
  • Enhance connections and pedestrian environment
  • Promote Transit Oriented Development
  • Improve Ecology & Increase waterfront view opportunities and public gathering places[3]

The mass mailing of the brochure and the Port meeting on 3/12/2012 completed ‘Phase II of the Master Planning Process – Public Outreach’.

Issues in the Feasibility Studies, but largely ignored during Public Outreach:

The only document developed for the Public Outreach that lists any concerns noted in Phase I Feasibility Studies was presented at the May 5, 2010 Port meeting.  The following is an abridged list; [4]

  • Train noise
  • The risk of putting more units on the market than the market can absorb
  • Linkages to downtown Edmonds
  • Traffic impact
  • Soil Conditions – foundation requirements
  • Water table/Flooding
  • Architectural theme

The railroad noise issue was mentioned in one of several public meetings the Port hosted.  It was mentioned in a written comment to the Port and was acknowledged, in writing, but ignored since then.

The traffic issues have never been resolved.

The remaining issues/concerns (on or off the list) have been ignored as the public discussion was focused on whether or not the project “penciled out”.

Research on the Issues:

Research on these issues, reveals concerns which were completely ignored or weren’t asked by the consulting firms – Berk & Associates, LMN Architects and Makers – or the committee members involved in the creation of the Master Plan Concepts.  Issues such as:

  • Approximately 10,000 freight trains, plus 2900 passenger trains, annually pass within 100m of Harbor Square, coupled with the fact that the rail crossing on Dayton St. requires trains sound their horns, thereby raising several health issues.  Medical studies show that living is such close proximity to heavy rail traffic and horn noise increases the risk of developing cardio-vascular problems, physiological issues (headaches, stomach problems, etc...), and problems relating to sleep deprivation and depression.

 

  • Property values – within ½ mile radius – can be expected to drop between 2.5% to 10% (location depending).

 

  • Currently, there is no available documentation indicating a housing shortage.  Forty condos are now listed for sale in the Bowl.  They have been listed for an average of 144 days.  Of those recently sold, pricing was reduced 20% to 40% during that time.

 

  • Downtown Edmonds has vacant retail space.  Feasibility studies never explained how adding retail stores will lower vacancies or improve Edmonds’ consumer economy.

 

  • The Architectural Theme mentioned in the brochure, ‘Northwest Style’ literally does not exist.  No such style is even acknowledged by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

 

  • There is the possibility – however slight – that both the Ferry dock and the Amtrak station could be moved to the undeveloped UNOCAL land, ending easy access to transit.

 

  • The light rail system being developed along the I-5 corridor.

 

  • The establishment of a “Quiet Zone” [5] to eliminate the train horn noise issue was mentioned in the Final Report to City Council and Port of Edmonds, but ignored since.

Recommended Action:

1.     Based on the research, it is unlikely that the target demographic would be willing to pay a premium to live within 100m of a freight rail line, with 10,000 trains passing by annually, with accompanying horn noise.

 

2.     Both the unresolved issues/concerns, never fully discussed with the public, and the (continuing) research, indicate this proposed redevelopment of Harbor Square, if completed, will:

  • Fail to meet its goals, both financial and social.
  • Have a lasting negative impact on Edmonds’ economy, home values and its citizens.

 

3.     The request for re-zoning required to redevelop Harbor Square as proposed should be voted down by Edmonds City Council.

Works Cited:

Port of Edmonds, “A Brief History of the Port of Edmonds – How it began… What it is Today”, 2009 revision.

Redevelopment Committee, “Final Report to City Council and Port of Edmonds”, presented at the joint Edmonds City Council and Port of Edmonds Meeting, September 26, 2006.

Port of Edmonds, “Redevelopment Vision 2012-2013”, Port of Edmonds, WA; Brochure, February 3, 2012, with corrections

 

Port of Edmonds, “Harbor Square Redevelopment Concept – Community Planning Guidance to Date”, Port of Edmonds Meeting, May 5, 2009.

Additional Resources:

 

Babisch, Wolfgang, Brend Bernard, Marianne Schust, Norbert Kersten and Hartmut Ising.

Traffic Noise and Risk of Myocardial Infarction

Epidemiology 16.1 (2005): 33-40. LWW Journals. Web. March. 2012.

Bronzcraft, Arline L., PH.D.; Chairperson, “Train Horn Noise – Health and Well Being Impacts

Noise Committee, Council on the Environment of New York City. 2004

AIA, Historic resources Committee website:  network.aia.org/HistoricResourcesCommittee/Home/ Web.

March. 2012.

Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed-use_development. “Benefits and Drawbacks”, March. 2012

Dannenberg, Andrew L.,  MD, MPH, Richard J. Jackson, MD, MPH, Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH, Richard A. Schieber, MD, MPH, Michael Pratt, MD, MS, MPH, Chris Kochtitzky, MSP, and Hugh H. Tilson, MD, DrPH.

The Impact of Community Design and Land-Use Choices on Public Health: A Scientific Research Agenda” American Journal of Public Health: September 2003, Vol. 93, No. 9, pp. 1500-1508.

 

Randall Bell, MAI. “The Impact of Detrimental Conditions on Property Values” The Appraisal Journal. October 1998: 380-391. Web. March. 2012

About the author:

Eric B. Livingston has degrees in art (focusing on sculpture and a minor in music), culinary art, technical writing and has credits towards an MBA.  He has been awarded prizes for photography and portrait sculpture, has had a one man show, as well as having had work accepted in juried art exhibitions in Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

His career includes having been a deckhand for Bethlehem Steel and a couple of purse-seiners, a forms designer and a stock broker in Stamford, CT and Seattle.  Also, he was a baker on the North Slope, Kitchen/Production Manager for Kern County Hospital in Bakersfield, CA, worked at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas TX, as well as restaurants in Seattle, Bellevue and Edmonds.

He has researched and written papers on “Aesthetic Universals in Art”, “Linguistics of Food/Cookery” (which was submitted to the 2009 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery), a white paper for a non-electric irrigation pump manufacturer and wrote several pieces for Seattle Home & Lifestyles magazine.

Currently he is a freelance web designer and tech writer. He resides in Edmonds, WA with wife, Eliza, and a dog, Pershing.

 

 

 


[1] Port of Edmonds, “A Brief History of the Port of Edmonds – How it began… What it is Today”, 2009 revision, 10

[2] Redevelopment Committee, “Final Report to City Council and Port of Edmonds”, presented at the joint Edmonds City Council and Port of Edmonds Meeting, September 26, 2006; 5

[3] Port of Edmonds, “Redevelopment Vision 2012-2013”, Port of Edmonds, WA; Brochure, February 3, 2012, with corrections

[4] Port of Edmonds, “Harbor Square Redevelopment Concept – Community Planning  Guidance to Date”, Port of Edmonds Meeting,  May 5, 2009, 1 (abridged)

[5] Redevelopment Committee, “Final Report to City Council and Port of Edmonds”, presented at the joint Edmonds City Council and Port of Edmonds Meeting, September 26, 2006; 2

 

 

 

 

 

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