Citizens have their say in Edmonds

Draft Housing Strategy paused; reboot is promised
By Brian Soergel | Oct 25, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel The view westbound on Edmonds Way, approaching 100th Avenue West and an 81-unit apartment building under construction.

As westbound drivers round the corner on Edmonds Way approaching Westgate, they get an in-your-face view of a four-story apartment structure pressed hard against a hillside next to Bartell Drugs.

The 81-unit apartment complex (down from an originally announced 91) will have parking and commercial space on the ground floor.

Meanwhile, on Third Avenue North and Edmonds Street, a three-story, nine-unit apartment building is squeezed into a previously empty corner lot. The applicant decided not to provide on-site parking for future tenants.

That applicant is Edmonds resident Glenn Safadago, who co-founded PriceDoc, a website providing consumers discounted prices and reduced fees on health care procedures. It was later purchased by Health Care International.

Safadago could not be reached through emails and phone calls.

The lack of parking was allowed under existing Edmonds code. But due to public outcry, the City in August slapped a moratorium on any further residential units in the downtown business district not providing on-site vehicle parking.

Edmonds’ housing stories could go on, as there are numerous examples of previously empty lots filled with units on postage-size parcels – see Brackett’s Corner, a “boutique home community” on 212th Street SW and 80th Avenue West with 14 new homes priced in the low $700,000s.

For some, it’s too much. Too soon. Housing is seemingly all anyone wants to talk about these days. The high cost of it. The lack of it. The building of it.

And the loudest voices rise from established residents who don’t like the direction the city is taking, throwing out ominous references to dreaded Ballard and Kirkland.

Housing strategy

As previously reported in the Beacon, the City of Edmonds is attempting to address housing issues with its Draft Housing Strategy.

The plan is necessary, as the Washington Growth Management Act requires periodic updates of the City’s comprehensive plan, which in turn considers how Edmonds is planning for expected growth, even as it just about built out.

Estimates call for about 5,500 more people by 2035, which is why in 2017 Mayor Dave Earling appointed a Housing Strategy Task Force comprised of nine local housing developers, policy experts, and civic leaders representing the public, nonprofit, and for-profit areas.

The City set aside $250,000 that funded the current study to assist with homeless needs; joined the Alliance for Housing Affordability, a multi-jurisdiction organization looking to contribute funds toward selected affordable housing projects; and adopted a plan and regulations that allow more housing in the Westgate and State Route 99 areas.

To say the draft plan has not gone over well with many, of course, is an understatement. And their voices are becoming louder and louder.

Their concerns have centered on density, as well as the City’s plans for low- and moderate-income housing and a perception that all of this will attract crime, homelessness and drug activity.

Partly due to the outcry, the City has hit the pause button on the plan. It’s time for a reset, as Development Services Director Shane Hope wrote in a City Corner column in the Beacon last week.

“It will be informed by the feedback we have heard from the community,” she said. “In addition, a revised strategy will recognize lessons learned from other cities' experiences. We don't want to repeat unsuccessful initiatives that have already been tried in other cities.”

To gauge public reaction to the housing plan, City Council President Mike Nelson previously held two jam-packed town halls.

Last week, Nelson sent out a news release announcing the housing strategy reboot and next steps.

“I appreciate the administration hearing the citizens from my town halls and acknowledging they now need to rework their housing strategy,” he said in response to Hope and the City’s decision.

Nelson said he heard from hundreds of citizens who spoke to him in person, by email, and by phone upset and frustrated about not being able to provide public input and feeling uninformed or unaware of the mayor’s strategy.

"It is clear to me,” he said, “that the mayor’s strategy as presented is not a viable solution for our community. That is why I am calling for a housing strategy reboot."

Of course, any recommendation on a final strategy would be up to a vote by all seven councilmembers.

The reboot, Nelson said, recommends the following changes:

  • New Housing Task Force with significant Edmonds citizen representation;
  • Year-long public engagement where the public is given the opportunity to help shape the housing strategy;
  • Replacing housing consultant with one better suited for coordinating a collaborative public process; and
  • Pushing back the housing strategy deadline to 2020 by amending the housing comprehensive plan.

"Our citizens feel their local government is not hearing them and that their opinions do not matter,” Nelson said. “I hear you, and hope these recommendations ensure you have a say in shaping the future housing of our city."

Earling on Tuesday said that he and City directors are grateful for the robust community response received during the City's extensive public outreach effort over the past year, in which councilmembers also played an active role.

“We are encouraged to hear that Councilmember Nelson supports the City's recent decision to take a pause in order to allow staff time to incorporate public feedback into a revised draft strategy for review by the public and the council.

“Many voices, through a wide variety of channels, have been heard during the City's outreach efforts, and we have also heard many different opinions on the issue. All of those opinions are valuable to the process of identifying ways to best serve our community's critical housing needs.”

Earling said there are many points of consensus among residents, including the need to better address ways for seniors to meet their housing needs as they age in place in Edmonds; ensuring safe neighborhoods for children; the need to protect and enhance the character of Edmonds' historic downtown and waterfront districts; and the desire to revitalize the Highway 99 neighborhood.

“My staff and I look forward to building upon this foundation of consensus and comment as we continue to work closely with our community to create the best possible future for those who live here.”

 

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