Five Reasons why the Edmonds City Council should pass the Harbor Square Master Plan

A good model we have near us is the Mill Creek Town Center
By Maggie Finia | Mar 21, 2013

Councilmember Joan Bloom’s Guest View (March 7, 2013) greatly disappoints those of us who believe the main job of elected officials is to pull people together rather than provoke divisiveness.

Most people in Edmonds probably do not support a wall of high-rise apartments along our waterfront.

However, a carefully planned mix of townhomes, apartments, retail and commercial, with gathering spaces and trails along the Marsh is something many would welcome at the Harbor Square site.

A good model we have near us is the Mill Creek Town Center.  They’ve done a nice job of creating a very walkable community adjacent to a large and healthy wetland.

It has attracted all age and income groups and has a hometown feel.  Using that model, the Port embarked on its mission to provide a vibrant, attractive environment for the Edmonds community and to promote economic development without obstructing views.

The City’s Comprehensive Plan, the guiding legal document for land use, policies and planning, describes the vision for nine different Downtown Waterfront Districts.[1]  One of those Districts includes the properties from Harbor Square to Main Street between the Railroad tracks and SR 104.  It is (a little confusingly) called the “Downtown Master Plan” and states:

This area is appropriate for design-driven master planned development, which provides for a mix of uses and takes advantage of its strategic location between the waterfront and downtown.

The location of existing taller buildings on the waterfront, and the site’s situation at the bottom of the Bowl, could enable a design that provides for higher buildings outside current view corridors.

The Port has done the heavy lifting to date to make this vision a reality. Adopting the Port Plan will demonstrate accountability and trust in our own process and is the logical next step for the Edmonds City Council.

Here are five specific reasons the Council should adopt the Port’s Plan


Reason 1 – It’s a Good Plan

It will not impact views. Currently, Harbor Square has great businesses and access to the Marsh.  The Port can currently build there under existing land use and zoning but the City could not require public amenities, quality design standards, restoration of the Marsh, low impact development or connections to our historic Downtown.  Current zoning does not allow any residential. This Plan, if adopted, would actually require those elements.


Reason 2 – This Was a Good Process

In order to satisfy the requirements of the City, the Port has spent three years and $200,000 to produce this conceptual Plan. The Public, Port and City have spent hundreds of hours crafting the Plan now before the Council.

Every household received two mailers describing it and invited comments.

The City’s Planning Board studied it, made fourteen recommendations which the Port accepted, and passed it with a 6/1 vote in favor. The City Council held numerous public hearings.  Relatively few comments were received.

The bottom line? There are over 40,000 people in Edmonds.  If this is not the vision most of us have, the City would be hearing from hundreds of people, not a few dozen.


Reason 3 – It has Broad Support

The City Planning Board, Friends of Edmonds Marsh, the Chamber of Commerce and many citizens strongly support it.

Having diverse groups on board signals good legislation.

Opponents have not shown how the Port’s Plan is not consistent with our existing City Comprehensive Plan, and argue, with absolutely no data, that the “the people of Edmonds want to keep things the way they are.” Or, “if we allow tall buildings here, we will have them everywhere.”

It’s important to listen to all voices, but policy cannot be dictated by passion alone, it must be backed up by facts and analysis.


Reason 4 – There are Numerous Environmental, Social and Financial Benefits

The Friends of Edmonds Marsh and the Washington State Department of Ecology support this Plan.  Wetlands biologist, Jon Houghton, Ph.D sent in a strong letter of support and Keeley O’Connell, Restoration Ecologist and member of Friends of Edmonds Marsh served on the Port’s Harbor Square steering committee.

According to them, by using ecologically sound development, the Plan will provide improvements to water quality and ecological function, improve flood control for the lower Edmonds Bowl and replace invasive species with native ones.

One of the biggest benefits will be restoring Willow Creek so salmon runs can return.

The Port Plan will be consistent with the soon to be adopted Edmonds Shorelines Master Program and State and Federal laws regarding wetlands.

The less height a development is allowed, the more it has to spread out.  This means more impervious surface, which increases flooding, and contaminated runoff into the Marsh.

The Chamber of Commerce supports it because it will improve sustainable economic vitality now and in the long term. Increasing our tax base will reduce the need for tax increases for health, schools, police and other human services.  It will support the quality of life residents value and bring visitors and employers to Edmonds.

The Port Plan includes elements that promote and provide for pedestrian and bike access and public gathering spaces.

According to a recent analysis by BST Associates for the Port, the City’s share of total construction-related taxes and fees is projected to range between approximately $1.4 million and $1.9 million.

Construction of Harbor Square is projected to generate employment of 385 to 616 direct, full-time equivalent jobs. The direct payroll associated with these jobs is estimated to range between $17.9 million and $28.7 million.

The annual net revenue generated for our City alone by redevelopment is projected to range between $321,000 and $369,000. These figures take into account taxes generated by the existing uses at Harbor Square.


Reason 5 – It is the Responsible Thing to Do

This Plan did not come out of the blue. The existing Edmonds Comprehensive Plan describes the scope of what the Port needed to include in any Port Plan. City Staff and the City Planning Board have determined that the Port’s Plan is consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

A few Councilmembers want to unilaterally change the rules in the middle of this process and ignore language that is in their own Comprehensive Plan.  That sends terrible signals to current and future partners of the City.

The State Growth Management Act requires cities to have Comprehensive plans and to follow them.

Rejecting this Port Plan out of hand is not a responsible reaction.  Instead, together with the Port, the Council now needs to identify any feasible changes and ways to strengthen intent and desired outcomes.

For instance, some of the “Whereas” statements, which are non-binding, could be amended to be in the “Sections” of the legislation which are binding.

Elections in Edmonds tend to be very close.  The notion that winning by much less than 1 percent gives a Councilmember a mandate is erroneous and arrogant.  It is all the more reason Councilmembers must strive to study each issue before taking a firm stand.

We expect all our Councilmembers, not just a few, to be respectful, to work together constructively, to be informed, to find common ground and to move forward responsibly.

Maggie Fimia received a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington. She was appointed to the Metro Council from 1992-1994. She served on the King County Council from 1994 to 2001 and the Shoreline City Council from 2003-2007. She is the Co-Chair of CETA, the Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives.  She lives in Edmonds with her husband, Don Moe MD and runs a new business called Welcome Home Family History Services.


Links to documents referenced:

Flyer sent out to all households in Edmonds by the Port


How to contact Edmonds City Council


Information about the Harbor Sq. Master Plan on the City website


Port of Edmonds Harbor Square Plan


Chamber of Commerce Link


Friends of the Marsh Link


Letter from Department of Ecology


[1] City of Edmonds Comprehensive Plan December 2011 Pages 54-57

Comments (1)
Posted by: john dolan | Jun 16, 2013 17:30

Maggie, Mill Creek does not have waterfront or a view. One good reason to oppose it.

If you wish to comment, please login.