I love Edmonds. I love the way the sun dips below the clouds as it sets after a long overcast day. I love the rainbows that appear when the sun pops from behind a cloud while it's raining.
I love that my children were raised here. I love that I know so many people who live and work here. I love that I am in a position to be one of the stewards of our city's future.
I also love the views of the water and mountains as I walk down Main or Dayton. I love thinking about how our views and gorgeous setting could be the key to the future of Edmonds, the key to figuring out how we can draw more people here to enjoy its beauty while taking advantage of our shops, restaurants and services.
At the council meeting of Dec. 4, fellow citizens were not talking about the excitement of the views, our environment and our setting. They were talking about a proposal that would capture views for the profit and benefit of a few—the Port's Harbor Square Master Plan that includes mixed use, residential and retail in buildings as high as 55 feet.
Think about that for a minute.
We were discussing how a few could profit—with a debatable economic benefit to Edmonds—from a project that is projected to be in place decades from now, and only after thousands of city staff, legal, and council hours (paid for by the citizens of Edmonds) have been expended reviewing the thousands of pages of studies, reports, legal documents, proposals, applications and whatnot.
This Master Plan would determine how the Harbor Square properties would look, not just 20 or so years from now, but decades into the future. Our gorgeous setting is a gift of nature.
Why does one generation have the right to deface this gift for countless future generations, just to deal with a current downturn in the economy? What kind of stewardship is that? And it isn't even practical, because the considerable construction period would hurt our local businesses, while the possible (but in no way guaranteed) benefits are a long way off.
Responding to our current financial crisis with this plan is akin to responding to a 911 call by introducing the possibility of a new fire or police station.
And why are we even considering a plan that raises height limits near the waterfront—a consideration that has been turned down by Edmonds voters countless times?
The downtown is our heart. The waterfront is our future.
The only reasonable way to guide the future is to take responsibility for what we can accomplish in the near term. That begins with discussions of what we want and will support now. Together, we can develop plans for the short term and, done right, the short term begets the long term.
Port director Bob McChesney was gracious enough to give me a tour of the Harbor Square properties. The entire second floors of two of the buildings are vacant. Mr. McChesney explained that an investment of perhaps a few hundred-thousand dollars would be required for the Port to upgrade these buildings to attract additional tenants.
With our fiber-optics access, we could attract tech, engineering, environmental research, and/or consulting businesses. Or perhaps an artists' cooperative, with studios for rent, on one of the floors. There are many possibilities.
I'm confused why Mr. McChesney and other Port officials have shown an unwillingness to consider anything other than a mega-project fraught with obstacles and uncertainties.
The approval process will be lengthy, while reaching the end point of the Port's proposal includes the assumption that there will be no obstructing appeals or lawsuits—a naive assumption considering our city's recent history.
Finally, the Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan) change would move decision from council to court. Proponents are contending that changing the Comp Plan to include the Harbor Square Master Plan is about giving more choice.
They suggest we can include residential and increased heights at Harbor Square in our Comp Plan and then negotiate heights with the applicant through a development agreement. However, everything incorporated into the Comp Plan is no longer under the control of the Council (legislative body) because the applicant can challenge restrictions through appeal(s) to the court (judicial body).
Here is an article on the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington Web site—"The Unassailable Right to Make Any Decision You Want: Avoiding Judicial Intervention in Local Land Use Decision Making"—wonky, but excellent reading to further understand why this is not a decision that council should make without carefully considering the ramifications.
It will take effort to face our differences of opinion and come to agreement to implement immediate solutions. I believe that we are up to the challenge. Because, after all, we all love Edmonds.
There will be another public hearing on the Port's Harbor Square Master Plan on Tuesday, Dec. 18th, in council chambers. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. Please come, or write to council at Council@ci.edmonds.wa.us and express your opinion.
Edmonds City Council