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Councilmember Joan Bloom: Why I Oppose the Harbor Square Master Plan

"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?"

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.

Joan Bloom
Edmonds City Council

Priya Sinha December 13, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Thanks, Joan for update. Unfortunately, my work and other commitments have prevented me from following the proposals closely. This is helpful and will allow me to catch up.
Charles Gold December 19, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Thanks, Councilperson Bloom, for your intelligent and courageous standing up to pressure from developers and those who benefit from this type (and it is only a type) of "economic development". You can see the forces at work in their objections to your comment, but you are working hard on behalf of all of us, and your opinion happens, as I'm sure you know, to represent a majority of Edmonds residents, particularly in the Bowl, where much of the value of Edmonds is centered. At the end of the first public hearing evening, you made a very cogent statement that Edmonds would be fine and thrive without this project, and you are right. You are also recognizing the pressure tactics, including parading all stakeholders in the project at each public hearing, even though they have already made presentations to the City. You have seen all the people in favor, and you will again, but you have not yet seen all the people against, because we have just had two meetings right before Christmas, when many don't want to take time to get involved in contentious issues. If this is ever put to a vote, and I hope it is before the Council would approve this plan (although if they reject it, or require conforming treatment like Point Edwards, that would be in keeping with past policy), then you will see the much greater opposition in numbers, of course. I am extremely glad to have you on the Council, and you have our support -- You are doing what everyone promised to do, but not all are doing.
Charles Gold December 19, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Wow, Councilmember Bloom -- I wrote my above comment based on public hearings, but now that I've read your statement of why you oppose the Harbor Square Master Plan, I think it is an extremely well said and thought out explanation of the entire situation. Indeed, why are we even considering this, and why do the advocates use their progress through each step to pressure the next step? Pure tactics. The Port has done a poor job of marketing Harbor Square to potential renters, and your ideas on that are excellent. That is the only reason they have vacancies, they need to up their game on the management end or find someone who will. BTW, I had a half dozen or so people come up to me to get the bumper stickers that said they had moved here from Ballard for this very reason, one lady was crying as she told about what had happened there. THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!!
Tere Ryder December 28, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Here, here, Councilmember Bloom!......Yes, the Port needs better management. It is interesting that it wasn't all that long ago that some of the same development people were working on plans for this whole area.......My research goes quite far back and voila, winds its way to BALLARD.......my hometown originally!.......same plans, ideas, architects, etc. ......for the select few who would gain economically from this...... Yes, thank you, Councilmember Bloom for standing up to this
Judy Reid March 14, 2013 at 03:16 PM
Just read Joan Bloom's letter & opinion in the Edmond's Beacon. Finally someone who says it how it is for the people of Edmond's , Happy Hour in Edmond's is the best thing that has happened since I move here 25 years ago. What fun to meet and greet friends for a couple hours and enjoy the sights and sounds of a great small town. KUDOS to the restaurateurs and Kudos to Joan for saying how it is. . Judy Reid

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