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Let’s Not Play On Their Turf

by on 03/11/2013

Progress, sustainability experts say, is not growth or change, progress is improvement, and improvement comes in flavors: economic, social, and environmental. The Harbor Square Master Plan, as currently being pushed, equates progress with just one kind of improvement – economic – while the social and environmental effects aren’t merely being ignored, they’re being victimized. If that’s not bad enough, the Port, and the proposal advocates, are using unsubstantiated points to back their concept of economic progress. As follows:

(1) We need residential units to increase our tax base.

So 350 units, 15 to 20 years from now, is our best solution to current economic woes — not to mention how the construction will make economic matters worse in the meantime?

(2) Young professionals will flock to these condos so they can take Sounder to work in the morning.

Perhaps, in 15 to 20 years, young people will find Edmonds more attractive than they do now. No one can predict either way. What we do know is that in 15 to 20 years, light rail will have come to Lynnwood and a modest urban village isn’t going to save Sounder as a commuter passenger service.

(3) Housing over retail is an economic sure thing.

No, it isn’t. How will buying a dress in an urban village rather than in downtown help Edmonds? It’s not as if we’re hurting for retail space. Will we need more retail space in 15 to 20 years? There’s a problem we hope to have, and one we should deal with if and when it happens.

(4) The Harbor Square Master Plan has been an open process.

No, it hasn’t. I was a member of the original citizen group. Our choices were limited to variations on a theme of increasing the height-limit and changing the zoning to allow residential. Opinions that diverge from those of the Port have been ignored.

(5) The people want it.

No, they don’t. Edmonds citizens have voted against candidates who advocate relaxing height limits, time and time again. In his campaign literature, Mayor Earling stated that the height-limit debate was settled long ago. What happened to that assurance?

Advocates of the Port proposal have proceeded with blinders, a total unwillingness to consider options, to look in any direction but up, at taller buildings. A total unwillingness to stray from a mega-project that entails tons of concrete and threatens our environment. A total unwillingness to assist the entrepreneurial spirit that exists with thriving businesses such as the micro-breweries, athletic clubs, the summer market, our arts community, the spread of happy hours. In sum: a total unwillingness to respect market forces over central government planning.

Anyone can criticize, I get that, so what do I believe the people of Edmonds want? That’s not a hard question. What do people like about Edmonds? What are we already supporting? How can we expand on that? What do we want more of? Is there something you see in other cities and environments that you want for Edmonds?

The easiest way to predict what people will support is to create more of what they already support. Look, for example, at the many happy hours in Edmonds. Did someone from Edmonds government say what we need are happy hours? Nope, some restaurant owner thought they’d bring in more customers during these hard times, by charging less during their less-crowded hours. Better to have lower margins for a couple of hours than an empty restaurant. Nearly every restaurant/bar in town followed suit and, suddenly, Edmonds is a destination, including for the seldom seen, around here, young adults.

Here’s what I don’t get: Officials from Edmonds have touted the ideas of Roger Brooks — there’s a link to his presentation for Edmonds on — but the Port plan is the antithesis of what he advocates. Brooks states that thriving cities don’t thrive because of top-down planning, but from bottom-up entrepreneurialism; that cities don’t thrive from mega-projects, they thrive from community gathering spots such as plazas and public markets.

Here’s why I won’t lend credibility to the Port’s approach. By focusing on building heights, zoning, and liquefaction zones, our minds are still occupied by the details of a project to nowhere. Our thoughts are being colonized by a plan conceived and promoted by a handful of advocates who have pretended to listen to the community, and have pretended to listen to an expert, Roger Brooks, on what makes downtowns work. As long as we talk about modifying this plan, rather than looking at entrepreneurial and bottom-up community ventures, we will be playing on their turf.

Let’s abandon this waste of time and money; let’s abandon what people have said, over and over, they don’t want, and return to the ideas that even city officials say we should be promoting.

It’s worth stating, again: it’s not about building heights, not about zoning, not about liquefaction, it’s about creating a place for community, for participation by the people of Edmonds, and a destination for those who will be attracted to our public spaces and creative business community. Edmonds is a gift — let’s show our appreciation.

From → Edmonds

  1. Richard Stuart permalink

    I agree completely. I am not a disinterested citizen of Edmonds: I have lived here for 25 years, expect to die here, and have a great investment in our community. Despite talk about repeated committee reviews of this project, I did not become aware of it until its recent presentation to Council for “final” approval. At no point have the citizens of Edmonds been polled in a systematic way. Instead, the developers who stand to profit from this proposal presented a very poorly conceived model and gave Council an opportunity to nibble around the edges. I agree with Councilwoman Bloom that we need to begin by clarifying our values and then developing a proposal that is congruent with them.

    Edmonds is not a high-density residential community: it is SUBurban, not urban. High rise buildings will urbanize our town. Edmonds is not a community in which we want to encourage geologically unstable construction. Doing so will result in untold liabilities for the our town when the inevitable happens.

    Our waterfront is a distinguishing feature of our town and it should not be indiscriminately paved over. We have great creative energy: let’s use it to come up with a plan that takes full advantage of our unique setting and make it available to all residents of Edmonds and surrounding communities–not an enclave for the privileged few. A year round market a la Freemont would be wonderful. So, too, a concert venue, an arts workshop a la Granville Island, or a land-based marine park that capitalizes on our underwater park would be wonderful. These are just some of the possibilities that are precluded by the Harbor. Councilwoman Bloom-please continue your efforts to prevent the Port and its developer allies from stealing one of the jewels from our crown.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with Joan Bloom and Richard Stuart. I have been against the current Harbor Square plan from the beginning. What profit will the city really see from this thing? The lowering of property value of condos along 3rd Ave. S. and also 4th Ave. S. will offset any gains realized at the square.
    Is not the Port of Edmonds a government entity? As such, I would think they would be more concerned with making that area available to all of the residents and future visitors to Edmonds rather than to a select few. Or, is there a developer interested in buying this property but only if there is a variance on the height restriction? This is only a guess, I certainly don’t know anything of the sort. But, why else would the Port want this?
    Richard Stuart has listed several ideas for the property that would benefit all of Edmonds – they would attract visitors who would make Edmonds their destination. and, might even attract ferry riders to stop and stay awhile rather than just driving through.
    Before moving here, Edmonds was my destination in the 70’s, 80’s, etc. I loved coming up for the day to visit the antique mall on 5th, and stay for lunch and browse stores. I’d love Edmonds to be that sort of town once again.
    I wish I was better at expressing myself, but I truly believe that progress doesn’t always mean high-rise buildings and multiple condos. To quote a book I recently read, progress doesn’t mean “modernizing” to suit “up-to-date tastes”. It truly is beautifying a space to attract all ages, and people from all walks of life.
    Thank you, Joan for your persistence in stopping such a sad travesty. I left Kirkland and don’t really want to live in a clone of that town.

    • I don’t know how this got listed under ‘seniorshavetheirsay’, oh well. I feel it important to sign my name, though. Patricia Sherwood/Edmonds, WA

  3. Patrice Raplee permalink

    We have lived and paid taxes in Edmonds for 12-years. We do not want or approve of the Harbor Square Master Plan! Again, this is certain elected officials in power and the wealthy doing what they want and what will benefit them! Several years ago, Edmonds residents lost their ability to govern their own neighborhoods due to power wielding officials. Edmonds will lose its comfortable and liveable quality if unlimited height is allowed on buildings, as well as a concrete-jungle master plan. Stand up Edmonds’ citizens and don’t let our town be turned into a high-rise urban nightmare. If you don’t get involved we all lose again!

  4. Robert Haverlock permalink

    I also have lived in Edmonds, and now Esperance for 15+ years. This battle over height limits is still on the books 15 years later! I do not think, and have not seen anything sustainable (I know, an over-used word) since I’ve moved here.

    Where’s the common sense, or our common ground? We should design for sustainability, Edmonds has something unique about here that is special and unique, and the architecture should preferably showcase this.

    It should have ties with local businesses, organizations, recreational amentities etc., to extend the site for shared partnerships and shared facilities, and designed to a welcoming place for the community.

    It should be inviting and friendly and not institutional-looking or forbidding. We know that community involvement in design is a key factor in the success and so the community needs to feel that the this belongs to them.

    Whats it’s Indoor-Outdoor Connection, is there Flexible Spaces, or is it
    Designed for Multiple Intelligences, will it have Daylight and Solar Energy possibilities, will it have Sustainable Elements and Building as 3-D Text
    and more important, will it have a Local Signature? or will it be at the will of the builder? All for the sake of money, right?

    I think so.

  5. Val Stewart permalink

    Good article. Your points are well taken. I hope Council members will discuss the Planning Board’s 14 recommendations next meeting in the context of all that you have heard from citizens and related research. The future is in your hands.

  6. Jerry Capretta permalink

    The Port’s Plan is a wealth transfer from the residents of Edmonds to the Port. The Port is being arrogant and insensitive to residents of Edmonds. The Port of Edmonds has lost it’s way and is out of control.The Port of Edmonds has become our community’s biggest enemy. Resignations should take place at the Port and new directors should focus on proper Port objectives..

  7. Denise Hie permalink

    My thanks to Councilwoman Bloom for writing this so colorfully, the words that do not flow so easily from me. Thus said is in my heart. And more thanks goes to these supportive comments from my Edmonds neighbors. Richard Stuart said, “At no point have the citizens of Edmonds been polled in a systematic way.” Interesting that this was stated, because the question that came to my mind as I was reading Bloom’s message, was whether or not we have taken any polls in any way. But it does in fact become quite obvious when we look around at the businesses in town which are successful, just what it is that the residents and visitors want.

    Speaking for myself, I love the feel of small shops that offer a tantalizing array of modern items affordable to many economic statuses. I also enjoy the smaller home-town structures and the street decor that offers a quaintness – the kind of welcoming that makes me want to spend my whole day downtown. While we want to appeal to people of all ages, bring modern concepts into a town that can still maintain a small-town feel, we do not need to focus on the displacement of people who have lived here for many years and stay here for the above stated reasons. Urban development displaces people who are attracted to a more suburban lifestyle. Poorly planned urban development attracts _______(well, I’ll just let you decide how you want to fill in the blank. I told you I wasn’t so good with words).

  8. Susan Bauer permalink

    I’ve never seen an engineered retail system attract, unless it was a creative use or rehab of a group of otherwise unrelated buildings & store-fronts (Edmonds current downtown area, Old Town Pasadena, Ballard Avenue, etc.). Harbor Square was an engineered village built just over 30 yrs ago with a ‘design life ‘ that expired only about 15 yrs after it was finished. We learned from this.

    And to another of your points, Joan, I’m also not sure young people are very attracted to Edmonds. Maybe young families or older adults but not people whose lives would naturally prefer a close orbit around the very latest cultural & art venues. Seattle is so close and also quite far.

    We (including our elected officials & the staff we employ) should embrace who Edmonds is actually comprised of and that requires listening to what everyone has to say when they take the time to voice opinion. And then by abiding by the majority’s wishes.

    Despite the mayor’s, and others’ beliefs to the contrary, the re-paving of our most sensitive areas and raising the heights of our precious traditional downtown retail core are issues being brought up, dusted off and introduced again every few years, without fail. We live in a beautiful slice of the planet and that is, I guess, inevitable.

    Let’s just talk & listen then make a decision together. The anger and accustory talk is not working.

    • Denise Hie permalink

      “I’m also not sure young people are very attracted to Edmonds.” This statement must be subjective to whom you know in Edmonds. I have a child in high school, one in college, and college associates, all of whom meet with their friends in the young adult age group, in downtown Edmonds. They do this because they enjoy the environment outside of the city that still offers a bit of everything on a smaller scale – coffee shops, tea, eateries, art, literature, shopping and beachfront walks.

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