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It’s Not an Edmonds Kind of Plan

by on 04/07/2015

I couldn’t sleep. After two weeks of respite from Council, I awaken at 4am, with the stark realization that tonight Council will likely vote on a development plan for Westgate. The press (MyEdmondsNews and the Beacon) has been promoting that the Westgate plan has been before Council for five years. Not true — as we began our review in August, 2014, that’s an exaggeration of four years, three months; over 650 percent. Guess I’m splitting hairs.

Undoubtably, Mayor Earling and his staff want the residents of Edmonds to believe that Council has been dragging its feet in approving a plan, a plan that they claim has been vetted in innumerable meetings. They fail to mention that only two of those meetings comprised public hearings during Council sessions. That residents of Edmonds have endured meetings and finger-pointing is not because Council is dragging its feet, it’s that the plan before Council tonight is not right for our city.

We’re working backwards

The development plan before Council allows changes in what we’ve previously allowed in the Westgate area: we’d allow taller buildings( up to 45 feet), mixed residential and commercial in the entire development, setbacks of only12 feet from SR104, and from 100th Ave W, and lesser parking requirement ratios for both commercial and residential use. If built, as proposed, this equates to buildings much closer to the street, with much higher density, and more traffic in the already congested Westgate neighborhood. Council has to work backwards to achieve a more reasonable balance of height, setbacks, uses, and parking by adding amendments to the plan.

To approve this plan, Council must accept the premise that (1) allowing the property owner/developer a variety of choices and trade-offs, and (2) giving staff the authority to approve development within the prescribed form, is the best way to achieve results that are consistent with the values of the community. I accept neither of these premises.

The plan

If Council approves the Westgate plan, as is, three and four stories will be allowed along most of SR 104, and 100th Ave W, with setbacks of only 12 feet from these roads.

Wonky plan details:

The southwest quadrant (Bartell) allows heights of four stories along most of the corner of SR104, and 100th Ave W., tapering to three stories as you go west towards McDonalds. As you go south towards Firdale Village, it tapers from four to three, then two stories.

The northeast quadrant (PCC) allows three stories along all of SR 104, and 100th Ave W, with one small parcel of two stories to the north as you head to downtown.

The northwest quadrant (QFC) allows four stories everywhere, except for a small parcel of two stories in the far west corner.

The southeast quadrant (Key Bank, Ivar’s) allows three stories on the entire quadrant, except for a small parcel to the far south.

The building types

One of the purposes for the Westgate Mixed Use (WMU) zone is to “Encourage the development of a variety of housing choices available to residents of all economic and age segments.” However, instead of requiring specific housing choices, we are allowing the developer to choose between seven different building types, only one of which, Rowhouse, is residential, only. Six of the building types are allowed on specific parcels of the WMU zone. Only one building type — Commercial Mixed Use, which was initially called Commercial Block Use, for obvious reasons — is allowed on all of the parcels in the WMU zone.

If we encourage rather than require specific building types, we leave housing choices, which supposedly will be available to “residents of all economic and age segments,” to the discretion of the developer. How often do developers make the lower-profit choice?

It’s a crap shoot

We’re betting that the developers will choose the full range of options, which will result in a well designed mix of residential and commercial. This gamble is unlikely to pay off. Why would a developer choose to build a “Rowhouse,” the only option that is residential only, when they could fill their entire parcel with “Commercial mixed use”, which allows retail on the first floor and as many condos or apartments as they can squeeze into the upper floors? To repeat: how often do developers make the lower-profit choice?

If we want residential, only, in some areas of Westgate, why not decide where, and require it in those locations?

What do we want?

When I think about what the residents of Edmonds want for Westgate, I think of what has been expressed historically about development in our city. I think of what the residents of the Westgate area have said. And I think of what I would feel comfortable recommending, as a place to live, to someone that I know and care about.

What I come up with is the following:

  • Heights no higher than two stories, in all parcels right next to SR104 and 100th Ave, with a minimum setback of 20 feet. Consideration of commercial, only, buildings there. (Would you really want to live in a building that is right at the intersection of SR104 and 100th Ave West?)
  • Three stories of residential, only, in designated parcels, for example, against the hillside in the Bartell quadrant. Or two or three stories (dependent upon public vetting) of residential, only, backing the cemetery.

  • Residential, only, in parcels that approach the far edges of each quadrant.

  • Mixed residential and commercial in designated areas, again, based on public input.

How to get there

I have, repeatedly, requested that we approach this development, section by section (i.e., quadrant by quadrant). Planning Staff have informed Council that the owners of the Bartell quadrant are ready to develop, while PCC and QFC are unlikely to develop anytime soon. Why can’t we focus on the Bartell quadrant?

I believe the way to achieve the best future Westgate development is to review what the community has consistently both supported and opposed. We should hold several more, public hearings in front of Council, and these hearings should be highly publicized by the city. Let’s get away from the mentality of slipping through a plan, while people aren’t looking. Focus on what the residents of Edmonds would like to see at Westgate. Draw out ideas, creatively, with several open, transparent, conversations with the public.

Finally, Council should consider holding their own Town Hall meeting, specific to Westgate, to draw out our creative thinking. All input gathered from these meetings should be reviewed, prior to a final decision regarding the Westgate area.

From → Edmonds

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