Council continues downtown discussion

  • Jim Hills<br>Edmonds Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:47am

Some wanted to talk about heights.

Some wanted to talk about anything but heights.

Some wanted to talk about not talking about heights.

By the end of the Tuesday, Feb. 22 Edmonds City Council meeting, the only thing that was decided was that there would be some more talk. “At this point, I don’t even know if we can take a vote next week,” Council member Michael Plunkett said at one point during the meeting.

The session Tuesday was a continuance of a discussion over the proposed Downtown Waterfront Plan, a portion of the city’s overall comprehensive plan. Following a lengthy public hearing at the Feb. 15 meeting, Plunkett and Council member Richard Marin said they wanted to make presentations and amendments to the Planning Board’s proposal.

This week, both Council members made remarks with visual aids but the actual amendments will wait until the March 1 meeting.

“A lot of (the controversy) has to do with views,” said Marin, the Council president. The proposal would allow buildings in some areas of downtown to top out at 33-feet, up from the current code which has a general limit of 25-feet but allows some pitched-roof structures to go to 30 feet.

Marin used a series of slides he took showing current downtown buildings and views. He then showed slides with outlines to show the impact of taller buildings.

“What is lost is not much of the view and it’s not that great anyway,” Marin said of his examples. “The first floor is what we really see and draws us into these buildings. What’s above, in this city, is uninteresting.”

Marin said that he would submit amendments limiting a new height limit to the buildings along Fifth Avenue and Main Street in the core downtown area.

Plunkett’s presentation focused on what he felt was a lack of attention paid to the historical aspects of downtown Edmonds. Before starting his presentation, Plunkett said Marin’s plan targets the very buildings he wants to save. “Anything that increases the likelihood of taking those out, I won’t be able to support,” Plunkett said.

Citing his background with the Edmonds Historic Preservation Commission, Plunkett presented a series of language-change suggestions for the comp plan that he said would encourage maintenance of downtown’s historic feel.

“The historic commission believes there is not enough emphasis on reservation,” Plunkett said.

Council member Deanna Dawson said she thinks the proposed 33-foot height limit is at odds with the goals in the document.

“My feeling is that 33 feet is not consistent with the stated comp plan goals,” Dawson. “When I looked at Mr. Marin’s slides, I do see changes.”

Council member Jeff Wilson said he disagreed with Marin’s proposal to limit the impacted area to a few streets. “It seems to be taking the core and making it smaller and smaller,” Wilson said. “That’s a not a downtown, it’s a strip mall.”

Wilson spoke at length about his sense that the comprehensive plan shouldn’t have specific height limits. “I don’t even want to talk about height,” said Wilson, adding that he’d prefer to focus on design and overall scale of buildings as they relate to pedestrians. “Twenty-five, 30, 33 are artificial numbers. We need to create some great design standards.”

Wilson also questioned the reliance on condominiums on second and potentially third floors. He said requiring minimum densities would lead to smaller and more affordable units.

At least four of the seven council members indicated they would likely vote against a plan that included a 33-foot height limit, including Plunkett, Dawson, Wilson and Dave Orvis.

During the public comment period, speakers were split over the apparent direction of the council.

Edmonds resident Roger Hertrich said he was proud of the Council, saying they appeared to be listening to public sentiment.

On the other end of the spectrum was Don Kreiman who told the council he was disappointed in them for apparently rejecting the Planning Board proposal. “This plan on your desk is the result of all that work.” Kreiman said.

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