The proposal by developer Bob Gregg to build condominiums over a redeveloped South County Senior Center is unworthy of further consideration for a variety of reasons.
These include technical, practical and policy considerations. Members of ACE (The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds) find it remarkable that the idea has achieved any legitimacy whatever. First, and most important: Why is the city considering selling a capital asset in order to fund ongoing operations? ACE maintains that it is the opposite of good governance to pay for current expenses by selling a community asset of views and open space on the waterfront. And the views and open space above the current senior center are exactly what would be “sold” to Mr. Gregg under his proposal. This capital asset is not only ours today, but belongs to the future citizens of this community.
Second, multi-family housing is not permitted on the Senior Center property under current zoning or the current comprehensive plan. There exists a non-conforming multi-family use adjacent to the Senior Center property, the Ebb Tide Apartments. That non-conforming use was grandfathered when the city adopted its current zoning and comprehensive plan. It is not appropriate to cite that non-conforming use as a reason to consider Mr. Gregg’s proposal. Before any further consideration of multi-family and increased development heights at the Senior Center location, the city must revisit the comprehensive plan and zoning rules currently in place.
Third, even the most preliminary financial analysis demonstrates how unlikely it is for Mr. Gregg to “deliver a new Senior Center for free.” Using the city’s own $10 million figure as a replacement cost for the Senior Center would require that each condominium unit (assuming 20 units) would have to generate a net profit of $500,000 just to break even. That is not even close to reality and immediately calls into question: Who is going to pay for the shortfall?
Fourth, because the Senior Center property is owned by the city of Edmonds, a project such as this must initially be considered a public work. That requires following state public works bidding laws. The city cannot just ignore its obligations in this respect. Now it is certainly possible to structure a public-private approach to a development proposal such as this. However, in that event the city must still initiate a best value competitive process for a full service development team.
Finally, since the Senior Center has a lease with the city and has both short- and long-term interests in the property, why have they not been invited to have the first opportunity to create a vision for the property and community? Potential uses of this property should be evaluated in an open and transparent process beginning with significant input from the seniors who use the center and the citizens of Edmonds.
ACE asks this question: When and where is the public policy debate on this issue going to take place?
Bill Angle and John Reed are Edmonds residents and members of the Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds.