Waterfront in Edmonds may get taller buildings

  • Chris Fyall<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:57am

Edmonds’ long obsession with building heights is heating up again.

A preferred design for the 20-acre waterfront redevelopment project was released Oct. 25, and it called for a series of four-, five- and six-story buildings on a property that currently allows nothing taller than 35-feet.

The project will help redefine the Edmonds’ waterfront for the next 50 years, both critics and proponents acknowledge.

While property owners stressed that not even these plans were final, the preferred alternative outlines 700 condos, about 230,000 square-feet of office and retail space, and nearly two acres of open public space. No cost figures were released, but a comparable plan unveiled Oct. 4 would have cost between $350-400 million to build, officials said at the time.

The newest plan would add roughly 10 percent more retail space to the city’s downtown core, said Stephan Clifton, the city’s community services director.

It will also add some amount of tax revenue to a city that badly needs it, supporters said.

Still, a clear majority of the community members who spoke at the Oct. 25 meeting were unhappy with the newest vision for Edmonds’ waterfront.

“This is a gorgeous area with fantastic views, and we have been fighting for that for years,” said Rosie Ginnett, who owns a condo on Fourth Street. “We are not Kirkland or Bellevue. It seems that is what (the property owners) want.”

Not true, said officials, who have maintained for months that a distinctly Edmonds development is the goal.

But, in order to pay for public spaces and expensive amenities like a pedestrian overpass bridging the railroad, the city needs to allow for increased density, proponents said.

“It is simple math. It is not rocket science,” said Mark Hinshaw, one of the lead architects with LMN Architects, who developed the design. “If you want amenities, you need to have the density to support it.”

Without new zoning rules, the property will likely be developed with big box stores and parking lots, he said.

“We want to see lots of trees and lots of green being part of this,” Hinshaw said. “We do not want to see just buildings.”

The property is comprised of three parcels owned separately by the Port of Edmonds, the Edmonds Shopping Center Associates and the McNaughton Group. They started a public design process in July, and intend to ask the city for a contract rezone in 2008.

If approved, the rezone would rewrite the development rulebook for the property, potentially including the ceiling.

“We want to get a consistent plan for the site,” said Port director Chris Keuss. “I don’t think it would make sense for the community to have three different projects.”

Development of the project is years away, Keuss said. It will likely be 2010 before any buildings were constructed, and full development probably won’t happen for 15 to 25 years, he said.

Still, the project was heavily criticized by community members.

“This is totally out of character with existing Edmonds today,” said resident John Davis. “This is way too much. It is overkill for an important area.”

It is far from clear if the property owners will pursue the plan presented Oct. 25 or what the final design will be. Any proposal would go first to the city’s planning board and then to City Council with chances to review, change and approve or reject it.

There has been no commitment from any of the property owners to any of the designs, including the preferred alternative.

Al Dykes, who owns the Edmonds Shopping Center Associates, continued even at the Oct. 25 meeting to criticize aspects of design process. Because financial data is not available, it is hard to know if any of the projects are even possible, he said.

“I cannot tell you anything regarding my opinion,” Dykes said. “I do not know whether any of these plans are worthwhile to develop.”

The city is watching with interest, but is not actively involved in the design proposals, said Mayor Gary Haakenson, who meets weekly with the property owners.

Until the design plans harden, it is hard to offer concrete feedback, he said.

“I just think they are so far removed from coming out with a recommendation or a final product,” Haakenson said after the Oct. 25 meeting. “I hope they continue to do these type of public meetings and continue to gather feedback.”

Keuss said that is exactly what the property owners will do.

Public meetings to discuss the proposal are already booked into January 2008, he said.

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