After three years of debate, both passionate and analytical, the Edmonds City Council was expected Tuesday night to approve a package of...

Share story

After three years of debate, both passionate and analytical, the Edmonds City Council was expected Tuesday night to approve a package of development codes that could dramatically affect downtown’s future.

Simply put: Two-story buildings would continue to rule throughout the city’s business districts. The preservationists won, while proponents of economic redevelopment feel they lost.

“We held on to height limits. I think we’ve done a good job,” said Councilman David Orvis, a member of the council’s 4-3 majority favoring the new codes.

The council also was expected to revoke a two-year moratorium on new buildings taller than 25 feet. Nobody sought building permits for downtown projects during that period.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Strom Peterson, president of the Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association, is skeptical about downtown’s economic future. Many buildings went up in the 1940s and ’50s, he said, and are falling into disrepair, with inadequate plumbing and wiring.

“There’s not this great influx of people banging on the gates, people willing to build downtown,” said Peterson, who owns Resident Cheesemonger and co-owns Olive’s Café & Wine Bar. “Property is very expensive, so it’s difficult for somebody to buy a building to tear it down and build back up. … If I were a builder, I sure wouldn’t be looking at Edmonds.”

The city’s new rules would allow buildings up to 30 feet, if the upper levels are stepped back from the street. Developers — and two city consultants — say downtown redevelopment isn’t profitable without a 33-foot cap, generally needed to build two stories of condos above retail spaces. Under the 30-foot rule, only strongly sloping properties would sustain three-story buildings.

The previous council majority had endorsed a plan to raise some allowable heights to 33 feet, but that majority was overthrown when voters in 2005 replaced pro-growth member Jeff Wilson with Ron Wambolt, who took office in January.

Wambolt, a leader of the Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds, campaigned hard on the height issue. After knocking on thousands of doors, he was adamant that residents love downtown’s small-town charm and oppose taller buildings.

The remaining members of the former majority — Peggy Pritchard Olson, Mauri Moore and Richard Marin — were conciliatory in defeat.

But Olson was disappointed last week when the new majority reneged on what she thought was a compromise struck earlier this year. The Planning Board had recommended that some elements, such as roof gardens, parapet walls or deck railings, be allowed to extend above 30 feet.

The council, on a 4-3 vote, stripped out most of the proposed exceptions. As amended, the rules would only allow a single element, such as a turret or clock tower, to extend an extra 5 feet. The protruding structure couldn’t cover more than 5 percent of the roof area.

Orvis said he recalled no compromise agreement.

“Those exceptions I thought were essentially raising the height limit,” he said.

The height debate was triggered by the recent development of several three-story buildings that virtually everyone disliked. To comply with the city’s 30-foot height limit, in place since the 1980s, developers either sank the retail floor below street level or created unnaturally low first-floor ceilings.

Both plans addressed that problem, requiring 12-foot ceilings and street-level entries.

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.