Comment: An Edmonds-style townhouse – injecting common sense ideas into housing policy


The flagship policy recommendation of the Edmonds Citizens’ Housing Commission (CHC) is “missing mid-level housing in single-family neighborhoods”. This basically recommends our city council develop a housing policy that would allow two townhouses / duplexes to replace a single family home and it would do so citywide in all residential areas.. This may seem reasonable in its most basic form if it is limited to this type of development only. The harsh reality is that this policy opens the door to a proliferation of “Track Townhome Developments” throughout Edmonds. This will tragically lead to a very real decline in Edmonds livability, tree canopy, environmental protection and the preservation of our small-scale single-family neighborhoods.

I sat on the Citizens’ Housing Commission and as a result of my experience there I developed and believe in an “Edmonds Kind of Townhome” policy. Personally, I don’t have a problem with clearing my neighbor’s house and building two townhouses or a duplex with a net footprint equal to that of the original house, yard and yard. parking on site. However, I strongly oppose using larger plots and / or merging adjacent plots to inject large numbers of townhouses into my neighborhood. This is precisely what is happening all over Seattle and what turns its neighborhoods into chaotic and ugly spaces. To my fellow Edmonds folks, if “missing mid-level housing in single-family neighborhoods” is passed in its current proposed form, Edmonds will see that Seattle-style development is allowed and even encouraged. Opportunistic and profitable townhomes will prevail and arrive quickly in Edmonds in many of our residential areas.

The recently completed Westhaven development in Edmonds gives us some insight into how local developers are currently using adjacent plot developments to create new housing in Edmonds. Three houses on larger plots were acquired and redeveloped into 10 separate houses in an existing single-family neighborhood. Builders often build to scale and build six or more homes at a time to save money and maximize profits.

This higher density Westhaven development continues to provide three private on-site parking spaces and leaves approximately 5,000 square feet of green space, which is sufficient to plant and / or preserve existing trees (if such policies existed) . Up to 30 additional automobile activities could be added to this district.

Unlike the example above, by approving CHC’s flagship policy (two townhouses / duplexes in single-family zones in all residential areas of Edmonds), the same development would have allowed the construction of 20 townhouses instead. of the 10 single-family homes. It is a profit-oriented policy. Row houses would have been less equated with the neighborhood with fewer yards and less on-site parking. In fact, the neighborhood would have been drastically altered to resemble a typical Greenlake residential setting. Imagine that now there would be 20 more families coming and going where once three families occupied the three plots of space. If one is looking for something positive in such a program, it is that there would be an opportunity for buyers who could not afford the $ 1.2 million to $ 1.5 million (2020 rate) for Newly built single family homes eventually purchase an 800,000 to $ 1 million townhouse range. The townhouse is probably the future of homeownership in our area, a very profitable construction for developers as it allows them to build multiple at a time. We can see a current example in the development of Quantum Homes in Perrinville, where there are 44 townhouses under construction. Builders usually don’t build one or two houses at a time; instead, they build on a scale to maximize profits and use limited construction labor and resources. Most townhouse developments in single-family neighborhoods build six to eight or more units at a time, a fact confirmed to me by one of the top townhouse developers in Seattle.

The Brackett’s Corner development is the newest trail townhouse development in our city. It’s worth looking to really see what we can expect to proliferate in Edmonds if the CHC’s flagship policy is passed by a simple majority vote of four members of our current city council.

212th Brackett’s Corner: 14 units sold between $ 699,000 and $ 800,000 in 2018

212th Brackett’s Corner: 14 units sold between $ 699,000 and $ 800,000 in 2018

Visitor parking is limited in this design, a very small space provided between units. Almost no space to preserve and / or plant trees or preserve significant green space is provided in this design. There were once two commercial buildings on this plot with tall evergreen trees – see the trees in the background – are they now next door? I think this development is better than the previous two run down commercial buildings, and the units themselves look very well built. The alarming factor is the disposition and the lack of moderation; this design would be so much better if there were 10 units and not 14 and left more onsite parking and green space, an open space rule of around 15-20% would have been prudent and better equated with Edmonds. Most developments in Edmonds including commercial only require 5% to stay open / green space.

Ratio rule

Edmonds City Council and the community have had the benefit of observing what has been done in the surrounding communities and we should learn from their pronounced lack of moderation and what has resulted. Edmonds city-wide zoning will lead to a proliferation of townhouse developments that are carbon copies of what Seattle has created. Big developers and investment firms love the huge profits created when very little open space and onsite parking is required. Edmonds needs to establish a ratio rule that would allow more housing options and more capacity, but at the same time allow for greater moderation and better balance, allowing for a greater likelihood of green space being preserved. Using such a rule would also allow the housing capacity created to better fit into Edmonds’ simple 8 square mile footprint, 30% of which is dense forest and other unique but sensitive environmental splendours such as as streams, streams and swamps.

By bringing moderation into the process, City Council has an invaluable opportunity at this critical time to reimagine how to increase our housing supply in a way that would help protect the character and livability of Edmonds. Establishing a ratio rule standard would benefit Edmonds by removing some of the angst and fear surrounding the “superior zoning” policy. Instead of allowing a builder to demolish three homes in Edmonds (illustrated by the Westhaven case study above) and build ten larger single-family homes (or 20 townhouses if council approves a policy allowing it) , it would be a more prudent policy to inject moderation into the process with a ratio rule and also set a 5 to 15% larger open space requirement that reflects Edmonds’ scale and its sensitive environmental location. Another reasonable idea is to allow a developer to build a maximum of six houses of any shape, type, or size based on what has already been established on the three plots in this example, rather than just letting the developer manipulate the size of the land, through mergers of plots and subdivisions of unit lots, to build on every square inch of the property. It is not a reasonable idea to suggest that paying high fees to remove the taller established trees will save Edmonds’ environment, nor the installation of modern retention systems that slowly drain water into Puget Sound, for example. opposition to water consumed by thirsty trees and green spaces.

A ratio rule policy would lead to moderation of development and protection of the environment by limiting the proliferation of impermeable areas. A policy that requires that when three homes are demolished and replaced, it be with six new homes rather than 20 townhouses or 10 larger single-family homes. This is a reasonable policy because it allows us to increase our housing offer but at the same time it is thoughtful and respectful of our fellow citizens and neighbors and, above all, of our environment. Regardless of how it is labeled, whether it’s ‘affordable housing’, ‘missing center’ or other subjective labels, 20 houses replacing three in any neighborhood in Edmonds won’t fit. not well in the character, livability and fragile environment of Edmonds. Everyone should agree that it does not meet the expectations you had for your neighborhood when you sacrificed yourself and made a commitment to own a home here or chose to pay higher rent to make Edmonds your home. .

If the reason for outclassing our entire city is to provide more and more varied housing options, then there is an opportunity to do so, but also to curb excessive profits by setting standards that our surrounding communities have missed. We cannot afford to simply make a carbon copy of what other communities have done in error and regret and what state and regional powers urge us to do. What is wrong with some moderation? Edmonds can and should do a better job of sharing his community and providing more housing options, but there is no need to overcompensate at the expense of our quality of life and environment, and certainly no need to emulate this. which unfortunately was done in Seattle. We have seen people move to the suburbs and other cities to escape what was done in Seattle. Be very clear that we are accelerating towards a ‘Seattle style’ housing policy with this comprehensive solution to provide housing options in Edmonds as well as the huge assumptions about what the zoning changes may resolve and / or provide. realistically. Our community of Edmonds is at a very critical crossroads. I ask council to consider ratio rules and larger open space requirements (plus 5-15%) on all developments, commercial and residential, before implementing large-scale zoning density changes .

– By Mike McMurray

Mike McMurray lives in Edmonds.

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