Edmonds: A Unique Viewpoint -- Town Hopes To Safeguard Its Charm

EDMONDS - On a clear evening, the view from Sunset Avenue overlooking Puget Sound is something to remember.

First there are the Olympic Mountains, a purple-blue against the horizon. Then there is the sky, all pink and orange and blue. Finally, there's the water - sparkling and gray.

It's easy to imagine that this sort of view - along with the wealth of old-growth timber, of course - played a part in bringing George Brackett back to the area he would later help to incorporate on Aug. 11, 1890.

Today, just three days before Edmonds enters its second century, it seems equally likely the city's spectacular views and natural beauty will continue to provide incentive to both lawmakers and residents in setting a policy to preserve that beauty for the coming decades.

``We are getting more and more environmentally conscious and active,'' City Councilman Jeff Palmer said recently.

For one thing, Palmer said, officials are concentrating more on protecting the city's wetlands and its waterfront. In addition, a top item on the City Council's agenda is trying to persuade state officials to relocate the ferry terminal about a mile south to Edwards Point, if Unocal property there goes on the market.

Edmonds officials want to move ferry traffic, which is expected to keep growing, away from the center of town. Such a move would free the central waterfront for another public use.

``We want to gain back for our citizens as much access as possible'' to the waterfront, Palmer said.

The possibility of relocating the ferry terminal, he added, ``has broadened people's thinking and dreaming of what could be'' at the downtown waterfront.

With a population just shy of 30,000, Edmonds in its centennial year has developed to about 80 to 85 percent of its capacity under current zoning, said assistant city planner Duane Bowman. The city is expected to reach its potential of about 37,000 residents sometime before 2020, he said.

A significant portion of what's left to build on, said Bowman, is property in landslide and other sensitive areas. Development of such lots will take both care and money to meet strict city regulations.

At the same time, the city's Planning Board has recently developed a proposed draft of new and stronger regulations, monitoring the development of land near streams and wetlands, said Edmonds planning manager Mary Lou Block.

The draft will be forwarded to a City Council committee this month, she said.

In addition, city officials have long favored strict building-height limitations to help preserve Edmonds' small-town character.

Virtually all development, with the exception of single-family residential construction, is strictly monitored by a vigilant Architectural Design Board. The panel reviews proposed exterior changes to commercial and multifamily properties as well as plans for signs.

Since it was established in the 1970s, the board has had a history of being tough on developers. While the panel has frustrated builders - some of whom have had to bring their plans back repeatedly before winning approval - many in Edmonds credit the panel for the city's tasteful downtown architecture.

During its 100-year history, (longer if you count the 15 years or so before incorporation), Edmonds changed from a working-class shingle-mill town at the turn of the century to a bedroom community by the 1950s and 1960s.

Now as it heads into the last decade of the 20th century, Edmonds is becoming more expensive and less affordable. The small speciality spice-and-card shops are outnumbered by fancy restaurants and professional businesses.

Dave Earling, an Edmonds real estate agent and past president of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, said the city has experienced an influx of professionals in the last decade - lawyers, accountants, architects and engineers.

``They're finding that many of their customers and clients are willing to come to this area,'' he said.

Earling said the business community in Edmonds underwent a significant change in the mid-1980s when the city launched the Edmonds Main Streets Project, raising about $120,000 to restore downtown buildings and recruit new businesses to the city. In addition, owners used thousands of dollars of their own money to upgrade their businesses, he said.

``It's the thing that solidified the real positive movement we've seen in the downtown area,'' said Earling.

In recent years, the city has become home to more than 40 restaurants - many of them chic and expensive.

Chris Matt, owner of the Mexican restaurant Quintana Roo at Third and Dayton streets, remembers a different atmosphere not so long ago.

``When we first came to town, there were three restaurants,'' he said.

That was in 1976 - when the Harbor Square development was still marsh land used for crab-cage storage, Matt said.

In the last 14 years, he has seen the city change from a small, quiet town to a city with a busy commercial center and a growing traffic problem.

Lack of parking is a headache for his customers and people making deliveries.

``The neighbors are always screaming at our delivery people,'' he said.

Harry Fredericksen, who has owned a realty business in the city since 1954, remembers the 1950s and 1960s in Edmonds as ``much slower paced'' and a time when you could buy a home for less than $10,000.

Now, he said, ``You're lucky if you can get one under $100,000.''

View properties are a different story altogether, realtors say, selling these days for anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 and up.

``Edmonds, until lately, has always been kind of a modest town,'' said Archie Satterfield, who has just published a pictorial history of Edmonds.

``At one time, you could buy a cheap place with a great view.''

But now, he said, ``I think Edmonds has gone the way of Sausalito and Carmel.''

``They're going to keep it very low key, but it's also going to become very expensive.''

There's another way Edmonds might be compared with Sausalito and Carmel: its reputation for the arts.

Today, for example, the city has several galleries, an annual arts festival that has continued to grow, several writers' programs and a successful theater. The city is also home to the Olympic Ballet Theater and the Cascade Symphony, founded in 1962.

Edmonds has also contributed its fair share of artists to the world - well-known poets Joan Swift and Ed Burrows, for example.

One testament to how many writers there are in Edmonds is that the Edmonds Arts Commission sponsors an annual Edmonds Mayor's Book Award, open to residents who have had a book published in the last year.

Agnes Ward, a member of the board of the Driftwood Players - an Edmonds theater about to enter its 32nd season - said the city's residents, officials and business community have been enormously supportive of the theater over the years.

She also believes that the city of Edmonds will always appeal to artists.

``Edmonds has maintained an identity,'' she said. ``That's what appeals to artists.''

``And it's the view.'' she said. ``The view is just broadening and opening to the eye - this is something the artist is always interested in.''