Upzone update: Where does it go from here?

December 12, 2007 at 8:41 am | In California Ave upzoning, Development | 18 Comments

upzonescreengrab.jpgLast night’s Admiral Neighborhood Association meeting spent more than an hour focusing on the much-discussed upzoning proposal for both sides of California between Hanford and Hinds (and a little further south on the west side, as shown on the city map at left). At the heart of this discussion: What happens next? Association president Mark Wainwright thinks the property owners, represented by Josh Stepherson (who attended last night’s meeting) and longtime local real-estate/property-management partners Roger Cayce and Mike Gain, should pull the proposal and start over. But that was just one of the suggestions at last night’s meeting.

With a smaller group — about 15 people sitting around tables in a U formation at the ANA’s usual meeting venue, Admiral Congregational Church — last night’s dialogue was a lot more civil than the big public meeting two weeks ago, though almost as spirited.

Since that meeting, Wainwright has met with Gain, who he said showed him some early plans for the type of development they are considering for the east side of the block. Wainwright believes that’s not the best place to start developing the area, for reasons including the absence of an alley for access.

As has been reported previously, the zoning change that’s being sought would enable 4-story buildings with ground-floor space for businesses as big as 25,000 square feet (roughly the size of a small grocery store like PCC, it was suggested at the meeting), compared to 3 stories and 10,000 square feet, respectively, in the current zoning.

The Admiral association’s contention is that development of this size runs contrary to the Admiral Neighborhood Plan (which you can find here), created with intensive community input in the late ’90s. The property owners’ contention is that the Neighborhood Plan is out of date.

Another one of the area residents at last night’s meeting, Junction-based architect Brandon Nicholson, says he believes the property owners do have a “case for the rezone” — because in his view the area does match the criteria for NC2-40.

Nicholson says he is interested in an idea that first surfaced at the November 30 community meeting, proceeding with this proposal as a “contract rezone,” which would peg the upzoning to a specific project on a specific site, with various terms and conditions. “Something’s going to happen with the property at some point,” he contends, “does the neighborhood want to have some control?” He believes that control could only come through a compromise such as a contract rezone.

Wainwright says he doesn’t entirely agree the area is a match for NC2-40 zoning – he considers it more of a “split,” on the line between its current NC1-30 and the proposed NC2-40. One reason he cites: Many areas with the latter zoning tend to have more of a buffer zone between their larger developments and neighboring areas of single-family developments, which would not be the case here, as streets of single-family homes are immediately behind these blocks, on both sides (42nd to the east, 44th to the west).

Throughout the discussion, which also involved worried neighbors who had voiced opposition to the upzoning, property owners rep Stepherson listened and took notes that he promised to share with his clients. Asked what he would take away from the meeting, Stepherson said he was hearing talk about potential “mitigation measures” — though the association’s Dennis Ross took exception with that, contending it’s “too early to talk about mitigation … on 42nd and 44th, you can’t mitigate height [from the potential new development].”

Wainwright took that occasion to note, again, that everyone needs to remember current zoning would allow a building of nearly 40 feet to go up “tomorrow” if the property owners chose; Nicholson offered words of caution, again, about neighbors proceeding in an adversarial mode regarding the property owners: “If you fight the fight, you might hate the result.” He says he’s had experience in some situations where developers could wind up holding a grudge against project opponents who fight them tooth and nail.

That shifted the discussion to concerns about how the upzoning proposal has been handled and presented to neighbors. (First word of it came in the city’s Land Use Information Bulletin on November 8th, which we promptly posted here on WSB, but it got little mention elsewhere aside from the obligatory city signs that went up on the block, and some neighbors say they didn’t hear about it till just a few days before the public meeting on November 30.) One neighbor suggested, “They (Cayce & Gain & the other property owners) may have the power to reverse this (negative perception), to shift this in a more positive direction,” if they sought a new, proactive way to present their ideas to the community — Stepherson described it as their “vision” — and listen to concerns.

Wainwright suggests it would be most productive for a smaller subgroup to form and try to open that dialogue. We expect to hear soon from the neighbors at last night’s meeting who committed to organizing that subgroup; their communications also will funnel through the Admiral Neighborhood Association, whose official e-mail group (everyone who lives and/or works/does business in the area is welcome) can be found here.

As for the official next step: City planner Malli Anderson is still accepting public comments on the upzoning proposal, though the official deadline has passed. Her contact info:
700 5th Avenue, Suite 2000
Seattle, WA 98124
malli.anderson@seattle.gov
206-233-3858

You can also track the official city project page here.

18 Comments

  1. Whether this is a re zone or not, taller buildings could be/will be built in this area. My concern is what is the chance that this could lead to 44th and 42nd being re zone like how they are in the Junction? Slippery slope concept. Maybe Mark W can answer this one? If this ever happens I can tell you I will sell my house and not because I want the money. I know that the more popular an area gets, the more money I will likely get for my house (so I should be happy about that) but it’s not about that for me. I wish I would have known or done better research before I bought a detached house close to California Ave. It’s one of those things like how do you know to even look into something like that?

    Being this close to development is full of conveniences and inconveniences, it’s just at this point in my life the cons far outweigh the pros. I think those concerned with change on this blog, who IMO are criticized sometimes harshly in my experience or atleast regularly, might just be bringing a unique perspective to the forum because they live on the cusp of California Ave and deal with growing pains daily. I don’t think being concerned is being anti change or NIMBY’s etc..

    And to those who say it’s a done deal, quit complaining. Just because something is a done deal dosen’t mean you cannot still be concerned about it, take a look at George Bush.. a lot of people complain about him but it has been 2 done deals. Ofcouse he could be impeached to undo the deal but it seems like a zoning change is much more likey than an impeachement.

    Being a part of the process is the mature, responsible thing to do but reading this blog over the last couple of years and seeing the back and forth about development gets my heart racing and stresses me out most of the time so I kind of just feel like I need to drop out but I like to keep abreast on what is happening on my block, etc. I think what it is, is communication is so much more that written words. It’s body language, voice inflection, eye contact etc, so it is very easy for people to take comments the wrong way then start flaming.
    Ready for that beer we’re all supposed to go get? :) I am!

    Comment by Todd — 11:52 am December 12, 2007 #

  2. PS – isn’t it ironic that the neighborhood plan allowed for development/zoning but it is now a sticking point in development as far as the rezone request is going? Maybe it’s a strecth for me to make that analogy.

    Comment by Todd — 11:57 am December 12, 2007 #

  3. Todd is in desperate need of an editor. Just messin’ with ya Todd. ;)

    Comment by coffee geek — 2:06 pm December 12, 2007 #

  4. LOL, guilty! :)

    Comment by Todd — 3:14 pm December 12, 2007 #

  5. The zoning maps for California Avenue are on the city’s website
    at “http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Research/Zoning_Maps/default.asp”
    and the specific PDFs for California Avenue are this URL with the amended sub for the specific section of California…

    “http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Research/gis/webplots/”

    for Harbor Ave. to Atlantic add “k47-3w.pdf” at the end
    for Atlantic to Hanford add “k48e.pdf” at the end of the slash
    for Hanford to Alaska add “k54e.pdf” at the end
    for Alaska to Graham add “k61e.pdf’ at the end
    for Graham to Monroe add “k68e.pdf” at the end
    for Monroe to Roxbury (yes the right of way still exists)
    add “k75e.pdf” at the end

    This way all WSB readers will know exactly what the zoning is now. In most instances, the NC2-40 or higher backs up directly to SF5000 zones so that’s apparently the common approach. Typically, houses which back up to commercial zones have a proportionately lower cost and tax burden as recompense (well, the tax anyway).

    I’m on the other side of the coin on this one, but then I’m neither an Admiral neighbor nor do I live closer than two blocks to California Avenue and I’m on a very high hill. But, those were requisites when I bought my house. I do, however, walk from Alaska to Admiral Junction and on down to Harbor Ave. and would really like to see more in the stretch between Alaska and Admiral. It’s somewhat of a lonely ghost zone now – a bit seedy and run down. Yes there are lots of low-rent paying businesses. Are they sustainable? Is the building they are in sustainable?

    Research is probably the one area where home buyers don’t go the extra mile and it’s a useful extra mile. Lots of things to learn – where are the flooded areas when it’s wet; where are the neighbors who’ll likely build up their houses; what can you walk conveniently to in case you have no car or the weather tanks; what’s been the history of the area; lots of stuff which most folks may not think about but which really do pay off when you research them.

    Comment by chas redmond — 5:31 pm December 12, 2007 #

  6. Thanks Chas.
    Not that I need to really share everything about my life but there were some other factors that kind of pressured us into the house we bought. I knew I did not want to be on an arterial but we are and I knew we did not want to be near a major road but we are. I did look into many things but zoning was something I guess I did not know about. It’s kind of like- how do you know to check into something you don’t know exists? (If that makes any sense). We love our house and needed to get into something before our next child was going to be born and we had already sold our previous house in Gatewood and were delaying the new owners move in by 2 months (renting back) as it was. I was also facing a lay off. Stressful time.
    In the end I am responsible 100% for my actions. I am thankful to just be able to afford a house and live in a prosperous time and community. I just need to keep that foremost in my mind. I’ve lived in many areas of the US over the years but have spent most of my time in the NW. Thank God for that :) This is home and I love it.

    Comment by Todd — 9:58 pm December 12, 2007 #

  7. Todd-
    Great posts. And I bet that there are many people in a similar situation – frankly, I didn’t have the zoning question at the top of my house buying checklist when we bought our house almost 8 years ago…
    And I’m all for you and others getting involved in the process. There will be plenty of opportunities in the near and not-so-near future.
    The pregnant wife an kids thing? I’m right there too. I can only take partial responsibility for any number of decisions I’ve made in my days of fatherhood… I’m confident that I’m not permanently crazy, and I’m sure things will get better as the kids get older.
    Right?
    I think I’m ready for that beer too.
    Mark

    Comment by MW — 10:18 pm December 12, 2007 #

  8. Thanks Mark, nice to hear from you. Yeah, “they” say it (kids, etc..) gets easier? I’m still waiting. LOL

    Comment by Todd — 11:13 pm December 12, 2007 #

  9. Regarding things getting better when the kids get older. Might want to have a second beer Mark. They get, in fact, even more interesting. But, with regards to California Avenue, I posted all those links because I think all of us West Seattleites ought to get smarter on what our main street is now and what it can or should be. I love California Avenue, I walk nearly the whole length several times a month – rain and sun. I love the trees in the fall when the leaves start piling up on the sidewalk. I hate Alaska Street and all the boring and blank walls and parking lots facing what should be our second main street. Vigilance and vision.

    Anyone here got cool Google Earth/Photoshop skills and want to come up with a streetscape treatment for California Avenue – given all the zones up and down it? Might be a project worthy of a grant request or something. It covers at least four community associations directly (Alki, Admiral, Junction, Morgan) and impacts everyone on the peninsula. Heck, even the traffic these days is beginning to have a Roosevelt Way feel to it. And that’s not good.

    Comment by chas redmond — 1:27 am December 13, 2007 #

  10. I researched my house; even talked to some of the business owners nearby, who weren’t planning on moving for awhile and were fairly quiet and low-key. So I bought. And, one thing that factored highly into that decision, was the property bordering mine was zoned NC1-30, a zoning code that allowed only 30-foot buildings and smaller retail spaces on the bottom, much smaller, 15,000 square feet smaller, 10,000 square feet versus 25,000 (virtually a PCC).

    I bought, trusting the city that it was zoned for NC1-30 for solid reasons. Then, a four-year review process, involving hundreds of neighbors and business folks from a myriad of backgrounds, led to the determination, one which is anchored in the Admiral Neighborhood Plan, that this land was indeed zoned correctly, at NC1-30. This Plan has been approved and adopted by the Seattle City Council – approved and adopted. So, hopefully, the city won’t belie this trust. Other neighbors bought property in the 3200 – 3400 block aware that their property was beside NC1-30 zoning, not something much, much more commercial, such as NC2-40. Hopefully, the city won’t belie this trust. Our business neighbors, Cayce and Gain, seek to subvert this.

    Others outside this neighborhood hold a quality of life based on trust the city won’t upzone their property out of the blue to benefit a few who would profit greatly, with no clear benefit to them. Hopefully the city won’t belie this trust.

    What amazes me, is that when Cayce and Gain say they can’t afford to build in this zone, that it is not “feasible” to develop their property, they are basically saying the whole zoning type, NC1-30, is, as they put it, “functionally obsolete”, throughout the entire city of Seattle. I find that very hard to believe. Is a whole zoning code now “functionally obsolete” and not worth developing?

    I don’t think so. And now I know so, per Mark Wainwright’s great post made Dec. 12, about 91 posts down in the “Upzone Uproar: Cayce and Gain Face the Neighbors” thread, where he lists examples of many “handsome and good quality” buildings built in this existing zone. Thank you for that post, Mark.

    Apparently, the two-story underground parking garage Mike Gain wants to build is so expensive to construct that he seeks to off-set the cost by trying to build a four-story building, though his land is not zoned for it. So, apparently, he and Cayce are seeking to upzone the whole block for that (and so much more I’m sure).

    There’s plenty reasons why the proposed upzone shouldn’t be approved. There is absolutely no reason why the entire length of California has to turn into what the basement of Harborview Hospital looks like, a concrete-bunker tunnel.

    For many reasons, reasons the City of Seattle are aware of, the 3200 – 3400 block stretch belongs NC1-30. I trust it will remain so.

    Comment by Concerned Neighbnor — 2:15 am December 13, 2007 #

  11. I strongly dissagree with the comments of Brandon

    Nicholson regardin a contract rezone fo the 3200

    block of California Av SW. This is a contract

    between the city and Cayce and gain. the city

    is breaking its contract with the Admiral

    Neighborhood with respect to the neighborhood

    planning process and Caycwe ang gain are not

    showing good faith so far with their application.

    Why should we enter contractions with unreliable

    parties such as these?? I say that we should

    join together in numbers ASAP and fight to get

    this rezone denied!! Lets hear some comments

    on this.

    ard

    Comment by ard — 2:52 pm December 13, 2007 #

  12. Concerned NeighBNor – my computer saves my screen name each time I post a comment; does yours make you put in a name each time? Maybe instead of 4 stories with 2 floors of parking, they could go with the 3-1 combo, including a pedestrian pass-thru so that we can all park on your street. Be careful what you wish for!

    Comment by GenHillOne — 5:55 pm December 13, 2007 #

  13. Oh and guys – really dug the male bonding up there! Beer, parenting, zoning…WS is so dang cool :D

    Comment by GenHillOne — 5:58 pm December 13, 2007 #

  14. yup, Gen..let em keep their zoning, and try to find parking on the street. It’s already a mess. So is this whole debacle. I’m fed up with the ‘fear of change/lose my view’ people railing against ANY development.

    NONE of you anti-zone people have answered my questions regarding PRIVATE home developers (Omni comes to mind), coming in and building HUGE houses on single lots, completely blocking their neighbors views, and getting all kinds of zoning/lot line variances at the same time….

    one thing I think -should- be ‘mandated (for lack of better terms), is 1st floor RETAIL. I’m not that thrilled with the ‘condofication’ of WS, but I understand it. MOST of my objection comes from the lack of creative design on a large # of them. There are obviously exceptions, and I enjoy looking at the well done units, and would gladly live in one.

    I did my research on our home…that’s not gonna keep someone from mowing down the 1951 warbox next to me and building something huge.

    Frankly, I really hope C&G get the zoning revisions and build a showpiece destination building that will help reshape and revitalize the entire neighborhood. Lord knows the area could use it.

    Comment by grr — 6:21 pm December 13, 2007 #

  15. LOL! GenHillOne – you obviously don’t have teenagers who use your computer and also love the WSB.

    They are welcome to combo and develop away, to the tune of NC1-30. Not one person has said they’re against development in the existing zone; not one. Go see Mark Wainwright’s great post (Dec. 12) in the “Upzone Uproar: Cayce and Gain Face the Neighbors” thread, where he lists examples of many “handsome and good quality” buildings built in this existing zone.

    grr, I see no correlation between the topic at hand and your Omni issues – possibly why no one responds. Per your usual “fear of change… people railing against ANY development” comment, see my comment right here, one ‘graph up.

    And grr, thanks for pointing out there’s already parking problems, which would obviously be made much worse by an upzone.

    Comment by Concerned Neighbor — 8:43 pm December 13, 2007 #

  16. I think it is really important that we as a neighborhood come up with a vision of what we WANT to happen to this part of California Ave.

    The Admiral Neighborhood Plan took a stab at this 10 years ago, but other than including this area in the Urban Village, it does not give SPECIFIC guidance for this block. It states that “land use within the residential urban village should conform to the Admiral neighborhood’s vision of iteself as a pedestrian oriented small town, or urban center.” (page 30) But what does this really mean?

    I can imagine 3 possible visions or scenarios of what could happen here, and many variations on each of these themes:
    1. No new development / stays the same
    2. Townhouse development (with or without some commercial or live/work spaces)
    3. Mixed-use development (a variety of commercial and residential uses generally with commercial at street level and apartments or condos above)

    In my opinion, vision #3 (mixed-use) provides the greatest benefit to the community. I really don’t want to see townhouses with fenced-off front yards, but I could be a fan of vision #2 (townhouses) if it includes commercial spaces at street level (live/work units or live-aboves). I don’t think vision #1 is realistic or desirable.

    I think that coming up with a vision is relevant to the rezone discussion. If we can figure out what we want, we can then figure out the best way to allow or even encourage it to happen.

    Mark listed some buildings to demonstrate the kind of projects that would fit into his vision of what could/should be built here. Kudos to him. I agree that these are wonderful buildings. Unfortunately none of them are in an NC zone.
    Victoria Townhomes is MR (60′ height limit, although they didn’t use it all), Fremont Lofts is L3 (30′), The Boulders is L1 (25′) – all residential (not commercial) zones, so they don’t include businesses. Lionsgate is a 200 unit project in Redmond – more like a planned community than one building, but it does have a mix of commercial and residential which I like.

    I am trying to think of a good example of a project in an NC-30 zone, but none immediately come to mind. Anyone else know of one?
    Who else wants to share their vision of the 3200 block of the future??

    Comment by SLK — 10:56 pm December 13, 2007 #

  17. Dear ard,

    I agree. Let Mark Wainwright, President, Admiral Neighborhood Association, know if you want to work with others on this: .

    Comment by wsr — 11:16 pm December 13, 2007 #

  18. C.N…your first mistake is ‘trusting’ the city zoning for anything. It can, has, and will be changed at their whim, if they see fit. Two stadiums and that goofy ass monorail debacle proves that….

    and, I DO think the Omni discussion is relevant. There seems to be plenty of uproar if a ‘big developer’ wants to come make zoning changes, but for a ‘small’ home developer, getting a land use variance seems to not be a problem. ..

    and you mistook my parking comment. I WANT GOOD development in the area, and I want PROPER parking for it.

    and I want a WalMart on California Ave. Right behind the PCC.

    :)

    Comment by grr — 7:07 am December 15, 2007 #

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