6:45 PM: We’re in the basement at Hope Lutheran Church along with more than 30 people here for a meeting that wouldn’t have happened if neighbors hadn’t petitioned the city for it. While the 36-unit, no-parking-space apartment building proposed for 4535 44th SW is going through Design Review – with at least one more meeting to come – other components of public comment are routinely dealt with via e-mail, postal-mail, phone comments … unless at least 50 people petition for a meeting to address SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act)-related impacts. No decision will be made tonight, but anyone who wants to get up to a microphone and speak is supposed to get a chance to do so. City planner Tami Garrett is presiding. We’ll be publishing notes as it happens. It’s starting with some voicing of confusion over the meeting’s topic – “we thought it was about the lack of parking,” per a few voices from the audience. “Is there anyone here from SDOT?” one man asks. No, just the Department of Planning and Development. Garrett clarifies that Design Review doesn’t include impacts such as parking, traffic, and noise, but this type of meeting does.
6:51 PM: Some confusion continues. Garrett explains that this is not microhousing – the units are proposed as full-fledged, if small, apartments. One man asks her to clarify how best they can express their opinions to decisionmakers about the lack of parking; he says he was “stunned” to find out this building has none. Garrett finally moves into the introduction, explaining that this project is in what’s considered a “frequent transit zone” that is part of an “urban village,” and that’s why no parking is required. She says two planners will review this project – she deals with Design Review and SEPA, while another planner will deal with “how it meets the land-use code.”
Questions arise from around the room, again, regarding why the law doesn’t require parking in this kind of law. Both city law and SEPA have changed, explain Garrett and co-worker Molly Hurley, who says “Tami’s role and my role are limited to review of this project to make sure it meets current codes. Therefore we are not effective conduits for your concerns about … the codes and policy,” which she says need to be expressed to City Councilmembers. A few minutes later, Hurley acknowledges that DPD does “have a hand in writing codes.” This particular change traces to last year, they say. “It was adopted at the City Council level,” explains Garrett, after someone in the back asks, “Did we get a say in (the change)?”
7:04 PM: The first speaker, Ellen, begins.
She refers to the 2009 city study of parking in The Junction, with parking close to 80 percent utilization then – “and since then, more than 4,000 new units are going up.” They’re going to need buses, she said, “but transit has been cut, and now there might be even more cuts.” She says “parking is horrendous” now, and while she’d be fine if 36 people were moving in without vehicles, she “doesn’t believe” that’s what will happen, so “unless the city can come up with money (for) a whole lot more buses … something like this project is very detrimental for the neighborhood.”
Next speaker, Bud, says he is a general contractor and believes this will be a “built-in ghetto, and if we think people are going to get out of their cars, we’re crazy … I think this is a scheme actually to get people out of their cars.” Murmurs of “right” ripple around the room. “I think what we have to do is take it further than this, take it to City Council, to the mayor and whomever developed this change in the rules. This is a scam. It’s going to make West Seattle impossible.” He is followed by Greg, who says that while he understands the city is not required to mandate parking, the effects on homes and businesses should be acknowledged.
Next speaker brings up the impending potential bus cuts, not just for getting to and from West Seattle, but also within WS, and says that the transportation that’s available will result in a loss of business for local stores, if people can’t find parking – inconvenience could lead to people deciding to “do it all online.” She is followed by a Gatewood resident who says there’s “not enough enforcement of safe driving and safe parking.” A Morgan Junction resident takes the microphone and asks Garrett and Hurley “how many meetings with projects like this” they have attended – “an urban village, units like this, where the zoning code has been changed, no parking has been required.” Hurley notes that it’s just a year after the code changed, so “we’re seeing developments like this” but mostly via Design Review. After a difficult exchange, he asks, “Have you ever heard a COMPLIMENT on a development like this?”, resulting in laughter. He says that renting in a building like this should result in everyone signing a statement that they are not going to have a car. “It’s common sense … but it doesn’t seem like the city has common sense right now.” Applause follows as he sits down. “You need to be our next mayor,” someone tells him.
Lorraine is next to speak and says her family has deep roots in West Seattle, then goes on to say that her comments are more questions than comments. She brings up the recycling and trash containers that will come with the residents and hopes they are part of the plan. “Even if none of these people have cars, they have to move in and move out, which requires trucks and so on … there are bus bays across from this building; are there places where people can (pull moving/delivery trucks in) so they won’t be blocking the buses … ?” She also asks about the height limit – 40 feet, but this is proposed as a 5-story building? Garrett subsequently answers the questions and says, basically, it’s all part of the plan; she notes that the building fronts two streets, so there’s room for moving-truck activity. She explains that the sloped topography of the site is the reason why the building can meet the allowable height limit despite being 5 stories.
7:25 PM: The next speaker says she works at a nearby clinic where they see many people with foot injuries and they are having trouble finding parking, as is she when she comes to work from outside the neighborhood “and my bus is one of the ones that’s going to be completely cut … I’m not going to start riding a bike at age 62, or hop a pogo stick, or …” She says construction workers are taking much of the parking near her workplace. She echoes the earlier speaker who suggested that residents in a parking-free building should “sign a contract that they won’t have a car.” The following speaker asks about water/sewage plans, and whether these will be one-occupant units. “No,” says Hurley, “the current code says up to 8 unrelated persons can live in one dwelling unit.” Many in the room laugh loudly. Next, a man who lives near Camp Long says he’s “watched the razing of businesses for tall condos … I come here with a single focus … it’s unconscionable to build housing and not provide parking for the automobiles that will inevitably be associated with those residents, and I’m encouraged by the number of people who have shown up here.” Next, a man who says he’s been a developer and been a businessperson in The Junction since the ’80s. He built the apartment in which his family lives, and when he did, “we had to have 1.17 parking spaces per unit.” He says he wishes he had added underground parking at the time but at the time it cost $25,000 per space. Now he says, no one is enforcing the two-hour parking, but he thinks the city should be. He says parking was 10 percent of the cost of his project back then and developers should be required to provide parking now.
7:32 PM: John Nuler says he’s going to be the first person to “speak against the crowd.” He says he doesn’t see a parking issue in The Junction, and West Seattle is nothing like other cities where he’s lived. How many people here have cars they don’t keep in their garage – should they have to sign a contract? he asks. Regarding water and sewage, he says that efficient small apartments have less environmental impact than single-family homes. He also says 4,000 more units for a place with 80,000 residents is “a drop in the bucket.” He also says “everyone in the room is older, like I am, and the younger people are moving in … the future is not going to be as reliant on cars as” his generation is. “West Seattle needs to change and needs to embrace the changes.” He is applauded as he finishes. (Meantime, a TV crew has just turned up.) Next, Marty Westerman from the West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s interim board speaks. He talks about the pending bus cuts and how that could mean transit service is unavailable to people moving in without parking under the assumption they have transit access. “What I’d like to see is, #1, my job is not to make developers money, my job is to make my community livable … I’d like to see a holistic sense of development, not single building by single building …”
7:38 PM: Diane Vincent mentions how important it is for people to get involved and watch projects that don’t even go to Design Review. She reiterates how parking is not an element of DR meetings “but it’s still important to show up and talk about them … and write to the City Councilperson who’s in charge of transportation and lives in West Seattle, Tom Rasmussen, who (mentioned at the WSTC event yesterday) is even going to lose HIS bus.” She explained her knowledge of the background of this project – and mentions how the advocacy of the acupuncture clinic owner next door helped lead to this meeting.
7:43 PM: Another person talks about the Design Review process not including parking and how buses run in the area. She is from the acupuncture clinic. She talks about how the clinic deals with people who say they can’t park near other clinics and that’s why they come to West Seattle. “Businesses (here) benefit from free parking … but the whole neighborhood is changing a lot.” Another man says West Seattle is “beginning to be an unfriendly place to have a business.” Speaking next is Deb Barker, who has been involved in design and land-use issues around the area. She first thanks Vincent for “telling people to show up at the Design Review Board …”which she used to chair, and says she has only seen one meeting which had this size of turnout. “If you have (anything to say), come to Design Review … we are all West Seattle …the Design Review is the single public process we have in the review mechanism … If your particular project you learned about doesn’t have a Design Review process … remember that thanks to (citizens requesting special meetings), we know there is a process (to request a meeting). Don’t just go ‘they don’t listen to me’ and walk away.”
She talks next about the 6917 California SW project, and the “overlay” zone there. She notes that the zones where parking is not required are not just in West Seattle. She wonders what kind of analysis was done when it was decided which zones would not have parking required: “I hope the environmental analysis is an analysis that is not a cut and paste … I hope those analysis look into the impacts when the zone is facing cuts in transit service.” Barker says she’ll be taking this up with councilmembers and the mayor-elect – and that Morgan Community Association, of which she is president, will be offering “Development 101” meetings starting early next month. She thanks participants for coming to the meeting and says “We’re all related, we’re all West Seattle.”
The last call for speakers goes out. Vincent stands up again and says parking spaces actually cost $25,000-$30,000, “so with our losing bus service I have been asking for (an impact fee that would be paid by developers) … if they don’t have to pay for parking, how many parking spaces that they no longer have to build, multiply that by $25,000, how much money (are they saving)?”
A man says, “I’d like to know who voted for that (changing the rules regarding parking).”
7:59 PM: Garrett is wrapping up the meeting by mentioning that this project is scheduled for its next – possibly final – Design Review meeting at 6:30 pm on December 5th (at the Senior Center of West Seattle, California/Oregon). She also explains that she will write a report on this meeting and the SEPA process, and that once the report is published, there will be an opportunity for the public to appeal it to the city Hearing Examiner. (The appeal costs $85, she replies to a question.) That process, Hurley adds, will be explained along with the decision when it is made public.