Video: Hearing for 4439 41st SW veers into city policy: ‘It may seem like development’s happening very fast, but there’s a plan’May 9, 2014 at 7:50 pm | In Development, West Seattle news | 12 Comments
(Top clip is the first hour, second clip picks up a few minutes later for final half-hour after our card change)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As with most recent neighbor-petitioned comment meetings for West Seattle development proposals, last night’s meeting about the 40-apartment, 5-parking-space 4439 41st SW project (first reported here in March) included a big-picture component.
After the hearing’s Department of Planning and Development point person, Bruce Rips, began by saying he does planning on current projects, he also introduced Geoff Wendlandt as a colleague looking at “long-range policies.” While Rips is a fairly frequent West Seattle visitor as designated planner for multiple projects, Wendlandt was last seen here during the neighbor-petitioned meeting for 3210 California. He pointed attendees to the city website for background information including current zoning and future changes in the multifamily zoning code.
Rips continued: “This project, unlike those I’m usually (here for), doesn’t have a design-review component – Geoff will probably touch on that as well. … But it does trigger what’s called the State Environmental Protection Act. … My department made its initial reviews of the project.” He mentioned correction letters sent to the applicant, often from concerns raised in community comments sent to the Department of Planning and Development. They haven’t heard back yet from the developer yet, on correction notices sent a month ago, he said
Next, Wendlandt spoke. “There’s a lot of development happening here as you know … a lot of cranes in The Junction. It may seem .. like development’s happening very fast, very haphazardly, but we do want to say to you there’s a plan for where development can occur – that’s the City’s comprehensive plan … which (outlines) where development can occur over time.” He talks about its background, and how The Junction is designated a Hub Urban Village, which “allows single-family neighborhoods to stay single-family neighborhoods.” Fremont, Ballard, Lake City, North Rainier are other “hub urban villages” around the city, he says. He notes that the Comprehensive Plan update process dubbed “Seattle 2035“ is under way and encourages people to participate. (A West Seattle open house about it last month was sparsely attended.)
He explained that this project is in a “low-rise multifamily zone,” which generally means areas between commercial cores and single-family neighborhoods. He mentions the 2010 changes to low-rise multi-family zones, “to allow a little more flexibility,” specifically in the townhouse-development area. And he mentiond the low-rise development zoning changes that are under way now “to make sure we’re getting the outcome we expected. He said “the growth that’s occurring in The Junction is consistent with (the current city plan) and if you don’t agree, (get involved with the Comprehensive Plan changes).”
One attendee asked if the presence of a business improvement area (such as the West Seattle Junction Association) would have any effect on zoning, particularly in this case related to businesses and where their employees park.
Then, it was on to the community comments.
First person, Pat, says she lives nearby. “We’ve been absolutely encumbered by parking for the past couple years, especially when they built Oregon 42 up here” – the new complex south of Hope Lutheran – and refers to construction workers. She has a fire hydrant in front of her home and says people park in front of it and up to the driveway. “The assumption that 40 units are going to bring people without cars is pretty (unlikely) … the parking is just going to get worse.” She mentions four churches, Holy Rosary School, Seattle Lutheran High School, and other institutions in the area, and “parking is a big problem.”
Jim Schwartz, who led the organizational meeting about the project back in March (WSB coverage here), spoke next. “We’ve worked together and put together a list of points that we think are important. … We realize this doesn’t mean (the concerns) are going to be solved … we don’t know what to expect yet.” He said that his group believes “40 units is just too high density for the setting” and expected townhomes, which is what was previously proposed for the site, and being built on a site two parcels away. The issues he listed:
*Inadequate alley “for this density”
*Frequent transit 1600 feet away, which he says wouldn’t qualify for the low/no-parking allowance
*North-side setback shown as 5 feet that should be 7 feet, for a 71-foot wall
*Size of the roof deck is “ridiculous … shows no sensitivity to the people living on any side”
*Geotech: Taking out 19,000 cubic feet of soil, bringing 4,000 cubic feet back in -”that’s going to be hundreds of dump trucks …” calling alley traffic “scary”
*The frontage is not on the street, possibly a hindrance to Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
*ADA access – one parking spot for two accessible units?
“The DPD does have the obligation and the power to protect us.” If they don’t, he fears the project will be a “lasting scar.”
Next, Abdy Farid, who lives in the neighborhood, said that he still doesn’t understand why the city makes exceptions for rules.
Schwartz then mentioned concerns about the window wells, “a disaster waiting to happen.”
Kathy Schwartz spoke next, pointing out the bus stop in The Junction “the main frequent bus stop that we have,” the one that is 1600 feet from the lot line of the property. “The bus stop that happens to be within (the distance) is not a main line,” even though, she said, technically it meets the requirement. “It heads to Southcenter, and that’s not enough.”
Julia Doerr from Hope Lutheran pointed out the concerns about the visibility on the street and the lack of parking. “(That will) create a hazardous situation already present in the area.” She also mentioned “putting this scale of a building in the LR-2 zone” which is supposed to be a bridge between commercial and single-family, but this seems “incongruous to what the plan for the urban village was supposed to be.”
Next person requested one parking space offstreet per unit, which would be eight times what’s planned now. “The idea that tenants will ride public transportation to work is great but not reality. … Unless there was a guarantee that people would not own a vehicle, it makes no sense … putting more vehicles on our already crowded streets. The urban-village concept means more people will bring their cars (to The Junction).” He said bus service needs to increase before parking can be decreased.
A Holy Rosary parishioner said that the parish is concerned about parking, especially because of elderly attendees. They’re also concerned about pickup/dropoff for families during school time. “The children do cross the road between the church and the school quite frequently.” She said she also was concerned about the lack of a turnaround for the project. “If there is no design review and we’re having people make these decisions for us, then it does become our opportunity to say ‘we think you made a bad choice for this neighborhood’.”
John Lisko from the Seattle Lutheran board spoke next, saying he agreed with many of the concerns already voiced. He noted that the city has met the density goal. “Why do we want to continue in this mode of density, unless we’re trying to look like Belltown?’” He also countered that the project is not truly “multi-family” housing, saying “I had more room in my dorm room at college. … It really does not fit this neighborhood. Those of us who live in West Seattle, we want families … we want affordable housing … building more of this just destroys that whole concept.”
Gordon next: “They changed the zoning in 2010. Now they have 80 times the density, there used to be one lady in there, and we’re going to see 40 more cars on the street. That’s the kind of desnity they’re proposing. Currently in Seattle, zoning is all political, completely driven by the political machine. … It’s what they want for our community, so you have to get involved in this new comprehensive plan, otherwise this political machine is going to change West Seattle.”
He called for a show of hands – who’s in favor of 40 units? None went up. Who’s in favor of 40 more cars? None went up.
Kristen Okabayashi, principal of Hope Lutheran School: “We’re not unaware that we live in an urban area and a huge project went in (nearby) that we didn’t raise objections to … ” From the schools’ standpoint, she mentioned traffic concerns: 217 students daily, no gym. “Every day 217 students are crossing the alley, all of our recess, the PE is there.” (Pointing to a display on an easel, she shows the alley where the students walk, and also where the “climber toy” is.)
Okabayashi says they are also concerned about privacy: “This is going to be a tall building looking right over the playground and school. … This is a completely different project. We’re concerned about our students’ safety. We’re going to have people moving in, moving out. It’s not going to be like a family buying a townhome. It does not make me feel safe. A lot of our parents have written letters baout this.” She also voiced concern about noise from 40 units. “We think it’s actually a hazard to our students’ safety and should not move forward.”
Kathy from The Arroyos says, “This is not a project that’s independent of everything going on here – what was the intention for the businesses in the local area – when you develop mostly microapartments, people don’t make large purchases and then ride the bus. They will order from the internet, take their car and drive to a mall, but they will not make large purchases and carry them and take the bus. Given that, what type of businesses are desired in The Junction? There’s only so many you can support. All that traffic is going to go somewhere else” or lead to delivery trucks with online purchases, which she thinks will be hazardous to local businesses. She also wonders what they’ve found in parking/car studies of other areas with microhousing or parking-less developments. “And in those areas, did the ridership on the buses … did that increase commensurate with the number of peope who moved into these smaller apartments. If it didn’t, we need to reconsider the scope of things.”
Wendlandt corrects her, saying these are NOT micro-apartments (for example, each unit is self-contained, with a kitchen, while micro-units typically are sleeping units gathered around a shared kitchen). He also says “there could be additional on-street parking-management strategies.” And he responds to the business concerns: “In places with additional density, that helps to support local businesses. … Typically we see the folks who move into smaller apartments as folks who like to walk and support their local businesses.”
Next, Vlad Oustimovitch, a longtime local community advocate who currently co-chairs the Southwest District Council and is helping it launch a West Seattle Land Use Committee; at the previous night’s SWDC meeting (WSB coverage here) he urged attendance at this one, for anyone interested in West Seattle development. He added more to the process explanation – yes, the Comprehensive Plan regulates growth, but “the city of Seattle chose the neighborhood planning process to determine … the urban design … and there was a process when I moved to Seattle just over 17 years ago. If you go through that neighborhood plan, nowhere is there a building like this … so in essence, the city has reneged on that (process) … this is piling on … it really defies logic.” He says he wants to figure out how this happened. He mentions the “no-parking code revision … another significant thing that contributed to this.” He points out and has the city reps confirm that this would have to go through Design Review if it were in Lowrise 3 – a higher-density zone. “So assuming there’s no design review required in LR-2 zones … and you have a 40-unit building here … if a developer bought a whole block, could they have a 400-unit project that was not subject ot design review?”
Rips declined to answer on grounds it was “rhetorical.”
Oustimovitch countered that it’s not. “This is really kind of outrageous … it’s a scandal that DPD would allow something like this …” he said, after identifying himself as anything but anti-development, since he is an architect, which means “I like to build.”
Rips said DPD recognizes what Oustimovitch said. SEPA is the tool they use to raise issues with projects like this, and massing was brought up in this one – “height, bulk, and scale.” Oustimovitch recapped what he had said at the Southwest District Council meeting the night before, that Design Review was created to pre-empt community-convulsing projects like this.
Next to speak, Dave, who says his son owns a home nearby and would have been here if he wasn’t working. He says he lives in Morgan Junction and “it’s gotten so bad, you can’t ride a bicycle” because there are so many cars … “it’s completely out of hand. The scale and scope of these buildings is out of hand.” He said he lived in Fremont, where his neighborhood was “destroyed” when 5 homes were torn down and 48 units put up, “maybe 100 people lived in that building … and I never met them.” He said “the Department of Planning and Development is destorying our neighborhoods, it’s a runaway train.” He pitches calseattle.org. “What I’m seeing here is the same thing I’m seeing … the planners come in and organize meetings with one building at a time … they write down everybody’s complaints so theycan go back and mitigate those complaints … if you go back and look at … massive rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan … If you want an affordable, livable, family-oriented West Seattle, we’ve gotta stop this runaway train now. We have to bring in a new City Council …”
Monica said next that people are “not being heard.” She says she doesn’t live in The Junction but is here to support the folks working against this project and ‘we want to collaborate, voice our concerns again, and advocate for a director’s rule.
Then came Deb Barker, a retired land-use planner: “What I care about is good design … and I like to provide my comments to the city … many times I’m speaking to members of the Design Review Board … what they are here to listen to is (about) design … this meeting is a little broader … we here in West Seattle didn’t know until (last year) about the ability to have a meeting like this at the expense of a developer. It’s great that WS is getting engaged, learning about what other neighborhoods have had for a number of years. But whether you like it or hate it, you gotta participate.”
Barker goes on to talk about lack of “engagement” for the project, with the front door “being completely hidden from the street. … I am completely overwhelmed by this development that appears to have bike parking for more residents than the thing is going to hold — I hope people will take a look at (that) and “a lot of the green factor and open space appears to be taken up by bike parking.”
She also points out that the plan document misspells a street name (Oregon). (The crowd laughs.) “What else haven’t they a grip on? The window wells? Could I get out of that window well and climb up to get out?” She says the penthouse height is “wildly inappropriate.” She sayd some design flaws are “like compounding the injury … there’s a lot they could do to mitigate the impact of the roof and the rooftop components.” She suggests a parking study and maybe an RPZ (Restricted Parking Zone) for this area. The 2009 Junction parking study was too long ago, she said, and the applicant should have to provide a parking study “and I hope it’s a better parking study than the one that showed up for the project in Morgan.”
She concludes with a plea to the crowd, “Please don’t this be the last public meeting (you come to) … can you be here next week, and next month, and November, when things matter?”
Sharonn Meeks speaks next. She is a longtime resident who has worked on many development and planning plans, and also co-chairs the SW District Council. “I have engaged myself as much as I could … when we were working on the Triangle Plan, initially we did not want the heght they were proposing … eventually it made sense, a step-down effect, which would directly affect my neighborhod … when I look atthis project, I don’t think it’s being appropriately designed or addressed by the city to address the particulars in our Triangle process … we trusted you to … “We have four cranes within sight … I haven’t been able to park on my street in four years and you won’t either.” She says that when you get a parking study, walk around – her neighborhood had parking on both sides ofthes treet. She contends that the LR-2 development citywide is “inappropriate … and at some point before we see a rash of this everywhere, there ought to be a moratorium.”***** (applause)
Hope Lutheran pastor Peter Mueller spoke next. “As a matter of context, Hope has been (at its corner) since 1919 – our first building was built there for 1650 dollars, and we’ve been there ever since … one of the primary ways we serve our community is with our school, 217 students preschool through 8th grade … saving Seattle hundreds of thousands of dollars by our students not attending public schools.” He says it’s “unfortunate” that this building would be authorized just 14 feet from their school. He thinks maybe it’s an “oversight” that the planning process didn’t recognize the playground was so close, “or the city or developer just doesn’t care about that.” Hope does not have a problem with high-density housing when it’s in the “appropriate” place, he said, but he thinks this one is being built in the wrong location, and wants to see “the project downgraded to something more appropriate like townhouses.”
Amy Loftus, who lives a few blocks away, says she walks her kids everywhere and that a walkable community is important. She says she’s been cussed out on the street, “nearly run over …. ” she says it needs to be a more-progressive development – “that street is a park-n-ride” as it is, already.
An attendee then asked, how did this get proposed so close to a school?
Rips said it’s the zoning: “There are no regulations about proximity to schools.”
“So we have to get rid of our kids AND our cars,” she said ruefully.
Another woman who said she’s a parent and a staffer at Hope Lutheran said local families love that they recognize their neighbors, and says Hope puts a great importance on being a good neighbor. “As a parent and staff member, the fact that this building could be 14 feet from my kids’ school … I don’t know people living in this 250-square-foot place that overlook the playground … My daughter was asked to get in a car by a stranger in October … I know we are in an urban setting and things happen, but there are too many people near this school, near this church, in this neighborhood, to be safe … not just some person driving into their apartment and then driving out.”
One woman rose to ask, what’s going to happen next, how will we know if there will be any changes as the result of this process?
Rips mentions again that the city has sent the developer correction notices, but has not heard back, “so I’m just going to write down the notes until we hear from that developer, until they respond to the list of questions I have about the project … and the response may be different.” He’ll write a MUP (Master Use Permit) report at some point, a 15-page report that addresses issues such as parking and traffic, and whenever that’s ready, anyone who has formally commented, or signed in at this meeting, will get notice.
Deb Barker points out that the decision will be appealable and Rips says, yes, there’s a two-week window after it’s issued in which anyone could appeal it to the city’s hearing examiner, “a quasi-judicial process.”
Barker then notes a May 20th appeal hearing is coming up for the Morgan Junction 30-apartment, no-parking project (6917 California SW – here’s the formal notice), if anyone wants to see what an appeal hearing is like.
You can keep watch on the project in the meantime via the city’s online files, here.
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