‘West Seattle: Let’s Talk,’ suggested the city. Here’s what ensued.

July 1, 2014 at 6:37 am | In Development, West Seattle news | 24 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Not growing is not an option, says the city. So, reps from three city departments asked at a first-of-its-kind meeting in West Seattle, what should that growth look like, and where should it happen?

Another question posed: How do we make room for the people moving to Seattle now and for those who will need housing in the future – such as current residents’ kids?

Questions like those were at the heart of the city-organized event in West Seattle this past Saturday, titled “Let’s Talk.” The documents you see throughout this story weren’t presented slide-deck-style, but instead were on easel-borne boards around the room. The meeting was formatted loosely, in hopes of conversation, and that, we can vouch, was under way from the start.

Then, about half an hour into the event on the upper floor of the Senior Center of West Seattle (with decorations lingering from Rainbow Bingo the night before), a few minutes of speeches were offered, but more in the explanatory vein than declaratory – and then the conversations resumed.

Two city department directors were among the city staff on hand, Diane Sugimura (above right) from the Department of Planning and Development, Bernie Matsuno from the Department of Neighborhoods. Not long after the brief speeches, they wound up in a conversation circle with more than two dozen attendees in the back of the room, near the bingo board.

Back in the rest of the room, one-on-one conversations continued, and dozens of other attendees continued perusing the boards. We asked for digital copies so we could share them with you here. (Most are self-explanatory; the ones atop this story show options for what it would take for the city to become carbon-neutral by 2050, with now-digitized red or green dots regarding whether attendees liked or disliked specific options.) Here are the main boards – the first one was displayed at the room’s entrance to set the stage, and then the next eight with lots of information about development and growth in West Seattle, zoning, how to give feedback on development, and questions too:

Noticing the conversation group setting up with Sugimura and Matsuno, we took notes. “We want to be able to participate in the decisionmaking,” said one attendee, and that was at the heart of almost everything else.

The questions, concerns, and suggestions were many (please note, the following are paraphrased bullet points, not exact quotes unless contained within quotation marks):

-West Seattle’s transportation infrastructure isn’t made for intensive growth.

-The city permit system is an expensive hassle.

-Why isn’t development focusing on streets that could handle it, say, 35th SW?

-People need to get involved in the Comprehensive Plan process (Seattle 2035).

-City reps should come back for an intensive three-to-four-hour summit to really talk in depth with and listen to West Seattleites.

-Neighborhood groups are small and don’t network and don’t know the “rules, codes, options” so they are outgunned when prolific developers come into the neighborhood with a project.

-The city needs to push out development information – perhaps an app – it’s not good enough to have it just there waiting to be discovered; an app should keep checking what’s happening in an area of interest you identify, and push out the information to you when something is planned in your area.

*West Seattle needs a hospital. Matsuno said the city can “encourage” it, but has no authority to force a health-care organization to build one. “Well, ARE you ‘encouraging’ it?” asked one attendee. Reply: “In conversations with any kind of businesses, we encourage them to go where they are needed.”

*West Seattle needs employers so fewer people will have to commute outbound. This generated a significant amount of discussion, with Matsuno saying you can offer incentives for employers, but you can’t force them to locate in a specific area. One participant said she was a commercial banker and “the way you do it is to give them money.”

*”Regular” people are being pushed out by “wealthy” people.

*Applications by prolific developers often show up with “sloppy paperwork,” leaving neighborhood advocates wondering “how did this get through?” and suggesting there should be a penalty for repeat offenders. Couldn’t a computerized review check for chronic offenders?

*The issue of projects with little or no parking came up. Sugimura noted that the mayor had asked for a review of that, and “we are in the middle of it.”

*Why doesn’t West Seattle have a transit center “like Burien”? Sugimura said she wasn’t familiar with the Burien Transit Center. The centralizing of bus routes at Westwood was mentioned. One attendee countered, “But it’s all on the perimeter and there’s no parking.” The city of Seattle doesn’t build parking garages, pointed out city reps, so “it always takes somebody (private) willing to put money into it.”

*Projects are reviewed on a standalone basis, without the “cumulative effects” of changes in a specific area being considered. One attendee said the parking study done for a 40-unit project didn’t take into effect other apartment projects within a block or two.

*Environmental reviews are not triggered if, for example, a single-family house is being replaced by a single-family house.

*What about a “cap and trade” type of program? one attendee suggested – requiring developers to “replace the affordable house they’re destroying” when a “$300,000 bungalow” is demolished and replaced with a $1 million house.

11:30 came, and the discussion circle was wrapped up. Two community-group reps volunteered themselves as liaisons for a followup meeting with the city to get and share information on what would be done with what DPD, DON, and SDOT heard at the meeting. So watch for that (we’ll be following up, and information will be circulated through community councils too). And, as was exhorted several times, get involved in the Comprehensive Plan process – there were boards for that too:

SIDE NOTE: During the brief “remarks” portion, attendees were asked to raise their hands in reply to questions such as how long you’ve lived here and whether you own or rent. A quick look around revealed mostly people who’ve been here more than a few years, and almost entirely homeowners. Some suggested maybe the Saturday morning meeting time was wrong – but it’s a frequent observation that evening meetings aren’t convenient either – so, if you’ve read this far but didn’t go, was it a matter of time? Or?

24 Comments

  1. sigh. Deja vu but with computer graphics this time around. Remember the Urban Village plans of the 1990s? The plans looked great on paper and then ignored because of all the loophole zoning variances that will always let developers trump neighborhood concerns.

    Comment by iggy — 7:29 am July 1, 2014 #

  2. Thanks WSB for the outstanding coverage. I did not attend and feel this type of event should have been held on a weekday evening. It conflicted with the landing of the Seafair Pirates and the Alki Swashbuckler Beach Vault and the Duwamish cleanup.

    I see from the voting buttons attendees favored more transit but voted overwhelmingly against more density in the future scenario. Wake up, West Seattle, the only Seattle neighborhoods that are going to get better transit in the future are those that accept more density in the future.

    Comment by Kathy — 8:29 am July 1, 2014 #

  3. I’m all for increased density if it gets us the better transit infrastructure, but all I’m seeing from the transit planners for the future of WS transit is more or less the status quo–Rapid Ride on our existing pathways–even in the face of more growth in West Seattle.

    Comment by East Coast Cynic — 9:09 am July 1, 2014 #

  4. Astonishing: “… Sugimura said she wasn’t familiar with the Burien Transit Center…”

    Comment by dsa — 9:27 am July 1, 2014 #

  5. I get this strange feeling like DoN is not really on our side.

    Comment by AmandaKH — 9:47 am July 1, 2014 #

  6. Astonishing: “… Sugimura said she wasn’t familiar with the Burien Transit Center…”

    .

    Ummmm…..because Burien and Seattle are different cities?

    .

    Mike

    Comment by miws — 9:55 am July 1, 2014 #

  7. Growth is messy, difficult to wait until all the pieces are in place before you do anything. Meanwhile, people need places to live.

    Comment by G — 10:18 am July 1, 2014 #

  8. Sounds like some good points were brought up. Irritates me that things that seem obvious aren’t considered by the city like studying impacts of neighboring developments when approving a project?

    .

    I for one couldn’t attend because I was having an MRI at the time. (Outside of West Seattle since we don’t have a hospital… heh.) 8 to 5ers have to get their appointments done some time and it’s after work or Saturday morning.

    Comment by trickycoolj — 10:59 am July 1, 2014 #

  9. This is amazing!

    Thanks for the wonderful coverage.

    I didn’t know about it or I skipped over anything about it as sort of one more meeting.

    I pray this kind of interaction continues. I promise, as I begin my 14th year as a renter near the Alaska Junction, that I’ll go to the next one(s) if I’m available.

    I looked at the overwhelming cases of red-dot and I began to wonder, who are those people? Do people still yearn for suburban guarded communities? I know I am exaggerating, but there is an odd consistency in the big-red cases that suggests folks yearn for the kinds of no-traffic but wide-streeted neighborhoods that exist away from town centers. Was there any context for this at the event?

    My context: I’m a senior. I can do everything I need here in the Alaska Junction by foot or access to transit. The walking I do, combined with the local “Y” keeps me healthy. We have one car and I don’t use it on a daily basis, my spouse does. I have used Car2Go once.

    Comment by orcmid — 11:53 am July 1, 2014 #

  10. It’s also intriguing that, for the map, the West Seattle Junction village (yes, I find it a perfect village for me), renters outnumber home-owners 2:1.

    It could be that many renters don’t see themselves as residents or particularly permanent.

    It seems to me that will change with time, along with the inevitable urbanization in the Seattle area. There’s also gentrification and the current explosion of multi-unit construction suggests the change will hit here long before 2035.

    Comment by orcmid — 12:03 pm July 1, 2014 #

  11. IMO, the scheduling of this outreach, on a summer saturday morning, just shows how out of touch ‘our’ government is from it’s supposed owners and paymasters.
    These discussions should be part of a regular, ongoing, scheduled conversation – a conversation where topics can be seen thru to resolution, not sticking dots on a chart and hoping for a decent outcome.
    They are obviously working toward a one size fits all solution that they can implement with minimal fuss to themselves and their routines – the individuality of the many neighborhoods affected are going to be of no consequence.

    Comment by old timer — 12:05 pm July 1, 2014 #

  12. @Mike in WS: Why would a city official not be aware of a transit solution in a city that literally borders our own? Especially a solution that uses KC Metro… the very same transit authority Seattle uses?

    Comment by Brian — 12:16 pm July 1, 2014 #

  13. Brian, my point was that not knowing the context in which Ms. Sugimura stated that, ie; maybe she’s aware that there is a PR/TC in Burien, but since it does not fall within Seattle DPD’s Jurisdiction, she may not be intimately aware of it’s size, layout, etc.

    .

    Mike

    Comment by miws — 12:47 pm July 1, 2014 #

  14. The biggest thing that sets of my bs meter is that the renderings don’t even represent 2014 correctly. Look at the sfr picture. You need to throw in ohhh, a big modern box, a few row houses, a 700sqft bungalow wedged in between, and maybe a few micro housing units. Then you can start to see the frustrations of old vs new. E.g. The 700 sqft bungalow may never be able to upgrade to solar if the sun is blotted out.
    -if you run the dpd of a major metropolitan area you should be intimately aware of all the surrounding areas amenitys. That way you know what works and what doesn’t. I think that alone speaks volumes about our “city planning”.
    Its time to slow housing development and start investing in infrastructure and transportation. The reality is that a company like Microsoft isn’t going to buy 400 acres of WS and employ thousands. People will always need to get off the island.

    Comment by Jw — 1:37 pm July 1, 2014 #

  15. It’s pretty ridiculous to be criticizing the city for scheduling a public meeting on a Saturday. Proof that you just can’t please everyone, someone is always pissed. Schedule it on a weekday evening and you have folks complaining about how they have to work late and can’t make it, or they have to work during the day and take care of family at night and it’s dinner time and the kids need feeding and attention. Those folks will complain and tell you it’s easier on the weekend when most people don’t work. Granted, there are people who do work on the weekend. And so we’re back to not pleasing everyone. Then you have a meeting on a Saturday and people will complain that it’s bad timing and it’s summer time and what a horrible time to schedule a meeting.

    Well let me tell you as someone who has had to schedule and plan community meetings before, there is no perfect time. We always look for times that can accommodate the most people and of course when locations are available. And then there are other schedules to coordinate, when you can get staff there and what kind of workload you have to have enough time to prepare for the meeting.

    And then for the government folks, they are giving up their personal time too, to attend community meetings and be available. And then they are criticized–for the meeting time, for the meeting day, for the work they do. It’s pretty ridiculous. With the abuse that public sector folks take, I’m surprised anyone is willing to do the work.

    Comment by G Dog — 1:55 pm July 1, 2014 #

  16. It is funny how the question about a transit center came up. And our city offical was unaware of the one in burien. I guess they don’t get around much. We seem to have missed our chance to build one. for the longest time we had empty lots where now we have les swab the old hertz rental lot the big hole and the hueling locations to to name a few

    Comment by rob — 2:48 pm July 1, 2014 #

  17. A person in her position (Sugimura’s) should know what’s going on in this city and surrounding especially when it comes to growth and transit. That’s part of a big problem we have with the people running our city whose decisions impact everyone’s daily lives. Their windows keep getting smaller by the day to the outside world. It’s always the same thing they give out for answers just worded different. I’ll look into that, good question I didn’t know that, not familiar with that and so on. I really don’t care about all the fancy graphics and charts, I want simple answers like how they plan to deal with the infrastructure, how much building, population growth are they going to allow into W/S, how about the ferry traffic that impacts us, how do they plan to increase road traffic ? you can’t just add 5k people to a 2 square mile area and have no impacts, which should be of some concern because of the limited road network. Oh I forgot none of these people that are moving into the area have cars. Those are the kind of questions Sugimura and her city cohorts should be able to answer at these types of meetings. They should be able to give hard numbers for these types of questions and if they can’t then they should stop what there doing and figure it out.

    Comment by wetone — 2:58 pm July 1, 2014 #

  18. One of the notations on the presentation was that the city has a goal of being “Carbon Neutral” by 2035. I would like to know, who, exactly defined that goal, as well as the precise logic behind it.

    Comment by give me a break — 6:48 pm July 1, 2014 #

  19. Carbon-neutral by 2050. Some background here: http://www.seattle.gov/council/issues/carbon_neutrality.htm

    Comment by WSB — 6:57 pm July 1, 2014 #

  20. Thank you for the link. I just started reading…very interesting. Everyone should read this. I already noticed several “fees” being imposed that will impact us all.

    Comment by give me a break — 9:12 pm July 1, 2014 #

  21. The development going on in WS is out of control just like the housing market. Welcome to the bubble economy. Anyone under 30 who doesn’t come from wealth is hosed. We have fully commoditized our homes. You can’t pay for a million dollar home with 100k salary. “That’s great my house shot up 20% last year”. No it’s not your house is not an ETF and you can’t capitalize on it unless you sell your “home”. Now you are paying more taxes on it as well. Does anyone else see the bubble inflating again or am I in my own bubble.

    Comment by WsEd — 9:19 pm July 1, 2014 #

  22. Ah, more pretty pictures that never get built, that is the gist of the problem. This is sham planning at its worst.

    Comment by Gatewooder — 9:33 pm July 1, 2014 #

  23. WsEd, although I don’t see a bubble really this time, I do agree it’s out of hand and I love your comparison to an ETF. The fact is that Seattle is hiring like crazy for well paying jobs, even if all you read about are minimum wage workers expecting $15/hr. The problem is that developers are trying to capitalize on the cities growth plan to support a growing population in our area and they’re doing it on the backs of our tax dollars paying for it while the powers that be change laws without proper notification to citizens who vote here and pay taxes here.
    .
    I’m on of the lucky few that can probably think about buying a bigger house and either renting my current one for some crazy amount more than I pay on my old mortgage or if I want to sell it I’d have multiple offers, most likely a developer looking to subdivide my lot and slap two crap quality slinder boxes on it for 4x what they bought my house for.
    .
    Is there a bubble, I don’t think so, not like last time. Will there eventually be a slowdown and a lot of vacant half built buildings in a few years, yup.

    Comment by Mike — 10:34 pm July 1, 2014 #

  24. Has Seattle seen this much growth in the the past 35 years? No. Where has all of Sugimura’s experience been over the past 35 years? Seattle. I’m not saying she hasn’t been strong. I am asking if she’s the best person to lead us through this unprecedented period of growth.

    Comment by Wrong Leadership — 11:56 pm July 1, 2014 #

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