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?