By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Though both were billed as “Community Design Workshops,” there were major differences in the meetings about Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda-related rezoning for Admiral, held this past Saturday, and for The Junction, held last month.
Turnout was different – about 50 people for Admiral, more than 200 for The Junction – though that’s proportionate to both the areas’ population differences and their respective scopes of change proposed by the rezoning for Mandatory Housing Affordability, in which developers/builders will get extra capacity and in exchange will have to include “affordable housing” in their projects or pay a fee into a city fund that will bankroll some. The changes are proposed in the city’s Urban Villages (West Seattle has four) and for all commercial/multifamily property citywide (check this map to see how/if you’re affected).
Also different: The meetings’ format.
At The Junction’s meeting on January 26th (WSB coverage here), the initial explanatory presentation by a city Office of Planning and Community Development staffer was followed by a Q/A period, with slips of paper having circulated at the start of the meeting for participants to write down questions.
That didn’t happen in Admiral; a few questions were addressed when people spoke out during the presentation, but at its end, facilitator John Owen of consulting firm Makers Architecture and Urban Design pushed to get everyone into small-group breakouts, despite one attendee requesting a chance for Q&A so everyone could hear.
At Admiral on Saturday (a morning meeting at West Seattle High School), small groups were not preassigned as they had been for pre-RSVP’d participants in The Junction (an evening meeting at the Senior Center). Their work did conclude with another difference: At Admiral, each group presented a summary to the entire room; in The Junction, that didn’t happen – tables just wrapped up, left their notes, and departed.
We recorded the Admiral summaries on video, and you’ll see those relatively short clips later in this story. But first, toplines from the opening presentation:
The city’s population will grow by 50,000 in the next 10 years, Owen declared – so, this is about, how that growth will happen. He also gave the ground rules for the small groups, and promised “your comments and ideas will be carefully reviewed by city staff and incorporated into the proposals as they move forward.” OPCD’s final proposals are due out in late spring, he said (a recent slide deck prepared for a City Council briefing set a date in June as the drop-dead end of public commenting).
OPCD’s Sara Maxana gave the presentation. (Added at 1:17 pm – just obtained the full slide deck from the city:)
Much of it was the same as the one given at the Junction version of this event, with a lot of backstory, beginning with a mention of other city initiatives including transportation, park, and preschool investments.
Unlike the Junction event, there was no amplification, despite the larger, more cavernous room. Someone stood up to say that without a microphone, the meeting was inaccessible to those with hearing impairment; they were invited to come sit up front, and Maxana tried to project as best she could. She identified herself as the citywide coordinator for the Mandatory Housing Affordability component of HALA, which is what the rezoning proposals are about.
“We’re about 1 year into a 2-plus-year process” to develop the proposals, and she reiterated that “we’re at least a year away from a vote … that would put any of these proposals in place.”
She recapped the growth in population – 50,000 over the past five years – and rise in unaffordability (more than 45,000 households paying more than half their income for housing, and average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment increasing 35 percent in the past five years, to $1,641).. The 2035 population, predicted by the Comprehensive Plan, expects “at least 70,000 new households in the next 20 years … from 608,000 people in 2010 up to about 725,000 in 2025 … in jobs, from about 462,000 to about 685,000.” She promised that anyone who had signed in could get a copy of the slide deck she was using.
50,000 new homes in Seattle in the next 10 years is the goal, 30,000 “market rate,” 20,000 “affordable (rent- and income-restricted).” That requires “tripling the production” of housing, Maxana said.
Getting to the specifics of MHA (the specifics of which will have to be approved by the City Council, which means it won’t kick in, as repeated by city reps, for at least a year).
What specifically does “affordable” mean? Someone making 60 percent of the “area median income” would pay about half the price of a current new market-rate apartment, Maxana’s slide said:
The city contends that MHA will be a “strong anti-displacement tool” and says it’s “not anticipated to significantly change the total amount of displacement.
Then the Admiral specifics (shown at the top of this story) – in the Residential Urban Village area, there are 1,131 units now; the area would currently be looking at 300 new homes (apartment, condo, house, any type of residential unit) over 20 years, and with HA, 418 homes over 20 years, with 47-51 of them “affordable” and at least $1,35 million in MHA payments (again, developers would have the choice of providing affordable housing in their projects or paying the fee, and Maxana said the city expects a 50-50 split between “on site” and “paying into fund.”
(One attendee who spoke with us later wondered about those calculations, given how many units have been added in the Admiral area recently – between projects such as Springline [WSB sponsor] and Element 42 – and those on the drawing board, including the mixed-use project on the PCC Natural Markets [WSB sponsor] site.]
One attendee asked about how this would be enforced. The city would track the “affordable” units and they would have to be “affordable” for at least 75 years … “it’s a different mechanism than rent control, completely legal … today.” Maxana noted that she lives in a single-family home in east Ballard that is proposed to upzone to multi-family, where three units would be possible under the current proposal.
She also recapped what the “urban village strategy” is and was all about, with the city always intending those areas are where most of the growth would happen. And in a brief explanation of zoning, she stressed that you’re not required to have your property conform to it. (We’d add – that means you don’t have to build as much as you’re zoned for, but you can’t build more than you’re zoned for.)
Single-family zoning can go to 35′, she said, in response to a question. Residential small lot – which single-family property within the Urban Village boundaries is proposed for – is limited to 30′, Maxana said. “In most neighborhood commercial zones, you will see one additional story” with the currently proposed upzones, she noted.
The zoning maps were guided by principles developed in “community outreach,” she said, mentioning the focus-group process 2015-2016. (That city webpage for the focus groups, by the way, includes many resource links related to the rezoning proposals.)
Maxana reiterated that Admiral is not among the dozen-plus Urban Villages with proposed boundary expansion. And she explained the “equity lens” through which they’re reviewing MHA. She said the city considers Seattle to be currently split 50-50 between renters and owners. This included addressing the frequent request that single-family zoning be left alone and all the growth be put on arterials, and wondering “what the unintended consequences” would be. And she said that the current apartment development doesn’t include much family-size housing, something the city would like to change, so the “residential small lot” development is one way to help with that.
The transition issue had a slide of its own – “planning for transitions between higher- and lower-scale zones as additional development capacity is accommodated.” Since Admiral is a “fairly narrow urban village,” it won’t have a “perfect wedding-cake” transition, she said. One person asked for an explanation of ADU/DADU, which appeared on this slide – former, mother-in-law-type apartment, latter, backyard cottage.
And then – how to read the MHA maps.
Maxana acknowledged that “they could give you a headache if you look at them for too long” and said that she had the same problem. Basic points if you don’t know this already – areas with no shading = no zoning changes proposed. Doesn’t mean no changes in those areas (teardowns and replacements will continue, she said), of course. She also reminded people that outside urban-village areas, multifamily and commercial property still is proposed for upzoning too.
A shaded area will show what’s there now, and a slash, then what it’s being proposed to change to. “You’ll also see a suffix – M, M1, M2 – that corresponds to the affordable housing (requirement) there,” aligned with the “value of the new development capacity that we’re giving.” If an area is “hatched,” it’s changing the types of zoning, such as, single famlly to Lowrise 1.
The city is trying to “calibrate” the changes so that they won’t either accelerate or decelerate development, Maxana said.
One slide addressed the frequently asked question about property taxes: “Assessed value will change only if there is increase in value demonstrated through land sales and development on comparable sites.” MHA, she added, would in its current form affect 11,000 single-family homes in the city. She contended that assessed value would be going up “over time … in the areas where you see change happening.”
Someone brought up the Edith Macefield case in Ballard and how taxes went up – “when the assessor sees change around you,” Maxana recapped. “The assessed value and property tax didn’t change until development started happening in the area.”
Asked why Admiral’s boundary was not proposed for changing, Maxana said the decisions around the city were based on a “10-minute walkshed … to frequent and high-quality transit … Admiral did not meet that threshold.”
And she provided feedback guidelines, pleading for “constructive feedback” – “show us where we got it right, show us where we got it wrong,” not just saying you hate it all or love it all.
At this point, they provided a few minutes for clarifying questions (in addition to the few that had emerged during the briefing). That was the point in The Junction’s version of the meeting at which questions collected in writing from around the room were answered.
On Saturday, at this point, one man interjected from the audience, “It doesn’t do any good to come into a neighborhood and limit the questions people can ask – I don’t know who you are working for, but you’re working for us.”
Owen said they really wanted to get people to the small-group tables, and that’s why they weren’t going to have an extended Q/A period.
One “clarifying question” was about small-business displacement, Maxana says they are working on “design strategies” to try to minimize that, and mentions grant/loan funds to try to “encourage business retention.”
And at 10:40 am – after about an hour – people were sent to the small-group tables.
We roved to listen to some of the discussion. Admiral’s transit deficiencies came up multiple times; so did scrutiny of proposed zoning changes near Lafayette Elementary School (which, school board member Leslie Harris said at an unrelated December meeting, is under consideration for a rebuild). At one of the small-group tables, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold was explaining how the process will play out over the next year or so.
One thing Herbold stressed – if you have a question, concern, or comment right now, especially something you think might merit being changed from what’s shown in the draft rezoning maps, speak up now, so it will get studied; once the proposals get to the City Council, she said, they won’t be able to offer amendments for something that hasn’t been studied.
Now, the small-group summaries, an Admiral meeting feature that didn’t happen at the Junction meeting. One participant spoke for each table, while someone else held up the paper map on which comments had been written. We recorded each summary on video:
YOUR FEEDBACK: The city says it’ll be taking feedback through June (that includes the upcoming draft Environmental Impact Statement, now expected in May). But you can provide some right now via the online hala.consider.it page (here’s a guide to how to use it), and/or via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, and/or via telephone on the “HALA Hotline,” 206-743-6612.