By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
This week, we’re getting community councils’ first public take on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement published for the rezoning that’s at the heart of the city Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda‘s Mandatory Housing Affordability component.
Tonight, the Junction Neighborhood Organization talked about it during the first meeting led by new JuNO director Amanda Sawyer, who has taken over for longtime director René Commons, now serving as an advisor for the group. More than 20 people were in attendance.
LAND USE COMMITTEE ON HALA MHA DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT: Five days after the debut of the document (here’s our first report), Rich Koehler from the JuNO Land Use Committee presented a briefing, saying he had read all 400+ pages of the HALA MHA DEIS.
Koehler noted first that some of the MHA-related changes would conflict with the Junction’s longstanding Neighborhood Plan, so JuNO submitted a proposed comprehensive-plan amendment seeking to resolve the conflicts by taking the single-family-zoned areas out of the rezoning proposal. They had almost 250 signatures of support. The Morgan Community Association has done something similar. The amendment’s fate is up to the City Council.
Regarding the Draft EIS itself, he explained that this type of document is intended to assess the impact of the potential zoning changes on environmental factors – not just ecological – including transportation, utilities, etc. In the HALA MHA DEIS, “two new maps” accompany the DEIS, beyond the proposed rezoning map first unveiled last October. One map is “slightly less intensive and aggressive than what was proposed in the past,” and the other is “significantly more aggressive.” One lens through which the alternatives are presented is trying to minimize potential displacement. Another is mitigation, “telling city decisionmakers, we studied this, and these are things you could do to mitigate the impact.”
He offered his personal conclusions: “The alternatives do not appear to reflect the feedback that we’ve provided” – and as JuNO director Sawyer pointed out (also mentioned in our first report), the city said so as a disclaimer.
“I also find it to be superficial,” Koehler continued. “On the one hand it’s broad – all across the city these things are happened – but the impacts of these things are focused on the urban villages, so what you don’t get it is block-level analysis … you get regional impacts such as, the number of minutes it’ll take to cross the West Seattle Bridge is X.” Overall, the analysis seemed “pretty cursory” to Koehler, with “a lot of flaws” such as a statement that at “peak hour it (would take) nine minutes to go across the West Seattle Bridge from 35th SW to I-5” – in 2035. He discovered that was only the pm peak hour – they didn’t study the morning peak-traffic time, when, of course, it takes a lot longer. “Those are places where we’d want them to have public comment to point out that core issues” were not studied.
He said the overall sentiment seemed to be “things are going to get a lot worse in 20 years anyway, this won’t make it much more worse, so” it’s OK, and “someone will probably figure out how to solve those problems later.” Many transportation corridors, for example, would drop in “level of service” to F – the lowest level – but “there’s no mitigation for that, because it’s out of the scope of this document.” Overall, he didn’t feel it served its intensive purpose very well.
Koehler also said it seemed to be lacking awareness of “anything that happens between now and 2035” – projects such as Sound Transit 3, Fauntleroy Boulevard, Avalon repaving, Terminal 5 modernization, and more. That would make good feedback, he suggested, pointing out that even the temporary effects of these projects might be worse than what’s anticipated for 2035.
He said the Draft EIS does acknowledge that the West Seattle Junction area has less open space than it should have, measured per resident and compared to a state mandate, but under a new standard measuring walkability rather than amount of open space, it might qualify, Koehler said, so JuNO wants to keep an eye on that.
Overall, land-use people are “mostly nerds,” Koehler said, so they’ll be writing up analysis. If you are a nerd too, they would be happy to have your help in reading through and offering analysis and feedback. Sawyer mentioned the June 29th public hearing/open house, starting at 5:30 pm at City Hall downtown – she and Koehler haven’t heard of anything West Seattle-specific so far. JuNO hopes to put together a workshop to help people interested in providing feedback.
Regarding what public feedback will achieve, Koehler said, “What we expect to get from the Draft EIS comments (is) …it’s possible the comments will be listened to and acted upon … especially if it’s constructive and (relevant) to the Draft EIS itself. … (and) comments on the Draft EIS enter into the official record things that you might file a lawsuit, or ask for a hearing about,” so that if any challenge is considered later, “they would look and see whether this challenge was made known to the city at the time it was developing this policy,” because if it was, that’s something that might be a basis for action. “If we think ahead, then the comments we put in have a kind of utility.”
In the meantime, JuNO would like to hear from anyone who is an expert in a specific area of urban planning to help them vet the analysis and provide guidance. You can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help. The Land Use Committee, said Koehler, will be putting together a statement on the Draft EIS. They are also working on a variety of other fronts, such as working to get a meeting with County Executive Dow Constantine, to talk about impacts that all this might have on the forthcoming ST3 planning process. One attendee pointed out that other elected officials live in West Seattle and might have a vested interest in all this. Koehler said that they had reached out to at-large City Councilmember Lorena González and she had yet to agree to meet with them. The mayoral election was mentioned, and Koehler noted that while this was not intended to be an endorsement, State Sen. Bob Hasegawa seemed the most responsive to neighborhood issues and expressed interest in reinstating the city’s ties to neighborhood district councils.
Sawyer mentioned the mayoral forum coming up at West Seattle Summer Fest next month, which Sustainable West Seattle is presenting (and your editor here is moderating). JuNO has the stage at Junction Plaza Park right before it, and hopes that some of the candidates will be there to hear some of the group’s thoughts and issues.
And Koehler refuted the suggestion that voicing concerns about HALA MHA is NIMBYism – their point is “there’s a way to manage the growth and add more density, welcome more people to our community, without sacrificing livability.” To do that, issues such as traffic and open space need to be addressed, and potentially conflicting projects and processes should be addressed, with an updated neighborhood plan that brings it all together – something that hasn’t happened since 1999, resulting in “large-scale apartment complexes being dropped here and there” without enough transit to accommodate their residents. This area has already seen so much growth that it “deserves a significant planning exercise,” Koehler concluded.
Also discussed at tonight’s meeting:
CRIME PREVENTION COORDINATOR: The Southwest Precinct‘s new CPC Jennifer Burbridge was the night’s second speaker. She described the scope of her role, including offering free safety assessments for businesses and residents, as well as helping people form Block Watches; they’re working on a Business Watch idea, too. (Datapoint: The Junction is in the William 2 beat.)
She spoke about summertime crime-prevention focuses such as residential burglary – here’s the tipsheet she provided recently and which we published:
Regarding how to prevent/deter burglary – a loud alarm is the best deterrent, she said. “Somebody will hear it, somebody will stick their head out the window, and be more likely to identify (the burglar) … we want you to be the best witness you can be and call 911 immediately.”
Auto theft is still a problem, as is car prowling, though that’s down a little right now, she said. She warned that some prowlers are getting into cars without damage or keys these days, so don’t leave anything in yours – no valuables, no identification information, etc.
You can contact Jennifer (and get on her mailing list for tipsheets and her monthly newsletter) at email@example.com.
FAUNTLEROY BOULEVARD ‘DISCUSSION OVER’? Sawyer said she had asked SDOT Fauntleroy Boulevard project reps to come speak to the meeting, but they replied that they’re no longer taking feedback and their next meeting with the public would be when they present the final design and construction plan. Here’s the cross-section from the 60 percent design plan:
Commons said the SDOT response was a surprise. We contacted SDOT earlier today to ask for an update and that’s basically what they told us – the following is from communication lead Rachel McCaffrey:
We’re finalizing the design and finishing up one-on-one conversations with adjacent businesses and property owners to finalize design details for driveways, etc. We’ll announce final design when we reach that milestone this summer, which will include a decision on the proposal to add a center median break at 37th Ave SW. As you know, we took public comment on this in May. In addition to this final design announcement, we’ll share a decision as to how we’ll route traffic during construction, 1-way or 2-way. We also took public comment on construction routing in the spring. I expect our update will come in July and we’ll send you a heads up as we usually do.
This fall, we’ll begin pre-construction coordination with the community, including meeting with businesses to discuss individual operations and communications needs so we can incorporate this into our construction planning and assemble materials and information that help people understand what to expect and how to get around during work. We expect to start construction early next year, with work complete in mid-2019.
At tonight’s JuNO meeting, Realfine Coffee‘s Julie Mierzwiak – whose business will lose on-street and off-street parking –
said that she believes the “large majority of West Seattleites” still don’t know anything about the project, especially that “the whole community is going to be crippled by this … it’s very disheartening because I don’t feel that we’re being heard.”
She mentioned the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce meeting last month (WSB coverage here) and whether the project itself was necessary, but the project engineers didn’t really answer that question.
Sawyer brought up the issue that’s come up before and was a major point at the Chamber meeting, that Fauntleroy Boulevard could be in direct conflict with the ST3 light-rail line. Overall, she said, SDOT seemed to be saying “the discussion’s over” but the community should and could take steps to tell the City Council that outreach was inadequate.
So what do we do? someone asked from a corner of the room. Among other suggestions, Lora Swift, executive director of the West Seattle Junction Association, talked about the availability of the southwest corner of California/Alaska for public advocacy – underutilized, she said. “I don’t think you can depend on the city to always communicate your voice or your point of view – you have to do it yourselves, citizen to citizen.” She said KeyBank has pre-approved the corner for that kind of use, especially during the Farmers’ Market 10 am-2 pm on Sundays.
PARKING STUDIES: SDOT will study The Junction soon for potential paid parking as well as a possible RPZ permit-parking zone, Sawyer noted. SDOT reps are expected at JuNO’s next quarterly meeting, in September.
PARKS: The public-outreach process for the future park on 40th SW is expected to start next month and JuNO is looking for more people to get involved with community planning for the space. Seattle Parks reps also are expect at the next JuNO meeting.
JUNCTION PLAZA PARK CLEANUP: JuNO is hoping to have one soon and needs volunteers and someone to organize it – e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help.
The Junction Neighborhood Organization now meets quarterly. No date yet for the next meeting but it’s expected to be in September. JuNO is looking for more ways to market itself and get people involved – look for the group at Summer Fest on Sunday, July 16th, 2-5 pm, among other places; JuNO will have a new website soon, too.