By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Some neighborhoods have pushed back against the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda rezoning plans by pointing out that they conflict with longstanding community-crafted neighborhood plans.
Groups in Morgan Junction and the West Seattle Junction are pursuing amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan to try to ensure that HALA rezoning doesn’t overwrite parts of their neighborhood plan.
And this week, they learned that the city has launched a pre-emptive strike with its own amendment to do exactly that. Language in the Morgan, WS Junction, and Westwood-Highland Park plans, and six others citywide, would have specific zoning references struck by this part of what the city’s pursuing:
Make amendments to specific neighborhood plan policies.
Individual policies or goals in the Neighborhood Plan element of the Comprehensive Plan are proposed for amendment where they explicitly call for maintaining single-family zoning within an urban village or center. Certain policies that call for maintaining aspects of single-family areas (such as scale, character, or integrity) are proposed for amendment if they would clearly and directly conflict with the draft MHA implementation proposal. However, in cases where neighborhood plan policies call for maintaining aspects of a single-family areas (i.e. character) that are possible to achieve while implementing MHA, the neighborhood plan policy is not proposed for amendment.
Amendments would remove explicit references to preservation of zoning, in favor of statements to preserve physical scale or character where appropriate. For goal or policy statements that could be construed to directly conflict with MHA implementation short of direct references to zoning, policy language would be added to recognize the potential for addition of a variety of housing types, while preserving aspects of single family areas that are desired for preservation by the neighborhood plan policy. The following Neighborhood Plan policies would be amended.
• Fremont F-P13
• Morgan Junction MJ-P13, MJ-P14
• Northgate NG-P8
• Roosevelt R-LUG1
• Westwood/Highland Park W/HP-P3
• Aurora-Licton Springs AL-P2
• North Rainier NR-P9
• Wallingford W-P1
• West Seattle Junction WSJ-P13
You can read the entire city amendment document here. The next step in potential comprehensive-plan changes is a City Council committee hearing on July 24th – the proposed amendments, including those proposed by Morgan Junction and West Seattle Junction groups, are all linked here.
While those proposed changes are not part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for HALA’s Mandatory Housing Affordability rezoning, the city’s counterproposal did come up at Tuesday night’s Junction Neighborhood Organization Land Use Committee (JLUC) workshop on DEIS commenting, which is open until August 7th. Here’s what happened during that workshop, including what committee leaders say they have found so far in their review of the document’s hundreds of pages:
About 40 people were at the workshop at the Sisson Building/Senior Center.
Rich Koehler of JLUC presented the briefing; here’s his slide deck.
He began with a primer on what and where the West Seattle Junction Hub Urban Village is. And – what the committee believes and is intended to help make happen:
Density is inevitable, but a livable neighborhood must be the outcome
Plan intelligently toward a vision for The Junction
Provide a voice in the process
Uphold our established Neighborhood Plan, until we develop a new one
“We’re also keenly interested in the arrival of Sound Transit” (light rail), said Koehler.
From there, he launched into an explanation of Mandatory Housing Affordability and its proposed zoning changes. He used a currently under-construction project as the springboard for a hypothetical example – the 4505 42nd SW project, with 42 units and 7 stories, could have been 9 stories and maybe 60 units under the proposed rezoning. Either 4 of those units would have to be what the city defines as “affordable,” or the developer would have to pay fees to create that many “affordable” units elsewhere.
He reminded those in attendance that the city has extended the comment deadline (as announced last week) for the 800-plus-page document to August 7th – two extra weeks. Next step is for the city to revise it and issue a “final” Environmental Impact Statement, then propose legislation that would send a rezoning plan to the City Council, with more public comment, likely next winter.
At that point, someone asked when councilmembers and the mayor were up for election. Answer: The mayor (incumbent Ed Murray is not running for re-election) will be elected this fall – 21 candidates are on the primary ballot, which is arriving in postal mailboxes starting today, voting deadline August 1st – as are the at-large City Council positions, 8 (incumbent Tim Burgess is not running, 8 candidates are) and 9 (incumbent Lorena González is one of 7 candidates who are running). Our area’s City Council position, 1, held currently by Lisa Herbold, is not on the ballot for two more years.
Koehler went on to explain what Environmental Impact Statements are and are not. Among other things, they’re not supposed to be “a discussion on whether the proposal is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.” He also clarified that “environment” does not mean just the ecological components you might expect, but also “transportation, aesthetics, public utilities, and similar quality-of-life issues.” The city asked residents to comment July through early September 2016 on what they thought the EIS should address; Koehler contends the city didn’t “specifically and effectively” notify residents about that comment period.
The first draft rezoning maps were issued in October and the draft EIS includes different potential maps, Koehler continued, comprising three “alternatives” in all – #1, no MHA; #2, zoning changes and MHA; #3, zoning changes and MHA minimizing what the city considers “displacement risk” and maximizing “access to opportunity.” Displacement, he added, doesn’t just mean you’re physically forced to move out, but also economic and cultural – you can’t afford to live where you live any more, or “neighbors and culturally related businesses have left the area.” The EIS includes indicators of displacement risk and shows maps showing where it’s higher or lower.
(You can use this interactive city map to look at the alternatives for your neighborhood.)
You might expect an area like the West Seattle Junction to have many opportunity factors – but it doesn’t, Koehler said, so it comes out 30th out of 39 for “opportunity,” on the boundary of “low displacement risk, low opportunity.” He broke out the maps for Alternatives 2 and 3.
For the past 20+ years, the presentation noted, 111 percent growth has happened in the area – more than any other urban village in the city. For the next 20 years, 59 percent growth is expected.
Summarizing the “impact assessments,” Koehler started with the “level of service” expected for streets, with a grade of “D” or higher considered acceptable. “No streets or intersections in the West Seattle Junction were studied,” Koehler said. The West Seattle Bridge to I-5 at peak was – and it states that it takes 8.5 minutes to cross that distance eastbound. (Laughter rippled.) In 2035 under any alternative, it would take 9 minutes eastbound, the DEIS says. Westbound, it’s 9.5 minutes and would grow to 15 minutes in 20 years.
Where did they get those numbers? Here’s what Koehler says JLUC found: “Someone checked Google Maps on an undisclosed Wednesday in March at 5, 5:15, 5:30, and 5:45 pm” to determine those times – both directions.
Next, looking at parking, The Junction was not assessed, Koehler said, though many others were. That was an example, Koehler contended, of how the neighborhood “was frequently overlooked” in assessments for the DEIS. He also took issue with the DEIS’s assessment of bus occupancy – 67 percent of capacity – though the document attributes the stats to Metro.
Moving on to “open space and recreation,” The Junction does not meet the standard of having a quarter acre of neighborhood parks within a half mile of households – though that’s a 2011 standard, and there’s a new 2017 standard, Koehler said, that it would meet, if the West Seattle Golf Course is considered a public park (apparently because of a public walking trail). Other parkland includes Ercolini, Dakota Place, and the landbanked 40th SW site.
JLUC thinks the DEIS should “present a mitigation plan for The Junction, including new park space and identified funding sources.
Summarizing Land Use (zoning), the DEIS said all areas of single family would change, and much of the (area) would potentially experience minor to moderate height changes. That would be a typical evolution of an area like this, the city document contends. Regarding aesthetics, The Junction was not specifically studied regarding how newer, larger buildings. would affect neighborhoods.
One concern here are the upcoming changes proposed for the Design Review process, which currently is the only way public meetings are scheduled for some development projects.
JLUC points out that the Junction Neighborhood Plan protects single family areas and aesthetics – but the city is seeking to remove that protection, from this neighborhood plan and others (as mentioned at the start of the story.)
(At that point in the meeting, we should note Councilmember Lisa Herbold arrived.)
JLUC talked about the amendment filed to try to protect the neighborhood plan’s intent, and the similar one filed by the Morgan Community Association, whose president Deb Barker was at the meeting. JLUC contends that the neighborhood plan and design guidelines already on file are “the standard” and should be respected.
On to biological factors, as assessed by the DEIS: Parcels changing from single family “would see the largest changes in tree canopy” but that’s described as 15 acres, which is apparently a mistake, Koehler said, because the “expansion area of the Junction alone comprises 47 acres of single-family housing.” Even if it was accurate, it’s not a small number in relation to the entirety of The Junction.
Regarding public services – the city simply says it’ll keep an eye on that over time. But an attendee noted that police and fire already don’t meet the ideal response time. JLUC thinks that crime and emergency staffing levels should be studied.
Next up, schools, “the DEIS did not take school capacity seriously,” Koehler contended. The schools serving the area, such as Fairmount Park, are already overcrowded, and possible need should’ve been studied through 2035.
Utilities – no impact was identified, aside from “some sewer lines may need to be upgraded,” which JLUC suggsts is an understatement since “most sewer lines in The Junction are (smaller than) 12″.” The DEIS doesn’t study drainage, either, JLUC says.
Historic Resources were not addressed,, though any place with more than 50 percent growth should be studied. But some “general mitigations” that were proposed included development “consistent with historic resources.” JLUC contends that the cultural significance of California SW must be recognized and that it’s “inappropriate to raise the zoning … to NC-95′ and to leave it without the protection of specific design standards.” (Much of the zoning in the heart of The Junction is currently 85, though most of the properties remain one or two stories.)
They summarize the position as “Things were going to get bad anyway. MHA makes it only a little worse. The City should solve these issues at some point.” JLUC thinks the “areas of livability” that “have fallen below acceptable standards” should be addressed before things get worse.
JLUC also contends that there’s not enough info to show impacts at the “intersection, street or block level.” Seeing those are vital, Koehler said. “West Seattle should get its own EIS” – or maybe even The Junction should get its own.
The study also, he observed, doesn’t take under consideration future projects including Terminal 5 modernization, demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct (after the Highway 99 tunnel opens), Fauntleroy Boulevard, Avalon rechannelization, One City Center bus rerouting, and Sound Transit light rail.
“Acknowledge that our culture matters! Our Neighborhood Plan and our historic areas are important!” is how the slide deck concluded, with photos including the now-city-landmarked Campbell Building, and an image of the West Seattle Grand Parade.
This is the important time to comment, said an attendee.
Councilmember Herbold was offered the chance to speak at that point. She said she’s commented on the displacement-risk analysis in the DEIS, not the rest of it, and is currently trying to weigh that the Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee chair Rob Johnson is looking at a letter from councilmembers to the Office of Planning and Community Development – she doesn’t know yet if that will be “very high level,” in which case she’d want her own letter. She thanked JLUC for the time they’ve spent on this, and suggested that they mentor other groups in the city, so that they in turn can work with their councilmembers.
Koehler said they’re working with other groups already.
An attendee asked about the status of JLUC’s suggestion that the area be taken out of the process since light-rail station planning would have a dramatic effect later. OPCD director Sam Assefa was not receptive to that, overall, he said, saying that they could not pass this once-in-a-lifetime chance for Mandatory Housing Affordability.
Deb Barker, speaking as a board member of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition, mentioned their workshop last month on light-rail routing/station placement (WSB coverage here). “Now is the time to put your comments together,” she emphasized.
In the end, Koehler said, 20 affordable housing units would be built by 2035 in the West Seattle Junction UV – with no action – while with alternative 2, it would be 42, and alternative 3, it would be 56. All that upzoning, for that little impact? one person observed.
Christy Tobin-Presser introduced the next part of the workshop, including tables with maps. “The most important thing you can do is comment,” she said, so JLUC put together comment sheets with the group’s bullet points, if people were interested. Or, she said, people could take the sheets home, along with addressed envelopes. Comments also can be sent in by e-mail – but remember that it’s not about how you feel, but about the process, and what might be missing. Make a copy of your comments, it was suggested, noting that the open house in The Junction last December led to the loss of some submitted comments.
(The city’s first page of the DEIS website explains how to comment – again, August 7th is the deadline. Go here for the options.)
JLUC’s Carl Guess noted that people working on the analysis have been up at all hours – evident by “the time stamps on the e-mails” – and that it was great to see people turn out on “a night when we should all say ‘free beer’.” And he urged people to ask questions of the candidates in the election that’s now under way. (The Saturday 2 pm mayoral forum at GreenLife was mentioned – JuNO will be at the GreenLife stage in Junction Plaza Park right before it.)
He also mentioned the document that the group put together with references to where they believe the city has ignored or discounted feedback to this point. Here’s that document:
P.S. Two other community-organized meetings are coming up in other urban villages, both on July 19th:
-The Morgan Community Association will talk about both its proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment and the HALA MHA DEIS at its quarterly meeting (agenda here), 7 pm at The Kenney (7125 Fauntleroy Way SW).
-The Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council will lead a discussion about potential response on behalf of the WW-Highland Park Urban Village, 6-7:30 pm at Southwest Library (9010 35th SW).