By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When a meeting room at the Sisson Building/Senior Center filled to overflowing last night for the Junction Neighborhood Organization‘s quarterly meeting, the biggest news was already a couple hours old – SDOT‘s announcement that the Fauntleroy Boulevard project is on hold.
For those who hadn’t already heard, JuNO director Amanda Sawyer recapped it at the start of the meeting. (SDOT did not send reps to talk about it, as had been the original plan before the suspension was announced.) She and West Seattle Junction Association executive director Lora Swift both stressed that since SDOT is saying it will reallocate the project funds – last described as $15 million to $18 million – to other WS projects, feedback to Councilmember Lisa Herbold is important. (Send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
So that left the meeting devoted to two other big topics affecting The Junction – the HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning proposal that has just gone into City Council review, and Sound Transit planning for West Seattle light rail, which is just starting its formal community-outreach process.
Christy Tobin Presser from the JuNO Land Use Committee talked about efforts to get the neighborhood a “collaborative process” with the city. Concerns include displacement, lack of affordable housing to be created in The Junction, lack of infrastructure to support increasing density. But the “collaborative process … hasn’t happened to date,” she said, noting that the Final Environmental Impact Statement made public in November – with maps for the city’s “preferred” upzoning plan – does not address specific neighborhoods’ conditions and concerns. That’s what led to the appeal of the Final EIS, filed by a coalition of neighborhood groups citywide including JuNO, which filed its own appeal too. As had been mentioned at the recent meeting of the Morgan Community Association – which also is involved in the appeals – the discovery process preceding the appeal hearings is expected to push back the date for those hearings, originally set for April, by two months if not more.
Tobin Presser also said that the citywide coalition is raising money to cover the legal assistance helping with the appeals. And she said it was important to realize that this isn’t a process seeking to throw out HALA MHA – a “win” would be requiring the Environmental Impact Statement to include the requested neighborhood collaboration. Along with contributing money, people interested in helping could also volunteer to assist with research, or with expertise – if you have it – on some of the issues. Being involved with the coalition “has become a second full-time job,” Tobin Presser said. “We all want affordable housing in our communities, we all like increased diversity in our communities,” but they don’t believe that what’s being proposed now “is the best way to get there.”
Sawyer said “the legal action is just a single tool in the toolbox,” so they also are continuing to work with Councilmember Herbold, “trying to find some nuance … in how we want to take on growth and density.” She also suggested going to the HALA MHA open houses in other districts, to see what’s being discussed and how – and by who – all of which will be held before the one set for our area (May 9th at Louisa Boren STEM K-8). Speaking at a public hearing “is worthwhile” too, said Sawyer, adding that she’s now done that three times this year – before which, she had never done it in her life. She also noted that, as was pointed out again in this week’s City Council committee overview, several other parts of the city have already had MHA plans passed – including Uptown (lower Queen Anne), Chinatown-International District, Downtown, South Lake Union, and the U-District – each with its own process, including its own EIS, unlike what’s happening now, with more than 20 neighborhoods around the city lumped into one. Sawyer showed highlights from one of those other plans that might offer precedent for what could be done in The Junction – the U-District, for example, addressed upcoming light rail, plans for specific open spaces, kept The Ave out of zoning changes altogether, and more. “We should be thinking of how to carve out resolutions that hold the city accountable,” Sawyer said. Perhaps what was done for The Ave could be replicated or adapted for addressing the West Seattle Junction and its small businesses, for example. She showed highlights of the Uptown plan, too, and said The Junction should work to get as much attention to details of the forthcoming light-rail station(s) as Uptown did. Uptown also had its Neighborhood Design Guidelines updated for the first time in 10+ years – that could be a goal for The Junction, too, she said.
“Didn’t the original neighborhood plan (from the 1990s) anticipate all this?” asked an attendee.
Short answer, yes. “It was supposed to be a living plan,” noted Sawyer (while also noting she is a recent arrival and wasn’t part of that process). That also led to a mention of the competing Comprehensive Plan Amendments (basically, the city wants to overwrite its long-range plan to eliminate points in which it includes neighborhood-plan points such as protection of single-family neighborhoods, while JuNO and at least one other community council is trying to get its own amendment to underscore the pre-existing protections).
That other group – the mentioned-earlier Morgan Community Association – also is looking at other ideas for how to ensure that affordable entry-level family housing remains part of the area’s future, such as Community Land Trusts.
Second to speak, also from JuNO’s Land Use Committee, was Rich Koehler. His focus was on the Sound Transit plan for the area. He said hearing about the light-rail plan for this area – where he lives and is raising two kids – was exciting. He then jumped into involvement when he found out about HALA MHA. He in turn introduced some other volunteers: Kevin Freitas, who plans to be involved as a liaison with Sound Transit – he applied to join its Stakeholder Advisory Group (for which the new members have not yet been announced) – and the community member who nicknamed himself “Avalon Tom,” who made the unofficial elevated-rail renderings shown here last month, was introduced too.
Koehler offered a few points of background – even why The Junction is The Junction (a junction of two streetcar lines in 1920s) – and how “urban villages” got to be “urban villages.”
He also showed a map breaking out the distinct areas of The Junction, from commercial to apartments/condos, and pulled out other pages from the neighborhood plan showing what had been envisioned as pedestrian connectors, for example, such as California and Fauntleroy. And he pointed out that the now-on-hold Fauntleroy Boulevard project was a “descendant” of the designation of that street as a major pedestrian connector.
Then he moved to the unofficial renderings of Sound Transit’s draft plan for routing elevated transit through the area, with “Avalon Tom” contributing some elaboration from the back of the room. Koehler talked about the source of the information that was used to create them, his filing of a public-disclosure request to see how the city and ST had been coordinating or not – that’s how the “representative alignment” came to light. He showed that draft route, with the three stations envisioned – Delridge, Avalon, Junction – the first and third envisioned as connecting to other transportation. In response to questions, Koehler reiterated that this is the draft routing/alignment – the actual planning and outreach starts now and that’s why (as we’ve reported) involvement is vital.
He showed more of the renderings including the potential impacts on the California/Alaska intersection, and how the “representative alignment” shows tracks dead-ending over 44th/Alaska.
The discussion included an attendee question about the legislation that would reduce the amount of funding available to Sound Transit via car-tab taxe, and the conclusion is that no one yet knows how that might affect the West Seattle to Ballard light-rail project. Speaking of funding, the idea of tunneling through West Seattle instead of having the elevated rail came up again; the price tag was cited as $500 million more than what’s estimated now. WSJA’s Swift noted that the north section of the line already includes 7.1 miles of tunneling and that with “a collective voice,” some tunneling likely could be brought here so that all this elevated track “doesn’t destroy our neighborhood.” Also noted, the concept of saving money by dropping the Avalon station – closer to the Junction station than any two other stations in the system, Koehler said – to get tunneling money.
An attendee who said she’s been involved in South King County light-rail planning urged those interested to go take a look at the Angle Lake station.
After some more discussion, Koehler summarized, “This is all one big advertisement for you to get involved.”
Your next opportunity will be the official Sound Transit West Seattle open house – 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 13th, at the Masonic Hall in The Junction. (4736 40th SW).
Also noted at last night’s meeting:
SDOT PARKING STUDY: Will an RPZ be ahead for part of The Junction? The information is expected by the end of February, according to director Sawyer, who said that she’ll distribute it by e-mail when it’s available, and that SDOT’s team will come to JuNO’s next quarterly meeting in April for a followup discussion.
Get on the Junction Neighborhood Organization e-mail list for updates – scroll down wsjuno.org to sign up.