Councilmember: “We’re not good at telling developers no”

So acknowledged City Councilmember Sally Clark this afternoon during her Junction walking tour (first brief WSB report here) with nearby resident Sue Scharff, who invited the Planning, Land Use, and Neighborhoods Committee chair to come see a neighborhood on the brink of major change. Here’s what else Clark had to say — plus video, including Scharff’s thoughts after the tour:


That’s Clark at Hotwire Coffee (WSB sponsor), where Scharff and friend Andie Nauss had arranged to meet her before they hit the street. Clark showed up with assistant Dan Nolte, and talk turned immediately to the development concerns roiling West Seattle, including the questions about what kind of retail would accompany the mixed-use projects on the drawing board (as shown in this WSB-created map, along with major real-estate listings in the area):

View Larger Map

Coincidentally, Hotwire proprietor Lora Lewis told Clark, leaders from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce and West Seattle Junction Association were scheduled to meet tonight at Ama Ama to discuss their official position on what type of business they hope developers will try to bring in. (The Chamber also had asked for citizen feedback in this WSB post, and we have reported previously about developers’ meetings with local groups, including this one with Conner Homes shortly after its proposal for two buildings at 42nd/California/Alaska.) Having a position meeting “is really smart,” Clark told Lewis.

After another spate of the rapidly changing weather we’ve experienced for weeks now, the sun was out and shining brightly as the group set out down California for a firsthand look at some of the development sites. Here’s Clark and Scharff leading the way:

The first stop was the 42nd/Oregon project that will replace four small houses lined up heading south from the southeast corner (the first version of the proposal was panned at its “early design guidance” meeting last October). Clark was careful at most stops not to express an opinion on any proposed project, but instead asked many questions to try to understand the zoning as well as neighborhood history and character.

From there, down 42nd, past the old house at 4532 42nd that’s been long planned for teardown-to-mixed-use, and then past the Capco Plaza megaproject, furthest along of any of West Seattle’s current megaprojects, though Mural to the south (across from Jefferson Square) is making rapid progress too. Its developer, Harbor Properties, which also is proposing a mixed-use building at 38th/Alaska and has bought the motel property a few blocks east from there, won praise from Clark (“you could do worse than Harbor, and some neighborhoods have,” she said, mentioning repeatedly that other areas around the city have concerns similar to those of many West Seattleites).

The group moved on to Alaska and westward to the Walk All Ways corner, across from the Conner Homes proposals, and Scharff described the business district’s unique character and said plaintively, “What’s bad about this – why does it have to change?” Clark acknowledged the neighborhood’s unmistakable character and noted, when told most surrounding blocks are zoned for 6-story development, “You could try going for downzoning, but you might not get far.”

Scharff hit repeatedly on the theme that no one seems happy about the development; Clark wondered aloud if that were true, saying she only hears from people who are unhappy about something, and doesn’t want to assume that means no one is happy about anything.

She had no magic words of advice, nor promises or commitments, beyond keeping the promise she had made to come out and get a closer look at an area of West Seattle poised for major change. After almost an hour and a half, Clark and her assistant said goodbye, and we asked Scharff and Nauss how they felt about the visit:

Scharff also said it’s important for citizens to know they really can get leaders’ attention, even if the eventual decisions don’t go the way they hope. Seattle City Councilmembers serve on a citywide basis, not by district, so they all represent you (one councilmember, Tom Rasmussen, is a West Seattle resident); you can find their contact information here.

Clark keeps a blog, by the way; you can read it here. During a pause in the West Seattle-specific discussion, we asked her for any update on the status of the controversial “multi-family code” changes that have been in the works for months (original WSB report from last fall is here); she said the mayor’s office is currently expected to send some kind of proposal to the council in June, but she does not expect any final action before next year, because — among other reasons — budgeting matters will keep the council and its staff busy for much of the fall. (And don’t forget, a public hearing on the city budget will happen May 22 in West Seattle, at High Point Community Center.)

17 Replies to "Councilmember: "We're not good at telling developers no""

  • JenV April 30, 2008 (7:40 am)

    paging Dr. Obvious….

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS April 30, 2008 (8:30 am)

    In general, WS is getting over populated. I understand the arguements for why we need development in order to sustain the neighborhood and city, for example. I am just concerned, as are many others, at what we are doing to ourselves, though. Or, rather what those who develop and green light development are doing to us. I just don’t think it is too smart to pack people in when the viaduct is coming down in a few years. It’s already a nightmare when there is a fender bender on the bridge eastbound in the morning, like today for example. Imagine when 99 goes away for how ever long and everyone who normally takes it, has 2 options: get off at 1st Ave or get in the one lane for I 5 North? It will be a nightmare every day! Public trasportation is an option but not everyone can take the bus eastbound or ride a bike, etc. Even if many people rode the bus there are not enough buses to meet that need. I hope I am wrong but I am afraid we are headed toward a world of hurt in about 4 years especially if we keep packin ’em in.
    I was thinking, about 8 years ago it took me an hour one Friday night to go up to Pailin via California Ave from the Morgan Junction and back. An hour is long enough to make a 4 mile roundtrip dontcha think? How many hours would it take now? 2 maybe? How many in the future? Is that reasonable? Is that a “neighborhood” you or I would want to live in?

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS April 30, 2008 (8:32 am)

    PS. Thanks to Sue for stepping up! I’m burned out on trying to get the city officials to listen.

  • thelmasue75 April 30, 2008 (9:48 am)

    thanks to the WSB for joining us and getting the word out to everybody this way. i don’t have sound on my computer (oy) so i don’t know what those who read this have heard, but really the question that kept coming up for me is why do the developers always seem to get to do what they want to do, when none of the rest of us want it? sally pointed out that WA is a property rights state, and as long as a property owner is within the law (i.e., height restrictions), they can do whatever they want. i can understand that if you own a single family home and want to tear it down and build a mcmansion on your lot, there’s not much anyone can (and possibly should be able to) do to stop you (even though, EW). but when you are having a huge impact on traffic – both vehicular and pedestrian – and businesses already in place, and just in general the thousands of people who move around and through public space, when does that start to challenge the concept of democracy? if we are the government, why don’t we have more control over what happens in our communities? sally mentioned that some developers will just go into a community, build something, and leave, with absolutely no concern for the community’s wishes. soooooooo…why is that okay? i just don’t get that part.
    ratsinacage, i know you’re frustrated over trying to get anywhere with officials. obviously sally can’t single-handedly lower the height limit in the junction back from the atrocious 85 feet to something at least a little more reasonable, and of course politicians are juggling a lot of people’s wishes and priorities – which is why so few are ever happy with what comes from them. but i was impressed by sally’s willingness to come out and her overall accessibility. she’s easy to talk to and listens carefully, so by all means, call or email her! i guess i should call tom rasmussen next…..

  • Gary Ogden April 30, 2008 (9:49 am)

    A good source of information regarding Multifamily zoning in Seattle is the website.
    Check it out!
    Get involved with your community Councils and other groups like Seattle Neighborhood Council and Seattle Community Council Federation. Great resources.

  • celeste17 April 30, 2008 (10:21 am)

    Have any of you tried to get across Alaska at 6:45 in the evening? I live on 40th and Genesee and take my Mom to a class down in the Fauntleroy area two days a week and we have to cross Alaska so we can get to Fauntleroy. Sometimes we have to sit there for several minutes so we can cross. Can you imagine what it will be like when they put in the projects that are all scheduled now? A nightmare. With all the traffic that will be going to the Whole Foods/ Hancock site we will never get across the street. I am a life long resident of WS and I am sorry that we are loosing our small town feel. I wish we could stop some of these projects.

  • Meghan April 30, 2008 (10:57 am)

    You cannot stop the development. Seattle is growing and W. Seattle is close to downtown, so it’s going to happen. Market forces always prevail in a market economy. What you CAN do is get involved (like these good citizens are) in a constructive way. Just complaining, mourning small-town W. Seattle, and wishing new developments wouldn’t happen isn’t going to do anyone any good. In fairness, the city of Seattle is actually very good compared to many other major cities of a similar size in listening to citizens and taking their concerns about design, density, etc. into account whan allowing new developments. But they can’t disallow development, they can’t not allow property owners to develop their land, and they most certainly can’t please everyone. The best they can do is demonstrate that they are listening to the citizens, even if they rule in a way that many citizens don’t like. Democracy and a free market system may be difficult, but I think most of us would agree that it’s worth it. And citizens who have been “lucky” enough to sell their homes or property to developers for great amounts of money certainly feel that way! :-)

  • Quiz April 30, 2008 (11:07 am)

    Development in West Seattle is a positive thing. Concern about traffic congestion is a ridiculous reason to try and stop it. Increasing population is not the problem we should be worried about. Our focus should be directed at reliable mass-transit for current residents as well as all the newcomers.

    If residents of the Westside spent half as much time complaining about our lack of transportation as we do complaining about development, we’d be getting to ride the monorail next year.

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS April 30, 2008 (12:17 pm)

    Public transportation hasn’t gone anywhere in this city despite my efforts (and many others) and being on the ballot every year in one form or another .. that is one major reason why I am against all of this sudden “growth”.
    A thing about market forces, I like to cite that in my statements as well. Except I think all these condos that promise lower housing prices cheat the markey system in a way. There is a demand to live in WS / close to the city in all areas of the country. The market drives up housing prices. I live where I can afford to live, I think others should too.
    It’s not like I am the only one who feels this way about condos and development. There are many people with many strong feelings and we should not be discounted. I respect your opinions. Newcomers are welcome but don’t assume you can bring your great idea and we’ll all just roll over .. think about how you would react if the opposite was true.

  • Michael April 30, 2008 (1:24 pm)

    Seattle: where we shout loud and to whomever will listen that we’re not being heard. :)
    Re: “What’s bad about this – why does it have to change?” – Because things change. It’s called life.

  • Christopher Boffoli April 30, 2008 (2:49 pm)

    Good on ya Ms. Scharff and Ms. Nauss for being proactive. And props to Councilmember Clark for taking the time to come out and walk the neighborhood.

    As much as I support your activism, I’m not sure I agree with you 100% on your concerns. I can’t rightly burn the West Seattle bridge behind me because I only moved to a townhouse near the Junction in West Seattle in autumn of 2006 and I guess I’m part of what some perceive as the problem.

    As a relative newcomer I don’t have any romantic or sentimental attachments to the way things used to be here. I am fascinated by history and the character of a place, but I made a decision to live in West Seattle partly for what it has and partly for what it will soon be.

    I was a child of the suburbs back East but my personal notion of the American dream does not involve rows of similarly styled single-family houses with pristine, chemically-treated laws and mini-vans in every driveway. I very much support denser growth that integrates residential and commercial areas and as such promotes the idea of walking and public transport over private cars.

    Being against change and growth because of the car traffic it will generate is the weakest argument for the future of West Seattle that I can conceive. Seattle is on the fast track to becoming a much larger and more cosmopolitan city. The talented, well-educated people who will be moving here are key to keeping our economy strong and innovative and our collective future bright. You Pollyannas can put your heads in the sand and will it away but with $5 per gallon gas on the horizon and $10 per gallon gas not too far behind it, this current model of massive cars with one person in them will be relegated to what it is: a silly anachronism.

    I recognize as others do here that growth is inevitable. The most important distinction to make is that it has to be the “right” growth, not just sprawl in which profit hungry developers with no taste exploit the existing zoning laws. With that said I cannot co-sign the rhetorical question “Why does anything here need to change?” as Ms. Scharff asked yesterday. There are a lot of less than vibrant businesses in the Junction that I would love to see change. But then again, my sense is that I represent what a lot of old school West Seattleites are trying to keep out.

  • thelmasue75 April 30, 2008 (3:00 pm)

    of course things change. it’s not called life; it’s called change.

    people hang on to platitudes that aren’t necessarily true – like “growth is inevitable and there’s nothing we can do about it.” i’m interested in finding out what we can do about it. citizens pass initiatives to keep height limits down, then “the city” raises said height limits. is that democracy?

    there is not a housing shortage in seattle for people who can afford to pay “market” prices; there is a housing shortage for people who can’t. so, we build more and more housing at “market” rates, and have more and more homeless people.

    other than Quiz above, no one i’ve heard from thinks development is a positive thing, though Meghan points out that those who sell to developers sure are happy. so we have a populace at odds with what’s happening, and a Very Small Minority happy about it – and these happen to be the people who are making a lot of money as a result of the growth. all i see behind the development here is greed – not the need for housing, and not some inevitability. i do not for a second believe that we need 85 foot tall buildings throughout the junction or it will die. do you? really?

    what i think we need is not even mass transit. what i think we need is people being able to afford to live where they work, so they don’t have to commute hardly at all – not in cars, not in buses, not on monorails – none of it. yet, the housing we continue to build is too expensive for the people who work near that housing to afford.
    i live with my 13 year old son in a rental that i can afford only because my 86 year old dad lives with me. my temporary job – on california and andover – ended on the 15th. i’m desperately looking for work in west seattle so i don’t have to spend gas – whether in my car’s or some other vehicle’s tank – and time (time! endless time sitting in traffic!) getting to and from work. do i wish i had more space? sure. would i like a view? of course. but i’m living where i can afford to live, so: no space, no view, dad. that’s a choice i’m making, but as seattle grows, i see it less and less as a choice and more and more as my only option.

    but, whatever. it’s not all about me.

    it seems we have mostly bought into the lie that life is going to be like this: spend way too much time in a frustrating commute to and from a job that barely pays for our housing, and call that success. for many, that may be correct. i’m trying to do something different and ya’ll are welcome to do whatever it is you do. all i know is that the things that attract people to west seattle and that we all crow about being so great, are going to be gone if development goes on as it’s planned. it will ALL BE GONE: the independently owned shops, the ability to see the sky and the sound and the mountains – it’ll be gone. california avenue will be a canyon; it will be impossible to get anywhere in a car; parking will be a joke; welcome to capitol hill/fremont/ballard/generica. might as well change that “welcome to west seattle” sign right now.

  • Jeff April 30, 2008 (9:54 pm)

    I approve of the taller developments at the Junction. It’s much better to tear down an old building in Seattle than to cut down 20 acres of forest near North Bend for more housing. It makes a lot of sense to add more people right next to the largest West Seattle transit location. Growth is coming to Seattle and the question is how do we manage it. Would people prefer to replace all of the single family homes with townhouses? I vote for taller buildings next to the bus stop.

  • Todd April 30, 2008 (10:44 pm)

    Bless you Sue!

    Chris, first let me say that you are welcome here!I think you are saying that when gas reaches x amount, people will stop driving or cut back and it will be a “silly anachronism”.. If this is your point, I have to respectfully disagree about the price of gas and its effect on peoples driving habits. Gas has doubled in the last 4 years or so and traffic is just as bad or worse. I’ve been in Seattle since the late 80’s. People have loved the automobile for so long and with public transportation being what it isn’t, people will keep driving.
    This is not directed towards anyone in particular, just an observation.. I know this is bad to say but I was thinking earlier today about my response to change. And what came to mind was “ah …. change…. aint it grand … now we get to have road rage in West Seattle!” I know all change is not bad but there sure are a lot of negatives that we see lately.

  • thelmasue75 April 30, 2008 (11:35 pm)

    greg nickels’ seattle: making the city safe for developers and the rich.
    it’s not about transit or density or the environment or community or history or nostalgia or the inevitability of growth or anything. it’s about money.
    that just offends me.
    and todd: thank you, and bless you too. and all the rest of us, every one.

  • Pokey May 1, 2008 (1:48 am)

    As a resident of West Seattle for 33 years, I don’t have a general objection to revitalizing and improving our great little spot over here. I also welcome those of you who are new and came here because you love it too.

    There is a lot of growth I like and feel is a vast improvement; some, however, are simply money-grubbing eyesores. My arguments with the way it all comes down are as follows:

    –we citizens had no real vote in becoming an ‘urban village.’

    –as residents we often get written notification from the city to comment on a project AFTER the footings of the building have been poured. What’s the point?

    –density keeps going up while off street parking for said buildings keeps going down. Public transportation does not improve.

    –‘in your face’ development shows NO respect for the residents already here. ie. 60-90 units where 3 houses used to be with shallow setbacks and ‘to the max height limits.’ If you inquire about this you are told you ‘have no rights to your view.’ So what if it encroaches on the neighborhood you’ve lived in for many years before the zoning was rammed through?

    –ever go to a hearing? Save your time and energy–it’s a done deal–you lose 99% of the time.

    –this is not a new phenomenon. Take a look at Jefferson Square built in the 80’s. Many good businesses there, but it’s a parking, logistical, and architectural nightmare. The choices included making it into a square much like the one in Wallingford that is the old elementary school with shops, etc included within. Instead, what you see now is what won out over the objections of many due to developers being able to make more money and the support of many WS merchants who were sold their bill of goods. I’ve talked to many who originally supported the project who now rue that support.

    At that time, one person actually boasted ‘just think, we could have another Bellevue here if you would all just think about it.’ Yikes!

    –as for transportation, many in WS approved the monorail vote 3 times before the mayor and city council got it onto the ballot for the 4th but fatal time to get it voted down. I haven’t seen or heard of any plan to take it’s place recently that’s above the traffic. Of course, S. Lake Union got it’s cute little street cars right quick like and I believe without a vote.

    So those of you who are relatively new to WS, you’ll have to forgive some of us who have been here and done that. Our meager finances are no match for city lawyers, DPD, and developers working together to expand our tax base. I prefer to be called ‘realistic’ not a ‘no growther.’ In my case, it’s nothing personal toward you.

  • thelmasue75 May 1, 2008 (11:38 am)

    well put, pokey. there really is a long legacy of activism here – and throughout seattle. when i first moved here in 1990, one of the things that appealed to me was that it seemed to be a city where you could fight city hall and win. i can’t for the life of me remember what issue could possibly have given me that impression, but seattle certainly isn’t that city anymore. vote no; get it anyway (cf: two new stadiums); vote yes multiple times; don’t ever get it (cf: monorail). politics in seattle. lovely.

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