West Seattle Wednesday: ‘Upzone’ hearings downtown, and more

From the WSB West Seattle Events calendar: Today’s the day for what could be all-day proceedings regarding the proposed zoning change in the 3200 block of California SW, which would allow more height and larger commercial spaces in future buildings. As noted when we covered related proceedings last week, it’s happening in the city Hearing Examiners chambers (40th floor of the Municipal Tower downtown) and will begin with the public hearing on the proposal, which the city Department of Planning and Development has recommended the City Council approve; the day’s schedule also includes the hearing on an appeal filed against the DPD’s ruling of “environmental nonsignificance” for the proposal. … Otherwise, regular weekly Wednesday events are on the calendar, including produce sales at the High Point Market Garden, 32nd/Juneau, 4-7 pm, and trivia at Skylark Café and Club (WSB sponsor), 6:45 pm, followed by open-mike time at 9 pm.

25 Replies to "West Seattle Wednesday: 'Upzone' hearings downtown, and more "

  • CP August 18, 2010 (11:16 am)

    Just came from the hearings. Wow, my 1st impression is how much Cayce & Gain and the other developers treated the community members as if their concerns were trivial, unimportant, insignificant. I guess it is just hard for me that there is such a disconnect here. On one side their saying, “yeah, we want whats best for the community” and on the other the say, “but community concerns mean nothing to us” I’m just seriously concerned that giving a blanket rezone to do whatever they want is a bad idea. Improvement is good, development is great but giving free Up-zoning to a bunch of Realtors is a BAD idea.

    • WSB August 18, 2010 (11:25 am)

      Just a data point – Cayce has yet to speak. Gain did speak during the public-comment period, which ran until about 10:30 am. I’m still at the hearing (and will be until it is over) and the only thing that has happened since the end of the public hearing and a break is that the DPD planner has presented the toplines of why they recommend approval of the zoning change – applicants’ rep Josh Stepherson is currently asking followup questions of the planner – TR

  • Forest August 18, 2010 (1:57 pm)

    At the public meeting held at West Seattle High School a few years ago, I picked up the same arrogant and self-entitled vibes from Mike Gain that CP seems to have felt this morning. Speaking strictly for myself as somebody whose single-family house won’t be affected whether or not the upzone is approved, I felt that Gain implicitly threatened to build ugly spite buildings that maxed out the current zoning unless he and Cayce got the blanket upzone for their properties on California Avenue.

  • Manolita August 18, 2010 (1:57 pm)

    Thank you Tracy for alll you do. CP’s comment made it sound like both Mike and Roger had already spoken and expressed their lack of concern for the neighborhood. Not the case.
    I am looking forward to your report, I know it will be journalism at its best!

    • WSB August 18, 2010 (2:05 pm)

      This is just too complicated for as-it-happens updates, I’m sorry to say, so I’ll be slogging through one long story later today. No other journalists here … nor, now that it’s afternoon and the appeal hearing is at centerstage, is there much of a crowd remaining.
      Roger Cayce is still here watching (Mike Gain was here till the lunch break), as is one neighborhood-opposition representative, Lynn McIntosh, plus Stephen Levey, who is co-appellant with Dennis Ross and has testified; Ross is testifying right now. He’s across the table from Shelley Bolser of DPD, Josh Stepherson (repping C&G) and his assistant, and a DPD traffic expert is in the gallery waiting to testify for DPD. Oh, and the hearing examiner Sue Tanner, who is hearing this case herself (we have covered at least half a dozen cases here and sometimes it is an assistant HE) plus her paralegal. So in all, 11 of us in the room.

  • CP August 18, 2010 (2:11 pm)

    Point of clarification: I wasn’t referring to an individual(s) but was simply saying “they”, the company, Cayce & Gain had made its voice heard.

  • Manolita August 18, 2010 (2:33 pm)

    Mike and Roger, Cayce and Gain, C&G, same thing…

  • rwc August 18, 2010 (7:44 pm)

    It was a long day for all at the hearing! It is upsetting to hear from CP that the concerns of the community were downplayed. There were approx. fifteen people there who opposed the rezone-most were homeowners on 42nd, directly east of the rezone area. All of the issues of concern were addressed by both the city reviewer, their “experts” and seven local property owners that were in favor of the rezone. Everyone was given a fair time to state their opinion and give reasons why they felt how they did. The intent of being there was to express your opinion and just because you did not agree with the opposing homeowners does not mean that you are treating their feelings as “trivial or unimportant”. Cayce was treated as a “witness” so spoke after most others left.
    The Hearing Examiner was very patient and fair and allowed all involved their fair time. It was the burden of the opposing parties to show that the city had made the wrong decision when they approved the rezone. It appeared to me that all concerns regarding parking, soil stability, air, noise, traffic, etc were clearly explained and both the pro’s and con’s were expressed. The final decision will be issued in fifteen days.

  • JA August 18, 2010 (8:58 pm)

    At least 16 people from the neighborhood attended the public comment portion of the hearing, and about ten of them gave testimony. (I thought this was a pretty impressive turnout for the middle of a work day.) We also presented a petition with 70+ signatures in opposition to the rezone, along with numerous written submissions and photos. The Hearing Examiner seemed to be attentive and very patient during the comment period, which lasted for about an hour and a half.

    We did not hear anyone in favor of the rezone address the lack of buffer between the rezoned properties and the adjacent single-family homes. Further, all but two of the property owners who spoke in favor of the rezone were either in real estate or contractors.

  • Manolita August 18, 2010 (9:04 pm)

    thank you for taking the time to attend and most of all thank you for your honest, objective description of what happened today.
    Looking forward to a positive outcome.

  • 24601 August 18, 2010 (9:17 pm)

    can i assume that rwc is actually roger cayce? i would hope that he was in attendance… i was interested to see if anyone had any answer to the “no buffer should mean no rezone” issue… sounds like the proponent side just ignored it, which is what you do in a legal case with a point you can’t win — hope the judge eventually loses focus on it as well… interesting. i hope this thing works out well for everyone, also. we like going to bohemia and we love spiro’s — if that is threatened, i may have to take off the kid gloves…

  • CP August 18, 2010 (9:33 pm)

    I thought the hearing examiner was completely above board and I totally respect what I saw of how she handled the hearing. RWC does fail to notice that the group in opposition came representing other parties in the area as well. What I was noting was that while C&G (trying to tone down my former, angrier rhetoric) claimed to be concerned about the community and about being good neighbors, their actual speeches strongly indicated the opposite to be the case. One speaker in support of C&G even tried to say that ALL we REALLY care about is our lost views (which some of us don’t even have, btw). Then they say things like “it is only 10 feet” or trying to claim that increased density will actually improve the parking situation.

    These comments are nothing short of ridiculous. Furthermore, they claim that without the rezone, this area will die a deeper death and get uglier and worse because nobody can develop it without an upzone (even though ANYONE could develop it any day, and quite profitably, I suspect). It does NOT require a rezone to get development! It could be developed today if someone cared enough to do it. No one does. Even so, I happen to like this area.

    Finally, it is true that the BUFFER is probably THE issue in this case. The whole idea of zoning is to protect properties from odd/harmful sorts of development and an unbuffered business zone on top of a row of single family houses is a very bad idea. I don’t know a homeowner ANYWYHERE (not even Mr. Cayce or Mr. Gain or Mr. Stepherson) who would allow that in their back yards.

  • CP August 18, 2010 (9:41 pm)

    Oh, and remember, if you want to STAY involved and informed and if you want to help protect and preserve this neighborhood from this harmful upzone, feel free to contact our group on facebook
    (Neighbors Against the California Ave Rezone!) or via email at againstupzoning@gmail.com

  • rwc August 19, 2010 (8:06 am)

    It appears that much of the concern pertaining to this rezone is based on the adjacent neighbors objecting to the lack of a proper buffer between their properties and the commercial development that eventually will take place on California Ave. While I do have compassion for their worry I also would like to state that the future condition they describe is what has happened and is happening in any location where someone buys a home and lives in a house that is directly connected to commercially zoned property. The thing that is commonly overlooked is the fact that when they bought their home they were aware or clearly should have been aware of where they where they were buying and additionally the fact that they were able to buy at a much lower price due to the future impact that impacted the value of the property. They have had many years of views and privacy that a quick look at the zoning map would have told them they would lose someday. If I lived there I too would be sad and upset by the fact that my nice situation would be changing but I would need to remind myself that it was something that I knew would happen someday. Whether the new buildings are 40 feet or 30 feet will not change the fact that there will be a radical change in the environment of their back yards. I would think it would be a much better approach to attempt to develop a clear line of communication with the owners of the commercial property adjacent to theirs and start talking about things that could be done in the eventual design process to minimize impact to their living situation such as placement of windows directly in line with theirs, minimizing noise from mechanical needs, dealing with construction noise, etc. These are all things that can and should be talked about rather than to just try to stop all development altogether! Why should the neighbors on the side streets adjacent to the 3200 block of California have any more protection from the eventual development of commercial property on commercially zoned land than anyone else on the miles of commercially zoned land elsewhere in the city? Like it or not West Seattle has been discovered and it is a vibrant and fun place to live. As more and more people discover this they are wanting to move here to live and work. With growth comes some pain and change. My feeling is rather than fight and throw personal attacks it would be much more productive to address the real problems in a mature way and try to mitigate the situation to the best resolution of all involved. At the time the approx. twenty five different owners of the commercial property here move into a design and build phase of their ownership I am sure they will begin the city required “neighborhood review” process and will in fact allow the direct neighbors plenty of time to express their input and concerns. As I stated this process is required by the city and is clearly described in the DPD Client Assistance Memo #238 titled “Design Review”.

  • JA August 19, 2010 (1:55 pm)

    No one would be complaining about a 30 foot build-out. That’s the zoning we signed on for and relied on when we bought homes on 42nd Ave. As I thought we made clear, there is a substantial difference between the few feet that would rise above our fences under NC1-30 and the twenty that would be possible under NC2-40 (40 is actually 47, once you add room for commercial HVAC and roof slope). No one has a “right” to a view, absolutely true. But people do have a right to rely on zoning laws, because they exist to promote public good, not to benefit private parties at the cost of a few individuals’ property values and privacy.

  • Alvis August 19, 2010 (2:13 pm)

    rwc –

    You know full well that commercial zoning and commercial UPZONING are two different matters. Don’t pretend that people who buy next to an existing commercial zone have forfeited their rights to protest a substantial loosening of the legal use restrictions on that commercial zone.

  • 3rd Generatin Westseattleite August 19, 2010 (4:10 pm)

    This is a very emotional issue for all involved. It impacts the commercial property owners as well as the residential owners. Both have a story to tell and see what is best from their perspective. After hearing from both sides and considering all of the facts and issues presented to the Director of the Department of Planning and Development for the City of Seattle recommended that the upzone be approved. It really does make the best sense for the entire community and the City of Seattle. Their decision is completely unemotional. The fact that was pointed out by the departments representative was that this block was zoned higher than 30 feet from 1923 to 1991 until it was downzoned from 40′ to 30′. For much of this period the zoning height was at 40′. There is a 40′ building already built in this block from prior zoning regulations. Should the property owners that purchased properties in this block prior to the downzone to 30 feet not have some rights too? The blocks to the north and south both have 40 feet height limits.
    Any proposed development will have a neighborhood review process and the issues regarding buffers, open space, parking, utilities, trafic etc. will all be addressed. This block if developed properly will improve this block in many ways. The additional height will allow whoever developes the properties the financial ability build a quality product. They will be able to supply adequate parking and bring in more mixed use businesses and residences to our community. THE UPZONE SHOULD BE APPROVED!

  • cp August 19, 2010 (5:10 pm)

    I am so glad the Mr. Gain spoke at length here! It shows exactly what I’ve been saying all along.
    Notice the rhetoric of willingness to work with the community that is completely overshadowed with comments about how good we’ve had it and we got a such a good deal and how there is NO DIFFERENCE between one zoned height and another. See? They refuse to listen to our concerns or validate them even as they claim to care. Is any more proof needed that they seek only to belittle our issues and that they couldn’t care less? True colors showing there and this is exactly the kind of company that I would NOT give a blanket, free pass to build bigger, busier uglier buildings.

    See how they belittle the idea of a buffer zone. Can they be trusted to build in the spirit of neighborliness? Heck no. They’ll build as big as the new upzone allows – as much as 50 feet (rounded) as seen from California ave.

    With a group like that, the best option is to deny them a free-pass upzone and instead hold them accountable through a contract rezone. They show themselves in every word they say and write.

  • 24601 August 19, 2010 (10:56 pm)

    rcw says: Why should the neighbors on the side streets adjacent to the 3200 block of California have any more protection from the eventual development of commercial property on commercially zoned land than anyone else on the miles of commercially zoned land elsewhere in the city?
    simple. because the city has rules and principles regarding such zoning/REzoning, and the first of those appears to be the minimization of the commercial zone’s impact on a residential zone adjacent. the block that is fighting this is, if not unique, a rarity, in that there is no alley or other space between what could be 4 story buildings…
    i don’t hear any of these people complaining about buildings that might be put up under the current zoning law. (i actually didn’t know until this issue that individuals could try to rezone a whole block, i thought only the city could do that — i thought individuals could only try to rezone their own properties. frightening loophole/flaw in our system that makes me fear for a lot of blocks around me where these developers own property)

    rwc also says: a quick look at the zoning map would have told them they would lose someday. why would they think that that zoning that seems to have been well thought out in the urban plan of the 1990’s, which means SINCE 1923 (when, by the way, west seattle still had a streetcar and prohibition was national law) and if these developers have been here for some thirty years, did they not have the property when it was zoned at the higher level for about ten years? why didn’t they build it taller then? maybe they knew at the time that too many people would call them villains, and maybe now they just don’t have the financial room to be concerned about such a moniker…
    and if the people on that block can expect their allegedly “much lower price” view property to change, then maybe the developers can expect that they may have just bought in an area that can’t handle the volume that they now want to create — have they in thirty years ever proposed or developed even one parking lot for this urban shopping area that they want? there is no public parking in that neighborhood except on the street — people shop in the alaska junction with shorter buildings because they can park there… more lanes, more parking, less chance of being struck by a vehicle or stuck behind one… someone’s a bit short-sighted here…
    and new development will add more parking? please. we have seen that myth turn into capitol hill and places like it…we’re not buying that one anymore fellas…

  • Lisa M August 19, 2010 (11:08 pm)

    I want to address rwc’s comments and ask a few questions:
    1. There are so many concerns about this re-zone beyond the buffer zone
    a. The displacement of moderate/low income renters to new condo’s unaffordable units, especially in this time of economic hardship
    b. Driving small and desirable business out of affordable lease space
    c. The “corridor of darkness” created by such tall buildings
    d. The lack of harmony with the Neighborhood Plan
    e. Please see the many letters written in opposition to this plan for many more reasons, it’s all in the public file.
    2. If West Seattle is such a vibrant and fun place to live, why don’t you live here?
    3. In what way have you tried to mitigate the situation yourself? As far as I know, you have not reached out to the ANA, neighbors on the block or the Neighbors Against the Rezone Group.
    4. Why exactly does pain have to come with growth?

  • spk August 19, 2010 (11:51 pm)

    First, THANK YOU WSB for covering this.

    Then, thanks RCW for showing your true colors. Our suspicions about you were right. Being a bad neighbor is a bad business practice.

    I was at the hearing and I was impressed by how factual and thorough the local homeowners were and I was likewise unimpressed with how the developers made claims like “… there will actually be MORE parking available” in the area and they acted like you can’t develop this area without rezoning.
    Basically, I guess I was surprised that they didn’t use facts but kept making assumptions about what it MIGHT look like. The locals, on the otherhand, talked about the FACT of the existing neighborhood plan, the FACT of the buffer issue – there isn’t one and all I have to do is go look and see that this is true, the FACT that Hinds and Hanford can’t handle more parking and are already maxed out and the FACT that even if this rezone took place, there is no proof whatsoever that anything will be improved at all. I could relate to facts. I couldn’t relate to the false promises of what MIGHT happen if they are given this private upzone permit.
    It just stand to reason that if they want to get special zoning, let them submit a plan and agree to a contractual rezone rather than say, “okay, have at it boys. We trust you to do the right thing as a good neighbor”. They are, after all, out to make a profit first and foremost. We can’t forget that.

    • WSB August 19, 2010 (11:55 pm)

      I mentioned this to someone (whose name I didn’t get) at the Admiral concert tonight – our story on Wednesday’s hearing is still in the works, hopefully done tomorrow morning – distilling 7 hours into 2,000 words or so can be a slog; though the discussion here seems to have moved onward, nonetheless, at least it will be something of a record for posterity! – TR

  • nou August 20, 2010 (1:25 am)

    A contract rezone includes building designs and multiple community meetings. This straight rezone should be much cheaper, particularly divvied 23 ways. Anyone know the costs for this rezone? Compared to a contract rezone cost for one or two parcels?

    In Admiral Safeway’s favor, they approached the Neighborhood Association with their request to rezone and said why. They then negotiated a plan with the Admiral community that traded a host of benefits for the rezone; I think the height stayed the same but NC2 moved to NC3.

    I hope businesses in the proposed rezone join the community opposition; otherwise I’m patronizing those I know rent, since property owners, as rwc has said, support the rezone.

    I too hope people pay attention to this issue, “24601”, since other neighborhoods could be next. Since realtors look well ahead, as rwc pointed out, they surely also know that families will move from busier, noisier neighborhoods. Investors can purchase their homes at lowered valuation and make them rentals. Eventually this might work into a blanket rezone to multi-family housing.

    “24601”, I think the question has come up if Cayce and Gain owned any parcels in the proposed rezone area when it was zoned for 40 foot heights. Pretty sure they said they’d purchased just one parcel zoned at 40 feet, in the late 80s.

  • nou August 20, 2010 (1:33 am)

    Thanks WSB. Saw your message just after I posted or would have held off for the news.

  • Forest August 20, 2010 (2:06 pm)

    Do upzone proponents really argue that adding 10 feet to the height limits on their new development will make no difference? By that logic, NOT raising the height limits by 10 feet will also make no difference. So let’s not raise them.

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