Neighborhood Conservation Districts? Many questions, few answers

Will the city make Neighborhood Conservation Districts available as a tool for interested neighborhoods to use if they choose to preserve their “character”?

City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has been exploring the idea for a while, presenting a briefing on a study last September, and convened a discussion at the High Point Community Center last night, the second of three around the city (the third and final one is on Phinney Ridge tonight).

One challenge: The legislation to be brought up for a council vote hasn’t been written yet. So while those in attendance had many questions, few answers were available. Here’s the slide deck that was shown:

The first round of meetings is being held primarily to gauge community interest. One point made clear: These districts couldn’t be created to stop development projects already on the drawing board. Questions focused on what would or would not be allowed in a district, and how that might affect property owners’ rights, given that in theory, one could be implemented without unanimous approval of affected owners. Would it come down to something simple like, what kind of fence you could put up? Answer: If there are guidelines for that, yes. Wouldn’t that make this something like a homeowners’ association? another attendee asked. And what about people moving into the district long after it was created?

Other questions: What disclosure will there be for property owners regarding the costs of these districts? What’s the final cost to the city, considering that if an area can be as small as a block, hundreds could spring up. (Rasmussen’s legislative assistant Evan Clifthorne said he expected this to start slowly.) Which city department would run the program? Probably the Department of Neighborhoods – but nothing’s finalized yet.

Again, lots of questions – the answers will depend on what’s in the official proposal. We asked Councilmember Rasmussen afterward about the likelihood of this making it to the finish line before, or after, he leaves office; his view is that if the council sees enough interest from citizens, they’ll carry it through, and public meetings like this one are one way to do that. (Our informal count last night was around 20.)

If you’re interested in the topic and can get to north Seattle, tonight’s meeting is at 6 pm at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, 6532 Phinney Avenue N.

SIDE NOTE: Speaking of centers, we noted that several people were confused about last night’s location (including our crew!). So many meetings are held at Neighborhood House‘s High Point Center (6400 Sylvan Way, not a city-run facility) that any mention of a “center” in High Point seems to send people there. The site of last night’s meeting is officially called High Point Community Center, a Seattle Parks-operated facility at 6920 34th SW.

9 Replies to "Neighborhood Conservation Districts? Many questions, few answers"

  • Diane April 8, 2015 (5:47 pm)

    so glad I was able to make it to this meeting with our WS neighbors; there were a TON of excellent questions; in fact, so many questions that the meeting was extended beyond the scheduled time to end; and we learned a lot

  • trickycoolj April 8, 2015 (6:53 pm)

    Neighborhood House was already hosting the HP Community Policing Plan meeting. Too bad they had to overlap.

  • matt April 9, 2015 (9:00 am)

    This is a horrible idea.

    Do you want a block by block Home Owners Association run through and by City bureaucracy? Each with unique rules and regulations?

    Do you want to ask a review board whether you can paint your fence or do minor maintenance? Do you want to pay a design professional to prepare the documents for approval?

    And who is going to sit on these boards? Just your nosiest, uptight neighbor.

  • JVP April 9, 2015 (9:25 am)

    I agree with Matt, this is a terrible idea. One reason I like the city is that it’s NOT a suburban neighborhood with too many rules, where all the homes look and feel the same.

    I get that people have concerns about development and transportation. But those issues need to be addressed at the council level on a larger scale.

  • wakeflood April 9, 2015 (9:58 am)

    Sometimes you need a real threat to get action going. Case in point – there’s a DPD Director’s Rule that allows boarding houses of up to 8 non-related persons living in a single family home as long as the owner lives onsite (detached living space or not) at least 6 mos. of the year.

    There’s already one of these defacto multifamily dwelling units without additional parking or other services being constructed in a single family neighborhood in Fauntleroy.

    This effectively negates single family zoning. One assumes because density is DPD’s thing these days and they’ll let almost anything slide, including this.

    I’ve called and complained and written letters. Nobody but the guy who owns the place and will be making big $ from his boarders, likes this. And don’t be fooled, it’s coming to your single family block soon enough. How do we get DPD’s attention on things like this? Cuz asking nicely hasn’t gotten the job done on so many issues they’ve buried their head in the sand about with regards to density and infrastructure.

    Do I want a street by street set of codes? Nope. Do I want to see DPD respond to issues that affect quality of life? Absolutely. What other lever do you have? I’ll use it.

  • wakeflood April 9, 2015 (10:08 am)

    And it should be noted that this guy just dropped the value of his neighbor’s homes on the street by some significant amount. Picture the conversation with potential buyers who ask what’s the deal with that place across the street? Looks like an apartment complex???

    It should be noted also that these boarding houses can be used as halfway houses, detox houses, recovery houses, etc. No restrictions.

  • Matt April 9, 2015 (8:24 pm)

    Before Wakeflood completely derails the discussion with his/her off topic rant about how the neighbor’s legal use use of their property is bringing down his/ her property’s value, I think it’s fair to point out that busybodies like Wakeflood are going to be deciding what your house can look like under this new plan.

  • wakeflood April 10, 2015 (7:55 am)

    Feel better Matt? Thanks for jumping to erroneous conclusions and the thoughtful labeling.

    I suggested that the issue I brought up was indicative of DPD using patchwork, non-standard processes arbitrarily. If single family doesn’t mean single family, then why even have zoning?

    And you conveniently glossed over the fact that I asked for a tool to address issues that the community wishes to bring forth? You suggest we don’t need one? So be it. I’m not suggesting that the one that is proposed feels appropriate to me but I’m willing to at least consider how it could/couldn’t work.

    Just because you’ve decided this process can’t work doesn’t mean others can’t ponder solutions. Or does that make me a busy body?

  • wakeflood April 10, 2015 (8:12 am)

    And btw, the specific item I mentioned won’t impact my home value at all. I have no dog in that fight other than to point out that if the community has no recourse for arbitrary, ad hoc rezones, then that might be worth a look…

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