HALA REZONING: What tonight’s Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting heard, said, and asked

(UPDATED 11:25 am Wednesday with clearer version of map as sent by city, embedded and linked below)

(Direct link to draft West Seattle Junction rezoning map)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“This has been brewing for a long time, but what’s been missing has been the community outreach,” observed Junction Neighborhood Organization director René Commons as her group began tonight’s meeting, with more than 50 people there to hear the first West Seattle briefing about the rezoning proposed as part of the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).

Commons explained that she had expected JuNO would have been contacted by the city about a briefing once the proposal was ready to go public – but that didn’t happen, so JuNO had to request this briefing, on relatively short notice. She mentioned the “focus groups” that the city set up to work on this (when she asked if anyone from the focus group that included The Junction was here, no hands went up).


Who WAS there: Nick Welch (above) from the Office of Planning and Community Development, the staff person who had led the meeting of the Junction-included focus group that we covered downtown last month. (We recorded his presentation and the ensuing Q&A on video – 12:21 am update, see it below:)

While there still wasn’t a neighborhood-by-neighborhood review of the proposed Junction rezoning map, there was a lot of new information: Toward the start of his presentation, Welch said, in response to a question, that the final HALA maps weren’t likely to go to the City Council before “June at the earliest” – which is months later than we’d heard previously.

He started with some context about growth, including “about 40 people (moving to Seattle) every day” and the dramatic increase in rents. “All of that growth offers a lot of opportunity people but (also) really big challenges.” He noted that HALA’s goal was to create “50,000 new homes” in the next 10 years – 30,000 “market rate,” 20,000 “affordable” (to those making 60% of the city’s average mean income). Finally, he got to Mandatory Housing Affordability, which is what the proposed rezoning is about – new multifamily and commercial development “must either build, or pay into a fund for, affordable housing.” And to make that happen, the city has to offer additional development capacity, Welch said.

He showed a slide with current average rents for 1-bedroom apartments- $1989 new, $1641 all. $1009 would be the “affordable to 60% of AMI” rent. Currently, the voluntary “Incentive Zoning” program exists in a few areas, none here. With HALA, MHA “is no longer voluntary,” as Welch noted, and “vastly expands the scope of where this applies,” about 44 percent of the city’s land.

Two general types of zoning changes are proposed, he said: “One, sort of a typical zoning change where we would allow one additional story” beyond what a certain zone allows today. Lowrise 3 allows 40 feet (four stories) now; that would go up to 50 feet. “In some areas, we’re showing something more than that change” – single-family-zoned areas in urban villages, for example. “In those places, you’ll see sort of a mix of zones.” And there are some other areas aligning with the MHA principles (see them here) that will see a more-dramatic change. That includes an area into which the West Seattle Junction Urban Village will expand because of “good transit.”

He said they hope feedback will focus on whether the map meets the MHA Principles, and whether the zoning change is “reasonable to implement MHA affordable housing in (any given) neighborhood),” as well as whether the Residential Small Lot and Lowrise zones are “proposed in appropriate places,” and whether urban village expansion matches an “approximate 10-minute walk to the transit hub and reflect local factors.”

Other ways for feedback, from his presentation:
-citywide mailing next month (later in the meeting, he said that could be going out any day now)
-local meetings and group discussions (like this)
December 7th community meeting here
-Draft EIS in February, with a 45-day comment period
-Final EIS in May
-A neighborhood urban design workshop is coming up in South Park; one has already happened in Westwood-Highland Park

While Welch acknowledged “it’s not the easiest website to navigate,” he pointed to seattle.gov/HALA as well as the aforementioned hala.consider.it.

And then, Q&A, which was extensive.

First question: Why is the city not creating “new (urban) villages” instead of adding to current ones?

Welch replied by saying the UVs went back to the 1990s but haven’t changed in the past 20 years. “During the past (few years) while updating the Comprehensive Plan, we (asked) whether to continue with the Urban Village strategy … the general feedback was very positive … We did hear comments about other places that could be Urban Villages, but the decision was to continue (with the ones) we have today.” But that could always change with future comprehensive-plan changes.

One person brought up the areas that don’t have urban villages, such as Magnolia and Madison Park, and suggested some should be created there.

Another explained that some West Seattle streets “were built to the width of a Model T” and are now narrowed further with parking on both sides “and you have effectively turned our two-way streets into one-way streets.” She suggested that development should focus on streets that are wide enough for two-way traffic.

The next person to comment mentioned working in Ballard and seeing single lots converted into “four townhouses,” as well as buildings with far more units than parking spaces. He said he was concerned that West Seattle was going down the same path. The next person pointed out that the city is not obligated to be sure that everyone gets a parking spot. After that, someone talked about transit riders driving into The Junction to park to catch buses, and expressed concern that light rail will bring more of that.

Welch mentioned that SDOT is reviewing RPZ policy, for neighborhoods that might be getting that kind of parking use.

The next person again asked about parking requirements for new development. Welch explained, “In urban villages already today, we don’t require any parking for development – some choose to offer it.” The commenter suggested that people who move into buildings without parking should not be allowed to have cars.

After that, someone suggested a park-and-ride facility. Welch pointed out that the city has a policy of no park-and-ride facilities.

Another comment expressed support for preservation of historic buildings.

Next, someone wondered about the concept of “starter housing” to be available for people to live in the city – “is that addressed at all?” New housing “tends to be expensive,” acknowledged Welch, also pointing out that the city doesn’t have much land available for building. He mentioned the “residential small lot” zoning that would create smaller units than the “massive” houses that tend to be built in single-family-zoned areas now.

The question after that asked for an example of what the developer will pay as required by MHA. Building on-site is called “performance” and will have to be at the 60 percent AMI level for 75 years. If they choose to pay a few instead, there’s a specific amount per square foot of their project – “they make that payment to the Office of Housing … one of (its) duties is to provide funding to nonprofit builders of affordable housing.” That’s a one-time fee. “What keeps the developer from” (making that money back by raising the prices of the non-affordable units)? Nothing, said Welch, basically.

Another person asked about building to bring jobs here so that all the people living here don’t have to commute off-peninsula to work. That idea generated murmurs of support.

Someone who identified herself as a homeowner since 1999 said she “hates every bit” of the proposal and wondered if Seattle is modeling itself after any particular city. Actually, other cities are looking to do what we are doing, said Welch.

Paul Haury from the neighborhood group NERD east of The Junction mentioned the six-digit sum his neighborhood group had spent on a lawsuit but said “the city lied about the EIS” (Environmental Impact Statement) and felt skeptical that the forthcoming HALA MHA EIS would be truthful.

“I don’t think I have a 10-second answer for that – you should review the draft EIS and be skeptical, if that’s where you’re coming from,” said Welch.

Next, a resident who said her single-family neighborhood is going to go to four-story lowrise zoning. “Does the city really care or do you just want us to go away?”

Welch said they’re dealing with multiple priorities. And ultimately the city has to find more places for people to live.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said the resident.

The next person said she had lived for 50 years in her neighborhood and she too feels that way.

They were followed by a neighbor saying the HALA proposal feels like “a unilateral decision” in which residents had no say and no vote. That was followed up by someone with concerns about taxes, including the cost to elderly people who have lived in their homes for decades. “I feel that the city is not listening to us” about wanting to continue to live in the neighborhood that they love.

Then a question about the Environmental Impact Statement process, which Welch explained in a quick primer. The person who wanted those details said that his neighborhood has a parking crunch and he sees that as the neighborhood “going downhill.”

That brought the discussion back to parking and how vehicles are needed by many West Seattleites to get to their jobs. And that brought another mention of park-and-hiding. “It is very offensive that that is not being taken into account.” She feels it’s “cheating” that developers are not required to provide parking.

After her was a woman saying she lives in the house her grandparents bought long ago and said that Welch’s statement about housing becoming more affordable isn’t likely to happen, giving the example that her house is worth many times what they paid for it. Welch clarified that he wasn’t talking about single-family housing.

Where will the affordable-housing projects be? Welch said they have heard a lot of concern about money from West Seattle developments going to projects in West Seattle, for example (same for other neighborhoods), but it wasn’t feasible to require that.

“How much of it will be built for families?” Welch said the money from MHA could be used strategically so that the Office of Housing could “achieve (different) housing goals.”

“How set is this map?” Welch’s reply – “Not set – that’s why we put out a draft,” and why they are seeking feedback, for the next version that will be out in February or March. The person who asked said that her area already had seen so much change, she wasn’t sure it could take more.

Is anyone listening? Commons urged people to contact their councilmembers, particularly District 1’s Lisa Herbold (and also at-large Councilmember Lorena González, who lives in The Junction). “Where are they?” someone asked. Deb Barker from the Morgan Community Association, who assisted in facilitating, reiterated that this was a community-organized meeting, not a city meeting. She brought up the city’s December 7 open house and the “training session” that she and Cindi Barker from MoCA will be leading a West Seattle-wide session on November 29th (here’s the recent announcement with details on that).

“We single-family homeowners feel like we’re taking the hit,” one attendee said next. “What about rezoning (Nucor), for example?” Someone else said, “Or the golf course.”

Next question: How do you enforce the 75-year affordability requirement, and keep people from flipping the unit for a much-higher price in a few years? Welch clarified that single-family houses are not involved. But for multifamily units, yes, the “affordable” units’ prices will be controlled. “It’s part of what the Office of Housing does with its compliance work.” That department will be at the December 7th meeting, Welch affirmed.

Then a woman told her story about moving to this area recently and having a daughter who already lives here. She said she’s been able to get around great via mass transit and wants to build a backyard cottage so her daughter can have affordable housing, and she doesn’t need parking, but she can’t do that without providing a parking space. Welch mentioned that a proposal by Councilmember Mike O’Brien had included removing that requirement, but it’s been “held up in an appeal.”

The following question brought up an important point about commenting on the draft maps – local residents might have something to say about topography and whether it’s appropriately reflected – take a close look if your neighborhood is in an urban village.

Following that, someone with concerns about construction crews who park in neighborhoods, and the condition of streets that have “gotten beaten up” by trucks related to construction. “My street has holes in it that have been filled three times and … it’s happening again.” He also voiced the opinion that developers will prefer to pay the fees rather than building on-site. Welch said that there’s a “mix” of ways in which developers react to the current voluntary program.

One of the last questions came from JuNO director Commons. She talked about the need for the land-use code to support the Comprehensive Plan in a better way. Design guidelines in the area “are very old,” agreed Barker. The rules are to some degree “at odds.” Welch thought Design Review could help with that, but Commons pointed out that some projects won’t have DR. In response, Welch said that the city is looking at DR changes to ease some of the frustration on many sides, both builders and neighbors.

Commons also voiced a common West Seattle concern – no hospital. “If we’re envisioning this utopia for walking,” the area needs one.

Another attendee mentioned that there’s been construction near her home at Fauntleroy and Findlay almost continuously for a long time. Barker said it’s important for people to realize that zoning does change – and again lauded the people who are here for being among the first to learn about this proposed rezoning.

You’re all citizens, reminded one of JuNO’s board members. Talk to your city councilmembers. Speak up. Be proactive. E-mail them. (Here are all the addresses for contacting them.)

WHAT’S NEXT: Watch for that mailer. And remember that four urban villages in West Seattle are part of this citywide rezoning proposal – we have published all four draft maps multiple times, most recently in the announcement of the November 29th community briefing that will be a vital preface to the city’s planned December 7th event (5:30 pm at Shelby’s Bistro and Ice Creamery in The Junction).

From the start of the JuNO meeting:

WESTSIDE NEIGHBORS NETWORK: Judi Messier has been speaking to community councils around the peninsula about this effort to launch a “virtual village” to help West Seattleites age in place. We’ve written about it before, including this introductory story; go here to find out more.

INTERESTED IN HELPING OUT WITH JuNO? As Commons said toward the start of the meeting, the organization is a very small group that she helped relaunch three years ago, and is looking for new leadership. wsjuno@yahoo.com if you want to know more.

24 Replies to "HALA REZONING: What tonight's Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting heard, said, and asked"

  • Jeannie November 15, 2016 (9:44 pm)

    Why do I feel like the city has its head up its … derriere?

  • K8 November 15, 2016 (11:03 pm)

    Thank you for covering this! I really wanted to go, but I also didn’t want to share my flu.  Writing our council members is a great idea!  I don’t get how tearing down Fairmount Springs is going to make Seattle cheaper.

  • WS Guy November 16, 2016 (1:51 am)

    There is a huge area of SFR designated for upzoning to apartments and townhomes (LR1/2).  Here’s what to expect if you own a home in one of those areas.

    1.  The value of your land will go up, since it’s now possible to build 2-3 $700k townhomes or a 6-unit apartment building on your lot.  The value of your structure will be irrelevant, since it’ll be torn down by the developer.  Unfortunately that means if your home is nice or big, you might not see much of a net gain.  The value is now in your land.

    2.  Since the value of your home structure is now worthless, your neighbors will stop investing in upgrades, remodels, and maintenance.  Some of them will rent their homes out while the structure depreciates.

    3.  Based on the new value of your land, your taxes will go up.  If you can’t afford it, well… that’s the point.  You’re supposed to leave to make way for the denser housing.

    4.  As your neighbors homes go for sale over time, they’ll get their best prices from developers.  Homes in your area will be replaced by buildings that cover nearly their entire lots and are 30-50 feet high, depending on the zoning (RSL,LR1/2/3).  Parking is not required since you are in an urban village.  In order to maximize the number of units and keep their costs lower, developers won’t add parking.

    5.  Eventually you will not have any space to park on your street.  You might not want to drive anyway because of the traffic.

    If you don’t like it you can be among the first to sell and move to Magnolia.  They do not have an urban village, despite having lots of underutilized land around Magnolia Village and plenty of green space/amenities.

    Other options could include: designate urban villages in neighborhoods that were overlooked, such as Magnolia to absorb the density.  Or SIGNIFICANTLY upzone a smaller area, such as making the triangle NC-125 (12-story buildings), thereby concentrating the new units and leaving the SFR alone.  It wouldn’t hurt to put some office buildings in the area to reduce the amount of out-of-area work commutes among the carless hipster single residents that the city imagines that we must uniformly be.

    • 98126res November 16, 2016 (11:04 am)

      Thanks WS Guy for your additional input… your points were not part of the meeting last night.

  • Junction Lady November 16, 2016 (5:42 am)

    No thanks!  The rent prices stated are not “affordable” especially to unsheltered people.   

  • Lagartija Nick November 16, 2016 (8:13 am)

    Hyperbole aside, WS Guy touched on one important point. Upzoning in the core UV will do more to preserve SFR than almost  anything  else. Allowing taller buildings increases density in the core and decreases the pressure on SFR’s to open up for more density. Personally, I believe the Alaska Triangle should  be upzoned to 20 stories and the other UV’s in West  Seattle should  be upzoned to 10 stories. If You really  want  to preserve your single family neighborhoods, you should support more density in the UV’s.

  • Fairmount Springs Mom November 16, 2016 (8:39 am)

    thanks for covering this WSB and for the detailed information–I wasn’t able to attend.  Looks like one thing that wasn’t mentioned at this meeting is that the City says over 94% of SF zoned land will not be changed with this HALA–there seems to be little to no imposition for affordable housing on those landowners.  So, the City is putting the burden of affordable housing on certain neighborhoods (5-6% of SF property owners), which they want to change to multi-family zoning and add to urban villages.

  • Junction dood November 16, 2016 (8:59 am)

    I agree that upzoning urban villages can help to relieve pressure on the remaining SF areas. I’m not a fan of the no parking stuff at all. And I also think they should spread more density to Magnolia, etc. That being said; we are growing really fast and people opposing growth in the past is why we have these problems now!!! I don’t think that there’s a debate on whether we need more housing it’s just really difficult to please everyone in how to do it. If not urban villages where do we put people?

  • wsea98116 November 16, 2016 (9:47 am)

    I wish my house would get up zoned!? I’d sell it, and buy a nicer one a block away on a quieter street. Or, use the difference to buy an orca whale and ride it around during sea fair.  Oh yeah- I would be crushing on the hotties big time if I had  my own orca..!

  • KGC November 16, 2016 (10:19 am)

    Does anyone know how to make these maps readable? They’re next to impossible to decipher as is.

    • WSB November 16, 2016 (11:22 am)

      Good news – Nick Welch, the city staffer at last night’s meeting, just sent an updated West Seattle Junction map. I will replace the embedded version above as soon as I can; it’s 12 MB so I had to upload it onto our other site’s server, but it’s exactly as sent by the city:


      • WSB November 16, 2016 (12:07 pm)

        … and we also have the other updated West Seattle maps now. Will get those into our system a little later this afternoon, after finishing an unrelated but complicated story that I’m in the middle of writing. – TR

        • KGC November 16, 2016 (1:55 pm)

          Thank you!

  • wetone November 16, 2016 (12:07 pm)

    One more thing to think about is city of Seattle Mayor Murray and city counsel members through the  HALA program are pushing to basically dissolve all single family zoning within city.  Pushing ADU’s and DADU’s with the promise of how it will help with affordable rent issues. City started off by allowing OWNER occupied property to have one or the other type of units and requiring a parking spot for added unit in many cases. Now they are pushing to allow both types of units on same piece of property, non OWNER occupied property, remove the parking requirement, change current setbacks and height restrictions to allow larger sqft units. People I see benefiting mostly from this is the city by collecting money for all associated cost involved to build LEGAL unit’s.  Such as permit’s, sewer water electric hook up’s, increased taxes from property value increasing, RRIO fee’s and the builders that build units. If I were to build a LEGAL unit I would need to charge top dollar rent to pay all cost involved,  get my investment back and return on money invested, therefore throwing the city’s affordable rent statement right out the window. Now if I were building one for family member or to downsize and move into then rent the original home out that could be a positive move, but what city is pushing and telling people about ADU’s DADU’s  “HALA” on how it will help with rent control is hogwash…….  along with bringing financial issues for many that go down the path city is pushing.  Sad how city has no problem with pushing density of area but can’t even maintain/improve  our streets, or have builders repair damage they have caused to streets/sidewalks properly……..     

  • District 1 Voter November 16, 2016 (12:21 pm)

    I’m all for creating as much density as possible to preserve affordability.  There are too many places with expensive single family homes taking up space – and West Seattle is DEFINITELY a culprit, NOT just Magnolia.   Most if not all properties in West Seattle area are already unaffordable for first time homebuyers or low to moderate income people.  The only way to make the city livable –  because it’s already not – is to do something.  And HALA seems like the best compromise between market solutions and subsidizing affordability: build more supply to meet demand, and use the money that land owners and developers will make from the market to also go into preserving affordability.  

    I have sympathy for seniors concerned with taxes and affordability, and I think some planning should go in to helping seniors adjust to the change too.   Does mobility service need to be expanded? Are seniors accessing property tax breaks if they are low income?

    Concerns about there not being enough parking if you are young and fit enough to walk 2 (or even 3!) blocks to your car or bike or bus to work and maybe not have so many vehicles? Or someone sad their view will get messed up by a building? Sorry.  You live in one of the fastest growing major metropolitan cities in the COUNTRY and ultimately, with the value of everyone’s home in West Seattle being as much as it is, you have the choice about whether you want to be a Seattleite or not. 

  • Junction dood November 16, 2016 (12:35 pm)

    I agree district 1. I like living in the city but because of that I have 650,000 neighbors. There are certain compromises that have to happen for the greater good. A townhouse will always cost less than a stand alone single family house of the same or greater size making them more affordable. Still expensive but less money overall.

  • Sunuva November 16, 2016 (12:40 pm)

    “HALA” is something my Filipino family members say and it’s meaning is somewhat fitting to this. It generally means “Oh No!” or expresses a feeling of shock or surprise, often in a negative way.

  • Your Mom November 16, 2016 (1:14 pm)

    Ill be honest, I didn’t read the whole thing, so fire away.  However I would be all for this plan if the developers were required to put the affordable housing in their developments and take away the “ pay into a fund for, affordable housing.”  If you want to construct a 100 unit complex then 40 of those can be made affordable.  This housing fund caveat is just a way to keep the poor people in Rainier, or simply put, keep the riffraff out.   Seattle, the city of hypocrisy.  

    • KM November 16, 2016 (1:34 pm)

      Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning as opposed to “pay into a fund for, affordable housing”? Wholeheartedly agree. Developers are good at well, developing. The city sitting on a fund to maybe figure out how to build or convert a building with years of bureaucracy and red tape is far less effective, and creates little economic diversity in our neighborhood.

  • Erithan - Frustrated November 16, 2016 (1:49 pm)

    Has anything been asked about those on disability or who are retired that are currently forced to live in often corrupt low income/subsidized housing and unable to move due to the difference in what we get monthly/yearly compared to the hikes in the last 10 or so years? Apologies if I missed it. 

  • anonyme November 16, 2016 (3:14 pm)

    Erithan – Frustrated, seniors and disabled will get a WHOPPING $4 per month COLA increase next year – more than enough to cover increases in property taxes, utilities, food, and health care…right?  Of course, we may get a break on Medicare premiums, as Paul Ryan has pledged to eliminate Medicare in 2017.  Problem solved.

  • Jetcitygirl November 16, 2016 (11:41 pm)

    District 1 voter: you are a plant. The  Seattle Junction is a neighborhood and a community-not boxes and streets. We are people new and generations old. 

    Wisen and respect the land and its people 

    • John November 17, 2016 (11:06 am)

      District 1 Voter is a plant?

      Whoa, just who would have planted D1V?

      I voice my agreement with District 1 Voter.  In doing so, I am not a plant, but voicing an opinion without casting aspersions to those I don’t agree. 

      No one else has offered other solutions.

      Traffic, parking and car ownership have already exceeded capacity.   The frog water is already boiling, so why stay in it?

      We can not simply build more roads to drive and park on, so what is the point of everyone being required to build expensive parking?  

      The old NIMBY saw of putting mid/higher rise in Magnolia or Madrona or “any-where-but-here” will not satisfy the housing shortage or curb prices.  Plus HALA would allow the same DADU/ADU throughout the city.  Seattle Hearing Examiner heard a challenge presented last week in opposition to new DADU/ADU proposals by a Queen Anne group.

      Yes, there are many people that will continue to need cars for work, medical and recreation…

      But that does not mean there are also many who are eschewing the convention of car ownership.  

      Many are embracing mass transit, uber, biking, healthy walking and home offices like never before.  

      What is not laudable about reducing global climate stress by embracing changes now that will evolve into a more  functional  infrastructure, less car reliant,  with safer more efficient travel?

  • WD fundie November 17, 2016 (8:06 am)

    The world changes. No one is forcing individuals to do anything.  Calm down already.  

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