(UPDATED 11:25 am Wednesday with clearer version of map as sent by city, embedded and linked below)
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. firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more.