Story by Tracy Record
Photos/video by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
“We didn’t make this stuff up, but we’re here to help you know about it.”
That’s how Deb Barker introduced the standing-room-only workshop that she and Cindi Barker led last night at Highland Park Improvement Club, with more than 135 people there to find out more about the rezoning proposals that are part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).
Deb and Cindi – which is how we’ll refer to them due to the surname coincidence – are both with the Morgan Community Association, one of West Seattle’s many all-volunteer community councils, and both have long been involved with land use-related issues. In recent years, they have offered several workshops and briefings to help their West Seattle neighbors make sense of major projects and/or processes, and last night’s workshop was one such case.
The city went public a month ago with draft rezoning maps for the “urban villages” around Seattle, five of which are in West Seattle/South Park. (Here’s our first report, published October 20th.) But no major official announcement accompanied the maps’ online release, and the only official city meeting scheduled in West Seattle so far is an “open house” one week from tonight, for which some postcards have been sent out promising “conversation” on a variety of city initiatives but not including any mention of “rezoning.”
Cindi and Deb stressed repeatedly last night that the intent of the workshop was to prepare people for that December 7th open house, which includes an official chance for feedback on the draft rezoning maps, as well as to offer guidance on how to read the maps, how to efficiently comment online, and other information including the rezoning proposal for areas outside the “urban villages.”
Basically, the city is proposing to upzone “urban villages” – and multifamily/commercial properties citywide – for a HALA initiative called Mandatory Housing Affordability.
Our video below, of the hourlong presentation at the heart of the meeting, picks up after the introduction by Deb Barker (who is retired from a land-use-planning career in a nearby city, and also has served on and chaired West Seattle’s all-volunteer Southwest Design Review Board).
Cindi Barker – who has been involved as a citizen volunteer with the HALA process going back about two years – first offered a primer on MHA, with the help of city-provided slides (again, this was NOT an official city-organized meeting, though Brennon Staley from the city Office of Planning and Community Development was on hand to answer questions as needed). Here’s the full slide deck that she and Deb used through their hour-long presentation (embedded below, or review it as a PDF here):
MHA basics: The city is offering more development capacity via upzoning, in exchange for developers either building a certain percentage of “affordable” housing in their projects, or paying fees to fund it to be built everywhere. “The city believes it will increase housing choices through the city,” Cindi added.
“Affordable” per the MHA definition means a rent that would represent about a third of the monthly incoe of someone making no more than 60 percent of the Area Median Income (half make more, half make less). Right now, that would be $1,009 for a one-bedroom unit. 6,000 of those units are to be created via MHA (which is just one part of HALA itself) in the next 10 years, contributing to a total of 20,000 affordable homes that the mayor is hoping will be created through a variety of programs.
Cindi went on to explain the volunteer citizen “focus groups” whose members were involved in the runup to the maps’ release, working with “principles that guided (the) zoning changes” (read them here). She then explained the types of zoning – residential small lot (“very much like cottage housing”), Lowrise 1, Lowrise 3, Neighborhood Commercial – with a diagram showing details of height, density, and other characteristics that would be allowable under each one. (Look for “MHA Development Examples” halfway down this page for more background on the zoning types.)
Continuing to explain how to read the maps – she pointed to the titles in each area, “existing zoning” on the left side of a vertical line, followed by “draft zoning,” and then a designation such as (M) or (M1) showing how much affordable housing it’s expected to produce. In some cases, as she explained, the zoning will leap more than one level.
If you’re in an urban village on a single-family lot, “residential small lot” is likely what you’re proposed to be upzoned to. You could have two homes on the lot instead of one, if it’s a 5,000-ish-square foot lot. Now that you’ve gotten a crash course in map-reading, here are the four West Seattle maps again:
And here’s an interactive map you can use to see other areas proposed for rezoning, as well as to zoom all the way in to your street.
Back to the meeting. As it moved into an early round of Q&A – there was an early question about “how does parking play into this?”
“Parking is not what we’re here about tonight – (though) parking is what we ultimately all care about,” Cindi said. She noted that the Environmental Impact Statement would have to address that topic. “That process is going to start (in the first half of next year).” Deb added that there will be parking topics at the city’s December 7th open house (we’ve talked about that before too – here’s the page for what the city is currently considering).
Highland Park Action Committee chair Gunner Scott added at that point a suggestion to bring that up with your city councilmember (District 1 rep Lisa Herbold was not in attendance, as she is traveling, but at least one of her legislative assistants, Andra Kranzler, was announced as present).
Next question, from Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council chair Amanda Kay Helmick, wondered about the chance to comment on the “livability” portion of HALA. That too is part of the early Environmental Impact Statement “scoping,” Cindi said. “Plug into your community associations and media” to watch for deadlines and opportunities.”
Another question: “Where did ‘mandatory’ come from?” Cindi’s reply: “Mandatory for developers.”
Then: “How many trees are we going to lose?” The workshop leaders did not have an answer for that.
Following that, concerns about the size of the venue the city chose for the December 7th meeting (Junction restaurant Shelby’s), given that 130+ people showed up just for this informal briefing. Cindi and Deb noted that they told the city as soon as they heard of the venue that it would be too small “but we were shot down.” Some attendees vowed to call the city and voice their concerns.
Continuing the presentation, Cindi said the Morgan Community Association has some questions they are pursuing with the city: “We need affordable housing, but it is not clear if the Grand Bargain is “the best bargain” – is 7% enough to ask from developers? Also: “Can the 6,000(-home) goal be reached without ‘double-plus upzones’?”
She also pointed to a chart just posted to the city’s website, showing that it only expects 1,000 units to be built “on site” among the projects – if you divide that by the 38 urban villages, that’s 27 affordable units for each one – and the rest elsewhere, “in much larger chunks of buildings” via the fund that will be overseen by the city Office of Housing, “centralizing it … and they’re going to build it where the nonprofit organizations can find the land to build it.”
They also have concerns about how MHA upzoning relates to existing neighborhood plans (linked here), created in the late ’90s to “guide the livability of growth anticipated in the new Urban Villages.” Each of those plans, she pointed out, “provides the goals and policies the city committed to in support of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan.” And the proposed upzoning is being done outside the context of the neighborhood plans. In Morgan Junction, for example, the zoning changes “are in direct conflict with our Neighborhood Plan,” she noted.
An attendee then wondered, “How do we find out who the HALA focus group (members are) and how they were (chosen)?” Cindi said, “They put out a call for volunteers.” (We published it, as did many others – here’s our story from February.)
Helmick asked the next question: “Is this a new form of redlining?”
Another good question to officially bring to the city, Cindi replied.
“If the city wasn’t willing to listen to you guys to change the venue – if I write to Lisa Herbold and, oh say, 90 percent of us decide they aren’t thrilled with this – is the city really going to listen to us and make changes in this program?” asked the next person.
“It feels like this program is going to happen – the mayor is very supportive of it – but … you’ve got to get there and give them input” to potentially have some effect on the details, Cindi stressed.
Deb noted that other neighborhoods around Seattle are affected too – Google some of them and you might see an “interesting yard sign,” she said.
Next question observed that, considering the HALA plan was set into motion before the presidential election, is the city taking into account possible changes in the federal government and funding?
OPCD’s Brennon Staley answered that one: “Obviously the changes in federal policy might affect (the non-MHA 14,000 units of “affordable housing”) … this (MHA) is probably not going to be affected by federal policy all that much.”
How does this affect people outside urban villages? Answer: All multifamily/commercial property is affected citywide, not just in the UVs, it was stressed. (Here again is the new interactive city map, which was included in our Monday night story preview.)
After the presentation and Q&A, the second phase of the meeting was freeform – going over to tables and looking at the urban villages’ maps.
The organizers put together some multi-dimensional renditions, and advised that people write questions down so they are prepared to ask city staffers questions at the city Open House next week.
Right now, you can offer feedback by choosing (from the dropdown) a map at hala.consider.it – not a popular option, apparently, as Cindi observed that only 11 people had done that for Morgan.
Besides the December 7th meeting, the only other official meeting expected in this area is one in South Park for which a date is not yet set – likely to happen in January.
Just before everyone headed over to the maps, Phil Tavel, MoCA vice president, urged people to attend the December 7th meeting no matter what: “If you have any issue with feeling that you were left out … show up, be heard, be seen.”
WWRHAH’s Helmick then took the microphone and told people to please understand that everything happening here tonight is all-volunteer. Her organization, WWRHAH, meets next Monday night, 6:15-7:45 pm at the Southwest Library, and will be looking at the Westwood-Highland Park Urban Village draft rezoning map (one of the four we included above) as part of the meeting.
*The links mentioned by Deb Barker and Cindi Barker last night are now in this post on the MoCA website.
*The city’s page for the HALA focus groups also has many direct links you might find of interest.
WHAT’S NEXT BEFORE ANY REZONING BECOMES OFFICIAL
*The December 7th city “open house” in West Seattle
*Continued comment on the draft rezoning maps, via hala.consider.it (and e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org)
*The city will revise the maps and come out with “final” versions next year that will require City Council approval; the latest estimate for that is next June