By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
This Thursday (January 26th), people living and working in the West Seattle Junction Urban Village have their first official city-organized meeting entirely focused on the proposed rezoning for the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda component called Mandatory Housing Affordability.
(The city-organized Morgan Junction workshop previously announced for tomorrow, we should note, has been postponed TFN, but the February 11th Admiral workshop is on.)
In the same room where next Thursday’s Junction workshop will happen – upstairs at the Senior Center/Sisson Building – the area’s community council, the Junction Neighborhood Organization, had a briefing and Q/A session to help interested Junction community members get ready.
That briefing/prep session this past Thursday was led by JuNO’s new Land Use Committee, which debuted a rallying cry for the HALA rezoning process:
“Too much … Too fast … Please put us last.”
The Junction already has taken on a lot of density, noted Carl Guess, the committee co-chair who opened the meeting – currently at more than 300 percent above what planners originally expected to be added by now.
From that declaration ensued a detailed, albeit unofficial, primer on Junction growth and HALA:
Committee leaders began by cautioning that they are “not going to make you land-use planners.” Guess did promise “at least five ways to make your voices heard,” looking ahead to the city’s meeting, officially a Community Design Workshop. And those in attendance came up with their own ways to be heard and to spread the word, such as organizing “block-watch captain” style to spread the word about the rezoning proposals, block by block.
Guess, committee chair Rich Koehler, volunteer organizer Christy Presser, and Morgan Junction-based volunteer land-use researcher/advocate Cindi Barker were the main speakers.
“We’ve been in a scramble for the past two months to understand the scope of this proposed upzone,” Guess explained. “… But we’re not experts. … We’re learning as we go.”
But, he warned: “We are not going away … Land use is going to become an important part of your lives,” whether you’ve been here weeks or years. The neighborhood needs “a long-term view of what’s going on.”
Land-use committees are a common component of neighborhood advocacy elsewhere in the city, but have not been common here – at least not in recent years; a West Seattle Land Use Committee briefly sprang from the Southwest District Council in 2014, but it didn’t last long.
Right now, the HALA draft rezoning maps include one big Junction concern: That the city is proposing to expand the urban village’s boundaries.
Another concern: The city’s “process” of outreach, which Guess described as “lackluster” and “frustrating.” (He noted our chronicling of the process, going back to the quiet launch of the draft rezoning maps in October without a citywide “here they are and here’s what they are” announcement.) That included the December 7th two-site city open house, which was heralded by a city postcard (shown in this story) touting a variety of initiatives that had nothing to do with rezoning, which got only a glancing mention.
Emphasized Guess, “We’re not saying no – we’re trying to help the city say yes – but it’s been frustrating, and moving too fast (for us) to ask questions” such as “how much affordable housing are we going to get in our neighborhood as a result?” and why “are single-family homes being targeted for development” despite the Junction neighborhood plan saying those neighborhoods should be protected.
JuNO wants The Junction to be last because, the group says, other parts of the city are excited about the plan and should get the chance for the rezoning to be done first, and “to be a success.”
Another reason to slow it down: So the rezoning can be concurrent with planning in a few years about where the Sound Transit 3-funded light-rail stations will be. “It makes more sense to us to figure out where the stations will go and build the density around that.”
Taking the microphone from there, Koehler used this slide deck:
He talked about coming here in the ’90s, what he loves about the neighborhood, and how things have changed – crowded buses, difficulty finding street parking, traffic on the bridge, housing prices. (He showed a slide of the 35th/Avalon microhousing that’s going for more than $900.) “Density is inevitable, but a livable neighborhood must be the outcome. We need to organize to be heard.”
(With the room full, organizing seemed to be something at which the group is succeeding.)
With Sound Transit 3, “we have an obligation to shape our neighborhood for 100+ years,” Koehler’s deck continued. And then he, with a caveat, went into more background on HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda). “I haven’t talked to a single person who thinks we should not have affordable housing in the West Seattle Junction,” he observed.
What does affordable housing look like? Koehler showed an older $1,000/month 1-bedroom apartment along Fauntleroy Way. And then he showed examples of two newer buildings – Spruce, up to $2,095 for some 1 bedrooms, for example.
His primer continued with an explanation of zoning, and that included the various potential upzoning classifications, SFR to Lowrise 1, or to Lowrise 2, or to Lowrise 3. “I want you to remember this picture when someone says, ‘you won’t be forced to sell your house'”:
As for the boundary expansions, Fairmount Park residents are among those who would be included.
Koehler also showed an example of the added density that would be part of the upzoning. He used the under-construction building on the southwest corner of 42nd/Oregon as a potential example – it was built with 7 stories and 42 units, 15 parking spaces though none were required (that sparked rueful laughter around the room). If built under the current upzoning proposal, it could have been nine stories, 60-ish units – six would have to be set aside as affordable (or a fee paid instead – $140,000). The “affordable” units would have to stay affordable for at least 75 years, and tenants would have to qualify with a certain income level. If a fee is paid instead, there’s no guarantee that the affordable housing would be built in the same neighborhood.
Koehler said that once MHA is finalized – not likely for about a year, City Councilmembers have said – some builders might sue over it, according to at least one regional-media report.
And MHA doesn’t just involve residential neighborhoods – it affects commercial buildings too. Currently affordable buildings could become “collateral damage,” as Koehler put it, showing a three-story apartment building in The Junction where new zoning could go more than twice that high.
His “notes to owners” suggested that “property taxes generally go up with higher zoning … Per (City Councilmember) Lisa Herbold, the county has not decided whether to “grandfather” existing property at current rates. “Do we need to trade houses for apartments?” he went on to ask, showing a recent Seattle Times chart about the number of apartment units going in.
Then, on to Sound Transit – “most other neighborhoods involved in HALA (rezoning) do not have this added consideration.”
He recapped that voters around the region passed increased property, sales, and car-tab taxes, with some of the projects including light rail to West Seattle by 2030. Two of the stations are likely to be in the West Seattle Junction Urban Village, Koehler noted (Junction and Avalon – again, the exact locations are NOT decided yet, not even proposed). The city will likely push for upzoning near stations, Koehler contended. Neighborhood-guided discussion of stations would be optimal, as well as potential advocacy for tunneling rather than elevated (which is what’s currently budgeted).
One attendee wondered if there’s any chance the West Seattle line might be canceled. Koehler noted that federal money is expected, and the change in administrations might (or might not) lead to a change in plans.
Christy Presser spoke next. She is a citizen advocate who, since finding out about the proposed rezoning, has been canvassing neighborhoods and researching up a storm. She brought up the West Seattle Junction Hub Neighborhood Plan from 1999, calling up a quote in which the plan called for protecting the character of the single-family areas within the urban village.
The 1999 adoption included a “community character goal” saying “a small-town community with its own distinct identity comprised of a strong single-family residential community and a vibrant mixed-use business district serving the surrounding residential core.”
Then came the Seattle 2035 comprehensive-plan update. Presser pointed out that it dubs the West Seattle Junction “a community with both single-family and multifamily residential areas and the amenities to support the diverse community.”
Rezoning could happen, said the plan, if certain conditions were met. Presser also mentioned the mayor’s move last year to sever ties with neighborhood district councils, and how that seemed to be at odds with components of Seattle 2035 urging community collaboration.
Yet the outreach process so far has been lacking, at best. Presser asked for a show of hands from who had learned about the rezoning proposal from the city. Few went up.
She cited a list of what the city – in an exchange between top city planner Sam Assefa (director of the Office of Planning and Community Development) and JuNO director René Commons – considered outreach meetings. Among the “meetings” Assefa listed was a table at the Farmers’ Market, before the rezoning maps had come out. “I go to the Farmers’ Market for carrots, not to learn about land use,” Presser noted.
In reality, “there’s been exactly one meeting … that’s been held by the city,” the “Shelby’s debacle on December 7th.” She also held up the city mailer that preceded that meeting (as mentioned above, we showed it here).
‘When the city says the outreach has been sufficient … don’t feel we don’t have any power … (ours) is the community involvement, and we’re just now doing that on our own.”
She also brought up the city website on which you can “attempt to comment on what’s proposed for your neighborhood,” and showed a chart with neighborhoods that had positive and negative views of the proposals, with the West Seattle neighborhoods all in the latter. The focus groups that led to the rezoning proposals included few local residents, it was noted.
Koehler returned to the microphone, urging people to join the online feedback.
“I can’t figure out how to use the damn thing, and I work in IT,” one attendee was heard to say at that point.
Then an attendee spoke up from the middle of the room: “There is one more tool – we vote. Mention that to every city employee you speak to – ‘I don’t like this, and I vote’.”
Another one said that she believed that this presentation explaining what’s happening could be given in turn by neighbors in each of their neighborhoods to get the information out even further. Many people, she said, “have no idea this is happening” and those whose doors on which she knocked “were super-appreciative,” she said.
Cindi Barker stressed that “the fight is now” regarding the details of the plan – before legislation is developed to go to the City Council. “It’s not very often that something gets killed at City Council or transformed at City Council .. You lose, the further you get into the process. So fight your battles now … You’re way more prepared” going into next week’s workshop, than other neighborhoods have been.
“Is our city councilmember on our side?” one attendee asked. That would be City Councilmember Herbold, and Koehler noted they’ve had some discussions – while she voted for the MHA plan, “she has a reputation as the most pro-neighborhood city councilmember,” it was observed. “I don’t think we should treat her as an enemy,” Koehler said. (Herbold has been providing online updates on the process timeline, most recently here.)
Will the EIS look at how much affordable housing is needed? another attendee asked, and how much displacement is envisioned? “We have no idea,” replied Barker.
What about expansion of schools? asked an attendee. Not part of the plan, was the reply.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE JUNCTION URBAN VILLAGE WORKSHOP ON THURSDAY, JANUARY 26
Cindi Barker explained how she got involved in volunteer advocacy.
“The most important thing about getting ready for (next Thursday’s meeting) …” is to remember that a different part of city government has organized it, not the Office of Planning and Community Development, which put together the December 7th open house. This is organized by the staff of City Councilmember Rob Johnson, who runs the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee. “Go into this and expect to be heard and engaged with,” she said, saying that Johnson’s staff has been “accommodating.” Wallingford had a 300-person turnout with 30 expected – and that’s one good reason to RSVP if you haven’t already – it’s not mandatory but it would be good to give them the chance to get ready.
(E-mail email@example.com to RSVP.)
She said the meeting will start with background on MHA, and the “principles that the focus groups [with which she was involved] were developing,” so you can understand how the city got to what is being proposed right now. “Wallingford produced their own set of principles,” she noted.
“Once they get through the background (and) the principles … then you’ll break up into small groups (for) a facilitated discussion,” Barker continued, with questions about what are the neighborhood resources and amenities such as schools and parks, with discussions about zoning near those amenities and transit corridors.
Other aspects that might come up include topography, Barker said, citing what happened at the one design workshop already held in West Seattle (Westwood-Highland Park Urban Village, back in November), and you have the opportunity to point out some things that might be problematic. The city will want to hear about the boundary-expansion proposal and “did (they) get this right?” as well as “where do we have the zoning right, where do we have (it) wrong.”
JuNO director Commons said she had spoken to Councilmember Johnson’s point person Spencer Williams, who reiterated the importance of RSVPing and also said that they would be taking notes and making them available after the meeting. It was mentioned that child care would be provided, so when you e-mail Williams, mention if you’re going to be using that. (Spencer.Williams@seattle.gov)
Barker also advised using the primers you’ll find – what’s FAR (floor-area ratio), what’s NC3 (neighborhood commercial zoning), among many other terms – and “engage and stay with it” – don’t drop out of the battle right after the public-comment phase.
Later, Jen from South Park talked about the Community Design Workshop they had had on January 11th – same thing that will happen here next week. “Make a list of the most important points” that you want to get into feedback – make that list before you go, to be sure you don’t forget or miss the chance. She said their meeting was somewhat tumultuous because “a lot of people had just found out about it the night before.”
Guess added that if you’re asked about a principle, you can say it sounds good in the abstract, but you would need to see what it would specifically translate to. Presser added that you can say, “I would need to see how it works in the West Seattle Junction.”
WHAT ARE THEY PROPOSING? Though there’s a position paper on the process – there’s no specific “here’s everything we want” position right now, said Guess.”We keep digging up more stuff and learning more stuff.” Koehler added, “That’s part of why we asked for six more months – more time to work with you.”
Guess pointed out three issues on the position paper:
-Work with Sound Transit so transit planning and density planning are being done at the same time
-Give us a timeline that allows development of a good working plan
-The boundaries need to stay at or below the original 1999 Urban Village boundaries at least as a starting point for what this area looks like – we have not taking advantage of all the density that is in the current UV. Since the language about protecting single-family neighborhoods has been de-emphasized over the years,
“What did you get for being an urban village?” asked one attendee who identified herself as being from South Park.
“We were supposed to get the monorail,” said a longtimer.
Amenities were to be concentrated in urban villages, noted Barker.
Commons stood up at that point and pointed out that The Junction doesn’t have the greenspace it should – the city counts, for example, the Golf Course.
“They’re redefining open space,” observed Barker.
Other questions included whether the zoning changes could intersect with steep-slope restrictions. Other points made: West Seattle still has no hospital; rezoning won’t change that, but there’s no harm in bringing it up. Even bringing up concerns such as how emergency personnel will navigate a street can be valid.
It was also suggested that the West Seattle neighborhoods should work together, to have a louder voice. (Currently, they’re all working at different levels.)
ABOUT THIS THURSDAY’S MEETING IN THE JUNCTION: Here’s the official city information. 6-9 pm Thursday, January 26th, at the Senior Center/Sisson Building (4217 SW Oregon).
WHAT’S NEXT FOR HALA: The commenting on the draft maps continues through February – you can do that by going to hala.consider.it (and/or e-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org). The city’s draft Environmental Impact Statement is due sometime February-March; comments on that will follow; it would be finalized in the summer, and then legislation for what kind of rezoning and where would be developed and go to the City Council.
WHAT IF YOU HAVE AN IDEA? The committee hopes to facilitate face-to-face conversations. But e-mailing your thoughts is good too. email@example.com is one way to do that.