By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“How do we grow as a city and create more affordable housing in all of our neighborhoods?”
That’s the question the current proposal for Mandatory Housing Affordability rezoning, as part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, is supposed to address.
But despite hundreds of properties proposed for rezoning, it could result in fewer than 100 affordable units over the next 20 years in the West Seattle Junction Urban Village, according to one part of the presentation seen by ~200 people last night, filling the upstairs hall at the Senior Center for a briefing, Q&A session, and small-group discussions of that area’s part of the plan.
The meeting was officially billed as a Community Design Workshop. We were there for the entire three hours. First – in case you are still catching up on HALA, which includes 60+ components in addition to the MHA rezoning – we recorded the half-hour primer provided by Brennon Staley of the Office of Planning and Community Development – “the background and how we got here,” regarding what he described as a “housing affordability crisis”:
Other city staffers from OPCD were there, as well as a representative from the office of Councilmember Rob Johnson – who chairs the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee through which the final proposals will go – District 1 Councilmember Lisa Herbold (observing rather than speaking), and consulting-firm employees who facilitated the small-group discussions.
The Junction area has 3,880 homes today – that includes apartments, townhouses, houses – Staley said. If nothing (zoning, etc.) changes, 2,300 new homes are expected to be added in the next 20 years. If MHA rezoning is approved, that number is expected to bump to 2,800 new homes, with 80 to 130 of them “affordable.” After the four-digit building boom of the past few years, those numbers drew some audible expressions of disbelief from around the room. Staley did offer the caveat that it’s “just an estimate, could be more or less.”
The presentation had a few points of customization for the West Seattle Junction area – including “retain(ing) highest density along the SW Alaska ‘transit spine’,” the “transition from (higher heights) to single-family areas,” and larger density increases near transit, stores, Fairmount Park.
That brought the question that resurfaced at last week’s Junction Neighborhood Organization Land Use Committee meeting – what about waiting for rezoning until the station locations for Sound Transit 3 are known? There was no real answer to that, aside from the acknowledgement that it’s a unique issue for this area.
Another common question was the potential effect of rezoning on property taxes. That’s where the question-and-answer section began – here’s our video of that half-hour:
That didn’t get to all the questions, and it was promised that they all will be answered on a TBA webpage. But that could take a month, the city reps acknowledged, when asked how long that would take, given that no summary of the December 7th open house – 7+ weeks ago – has turned up yet.
If you’re interested, but couldn’t go last night, we highly advise taking the time to listen to the video, but here are a few highlights:
Questions included how “infrastructure” is being addressed, including the need for more schools. The city is “working closely with Seattle Public Schools” as it plans for the BEX 5 ballot measure (followup to BEX 4, which built new schools including Genesee Hill and Arbor Heights Elementaries), reps said.
And then there was the question of whether the “affordable housing” to be generated by MHA will “contribute to solving the homeless problem.” Staley’s response was that it’s “interrelated but not the same issue” – homelessness, he said, is caused partly by the cost of housing, and also by “other issues” (he did not elaborate).
The Junction already has absorbed much more growth than was envisioned to have happened by now, so could some of the proposed growth be shifted to other areas of the city that have not? “That’s why we are out talking to people,” Staley replied.
The perennial issue of vehicle parking came up. “We know (it) is a concern,” Staley said, adding that there is no minimum or maximum for it in urban-village projects, but most projects, he said, include it. (Many attendees shouted, WRONG! at this point.)
And then there was a followup on the small number of affordable units expected to be generated, whether by percentages or fees, from Junction upzoning, and a question about where in this area that the city already had built affordable housing. Staley contended there had been a “lot,” and when asked where, started to mention the High Point redevelopment, but the discussion veered away at that point. (He said the Office of Housing has a map, but did not have a representative at the meeting.)
Around midway through the three-hour meeting, the small-group discussions began. People who had RSVPd were pre-assigned to certain tables, and more were added for those who had not – “there’s so much interest in your community,” the facilitator explained.
The room was abuzz with conversation all the way until the 9 pm conclusion – some left early, but not many. We listened in at multiple tables, where concerns ranged from wanting to exempt single-family areas from rezoning, to wanting more green space, to wanting to be sure that West Seattle’s hilly topography was taken into account when considering how height changes would play out. By the meeting’s end, maps on tables had many comments, from discrepancies to suggestions – here are a few examples:
West Seattle Junction is one of four urban villages in West Seattle – this type of meeting was held, though little-publicized, in Westwood-Highland Park in November; Admiral will have one the morning of Saturday, February 11th; and Morgan Junction will too, with a date TBA. MHA rezoning also affects commercial/multifamily property EVERYWHERE in the city, so you might be affected even if you’re not in an “urban village” area. (Added: Here’s the interactive map you can use to zoom in on any area of West Seattle – or the rest of the city – to see whether any particular spot is affected.)
COMMENT ONLINE: You can comment on any urban-village proposal at hala.consider.it. Or, you can e-mail comments to email@example.com.
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