(Morgan Junction rezoning-proposal map, as marked up during small-group discussion @ workshop)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Last night, Morgan Junction became the fourth and final West Seattle urban village to have a HALA-related, city-coordinated Community Design Workshop for feedback on the proposed rezoning. (We covered two of the others – Admiral in February, and The Junction in January.) And today, the city announced its next West Seattle meeting will be an open house in Arbor Heights on May 6th.
More on that shortly. First – here’s how the Morgan meeting at The Hall at Fauntleroy unfolded, with ~60 in attendance:
As facilitator John Howell from Cedar River Group noted in the opening explanation, the purpose of the workshop was to hear comments on the proposed zoning changes. “We want your comments, reactions, and thoughts … (the changes) have been prepared primarily for the purpose of providing additional ‘affordable housing’.” He said the conversation is happening “in every corner of the city.” It’s not “whether our neighborhoods are going to change” with so many new arrivals, but “how we want them to change.”
Howell (who also facilitated the West Seattle Junction workshop in January) introduced city reps including Spencer Williams from Councilmember Rob Johnson‘s office – Johnson chairs the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee, heading the HALA review – and Office of Planning and Community Development staffers Geoff Wentlandt, Sara Maxana, and Vinita Goyal. Wentlandt gave the background presentation, which has been given by someone different in each of the three workshops we’ve covered. The small-group facilitators for the discussions after the opening presentation/Q&A were from Makers’ Architecture and Urban Design.
Howell also said the night’s comments will be summarized and provided to OPCD as it works on a “final set of proposals,” and that they will be provided to the City Council. (Online notes have also been promised for the workshops, but notes from only one West Seattle workshop are up so far – notes from the Westwood-Highland Park workshop in November were posted in February.)
Here’s our video of the hour-long background presentation (largely the same as other workshops we’ve covered, so it’s not fully summarized in our text below) and the Q&A that followed:
The key points included the explanation of MHA, in case you are still not clear on it:
“All new multifamily and commercial development must either build or pay into a fund for affordable housing.” The upzoning is meant to create “additional capacity” to at least partly “offset” what that costs developers/builders.
As shown on the Morgan Junction-specific slide above, if this is implemented as currently proposed, development over the next 20 years would be expected to result in 23 to 40 affordable units in the MJ urban village, plus fee payment leading to up to 108 more affordable units (not necessarily in the area).
The slide deck also recapped the principles with which volunteer focus groups worked before this proposal was made public.
Another slide mentioned more local considerations – density along California Avenue SW, for example:
Wentlandt mentioned the Morgan Community Association calling OPCD’s attention to the existing Morgan Junction Neighborhood Plan. He noted the recently adopted Seattle 2035 (“comprehensive plan”) update with “fresh policies” and a “data-driven” mission, and that the neighborhood plan was adopted in the ’90s.
He also provided a map-reading primer (rather than include the Morgan Junction graphic again, here’s the citywide interactive map you can use to check what’s proposed for your neighborhood and/or elsewhere), including the reminder that a “hatched” area is proposed for a change in zoning types. And if there’s “a bigger zoning change,” there’s “a bigger affordable-housing requirement.” Zoning types reviewed included “residential small lot,” which is what single-family zoning inside the Urban Village would change to, under the current proposal, and would have different affordability requirements depending on the lot size. In Lowrise 1, five townhouses could be built on a 5,000-square-foot lot. In Lowrise 2, a 10,000-sf lot could have eight townhouses, or 14 apartments. He aso discussed what “neighborhood commercial” zoning means.
One standard slide addressed the typical question about how the upzoning might affect property taxes. That brought the first audible audience reaction. The city refers to zoning changes in Roosevelt in 2011 that they say, after several years, “found no change in tax rates for properties rezoned to Lowrise compared to those that weren’t rezoned.” So, he said, upzoning won’t necessarily change your taxes immediately. Laughter and doubts were voiced.
When Wentlandt got to the feedback slide, mentioning the city’s new 10,000-home-doorknocking plan, he asked if anyone got a visit. “Yeah, and they didn’t mention this meeting,” someone said. Wentlandt said another round of community open houses would start in April, and that the draft Environmental Impact Statement will be out in May. (Just announced today, West Seattle’s community open house will be 10 am-noon Saturday, May 6, at Westside School [WSB sponsor] in Arbor Heights.)
First question was about the property tax exemption for seniors – eligibility specifics. Maxana said there’s a income qualification – $40,000/year – but wasn’t sure about the age requirements. (Here’s information on the King County website.)
Next question – “Your presentation was conspicuous in not talking about parking.”
Parking isn’t required in an urban village, Wentlandt replied. Maxana added that some rapid-transit areas are being considered for Residential Parking Zones, and said that proposed change will come before the council in 2018, as will the final HALA proposal.
Next question – one person wanted another look at the slide with the number of units projected to be built. And then, someone asked if all urban villages are expecting the same level of growth. Wentlandt said “similar,” at which time Cindi Barker from MoCA chimed in that the percentage of growth here is expected to be higher. “Percentage,” said Maxana, but a smaller number overall. “It hasn’t been a particularly fast-growth area,” added Wentlandt.
After that, someone wanted a followup on the “20 apartments on a 10,000-sf lot” Lowrise 2 slide. “There’s no density limit” in that zone, Wentlandt said.
The next question went back to parking, accusing the city of “being blind to the issue” by not requiring parking. That questioner went on to question the math of the “HALA goal” slide, aiming for 30,000 market-rate units and 20,000 “affordable” units in the next 10 years. Maxana clarified that the slide did not just refer to MHA, but to other HALA “strategies.”
Then: “Why is this being fast-tracked” given that light rail is still 13 years out, and transportation congestion is prevalent. And “why are the buildings they are building so god-awful looking?”
“Why now?” Wentlandt picked up that answer. “Affordable housing is a crisis and people can’t afford to live here any more. It’s an urgent need.”
“Magnolia’s closer to downtown,” someone called from elsewhere in the room.
Then Wentlandt answered the appearance question and invited people to get involved in Design Review. One person then said that those meetings aren’t always easy to get to (though she seemed to think they were held during the day, which they never are, at least not in West Seattle – you can see the upcoming Southwest Design Review Board meetings, always starting at 6:30 pm, by going here, along with projects going through types of Design Review that don’t require meetings).
Maxana said there’s a proposal making its way through the city that would get public involvement earlier in the design process than it is now.
A timetable question: When will the council get the final proposal? In fall, Wentlandt said. “Has the council not seen any of this?” the attendee followed up. Maxana said the process has been under way for a year already, preceding this point. The 2018 process, she added – first time we’ve heard this number – will likely take six months. The attendee said, “I find it strange that this decision cannot be made before the elections in November. .. The timing reeks.” Wentlandt said they’d love to finalize all this sooner but the process has been stretched out for more community-discussion time.
Will tonight’s presentation be available online? Yes, and if you signed in, you can get it by e-mail. (As mentioned above, the online availability is backlogged, so you might consider e-mailing city reps at email@example.com to make a request.)
Next question was what would qualify as affordable housing in “residential small lot” – on a 10,000-sf lot, it would be two units, or one “family-sized unit.”
A late arrival asked the definition of affordable housing. “What I’ve seen so far is $2500 and above a month for an apartment, I don’t consider it affordable for many people.” Wentlandt brought back the slide that shows $1,009 for a one-bedroom apartment for a person earning 60 percent of the area median income. The questioner said, “Even the apodments aren’t $1,000 … and even with the fund … they’re not going to be,” and she veered into parking concerns. Wentlandt explained that the rent level for the “affordable” units would be required to be at that level. Howell added that the level would be required for 75 years and would be monitored by the city.
A frequently asked question came up next, regarding West Seattle’s lack of a hospital, and traffic congestion – “a unique neighborhood feature” – if you try to get to the ones that are downtown or in South King County. Wentlandt said the city is aware of the concern. “Regarding the impact of this particular proposal, impacts on transportation will be studied … rigorously so we can see what impact these additional units will have.”
At that point, Howell moved to say they would take questions for only five more minutes and that people would be welcome to approach the city reps individually throughout the event.
That was followed by a question about whether West Seattle’s fire-service capacity had been evaluated. “The safest housing generally is the new housing,” said Wentlandt, because of upgraded codes.
The “rationale” for the payment structure was the subject of the next question.
Wentlandt said that “if it were done perfectly” the fee/unit cost would exactly equal the benefit the developer would get from the added story – “the whole idea is to capture the value that is created by letting them build the extra story.”
Maxana said they expect about 50 percent of projects will add the affordable housing on site and 50 percent will pay the fee, and that City Council will review the program so that if it tilts one way or another, they can make changes.
“The principles are interesting,” said the next questioner, but what about impact on existing property owners/residents? That drew some applause. Maxana replied that the central principle was to achieve affordability. And then, she said, they were asked to “come to the community and ask, ‘did we get it right?’ And that’s the conversation we’re asking you to have tonight – is there a place we should have less intensity and more somewhere else?”, for example.
Final big-group question was from someone saying “there’s already been a lot of development” and wondering if empty units in the already-built buildings should be made affordable before building more. That also drew applause. “It is a booming development cycle right now,” said Wentlandt, “and the sooner we implement Mandatory Housing Affordability, the sooner we can get some (affordable units) … also, our data tells us there’s not much if any vacant housing out there – the rate is lower than it’s been (in many years).”
With that, they broke into small groups, five tables around the room – some attendees left without staying for that part of the discussion, Howell noted in his announcement for everyone to disperse to the tables. City Councilmember Lisa Herbold was announced as being present at the meeting (she’s in the background of our photo below), as she has been at all the Community Design Workshops in our area:
Her presence is especially notable because the Council has the final say on MHA and whether/how it’s implemented. They’re expected to get a final proposal next year. That’s a point Maxana was explaining to someone who asked her a question as the small-group discussions were getting going – OPCD developed the program, but the final say rests with councilmembers.
About 40 people stayed for the small-group discussions. At least in the first half-hour, some weren’t sticking to the concept of analyzing the maps, but instead were venting about the process. People at one table were upset that this was proposed as a new neighborhood plan that “wasn’t organic” as were the 1990s-developed neighborhood plans. “You’re asking us to accept something we had no part of,” one person said.
Another person at that table said the concepts in which he is interested include green space and light. “I don’t want to live in a canyon.”
Meantime, at another table, the canyon concept – often used to describe an arterial as redevelopment puts taller buildings on both sides – was not so problematic for one person. She thought that since parts of California SW already have apartment buildings, those are the areas that could go taller, in exchange for leaving some lower-density areas without being upzoned.
Other discussions to which we listened while roaming between tables included how the “affordable housing” would be tracked. Maxana told that table that a system was being worked on, “where the money is raised and where it’s spent.” She explained that the city would be partnering with developers of affordable housing to build it, especially near transit.
The concerns about higher property taxes were heard at several tables. There was also the suggestion that renters don’t have that concern. Councilmember Herbold was heard to differ: “It drives me crazy when people say renters don’t pay property tax.” Other concerns: Not enough services and infrastructure to support the increased population.
Here are some of the marked-up maps we photographed as the meeting wrapped up with most participants drifting off by 8:45:
WHAT’S NEXT: You can still provide feedback – all the way down to specifics of what you think will and will not work in specific places – via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, and/or via the special feedback website at hala.consider.it.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is due out in May, and that will open another phase of the comment period, which the city has said it expects to conclude in mid-June. Before then, as mentioned above, there will be the West Seattle Community Open House, 10 am-noon Saturday, May 6th, at Westside School in Arbor Heights (10404 34th SW).
And when a final proposal goes to the City Council, that also includes public-comment opportunities, though Councilmember Herbold pointed out at a previous meeting, if you have a suggestion for a change in what’s being proposed now, speak up sooner rather than later, because it will need to be studied before councilmembers can propose changes.