By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The next milestone in the process of shaping the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda component known as Mandatory Housing Affordability will come next week.
That’s when the draft Environmental Impact Statement will be made public, the City Council was told this morning.
That announcement came from Office of Planning and Community Development‘s Sara Maxana, a key staffer working on HALA, toward the end of a council briefing on the Community Design Workshops held in the city’s 17 urban villages as part of the HALA MHA feedback process.
Councilmember Rob Johnson‘s office organized the workshops, and this morning’s briefing featured his staff’s point person for them, Spencer Williams, as well as John Howell from Cedar River Group, one of the consulting firms that facilitated them, along with Makers Architects. The slide deck above is the summary of what they say they heard in the workshops (and it’s here in PDF).
We monitored this morning’s briefing and discussion via Seattle Channel; here’s the video – the briefing starts about 43 minutes in:
West Seattle’s design workshops were held for each of the four WS urban villages:
(Added: The city’s slide decks, notes by table, and summaries from each workshop around the city are linked at the bottom of this page.)
Howell summarized the workshops’ structure – which, we’d note from having covered three of the four local ones, did digress – Admiral, for example, ended with small-group summaries presented to the larger group but the other two we covered did not.
West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold complimented Howell on consultants’ work getting people out of the large-group Q&A and into small-group discussions. (Generally, we’ve noted in covering such events, people want to stay longer in the large groups because then everyone gets to hear the answers to common questions.)
Howell noted that they did not ask participants for demographic information but did get some from a followup survey – 150 people (of the reported 1,300 workshop participants) responded. Council President Bruce Harrell asked why demographic information was not collected at workshops. Howell replied that they were trying to keep participation barriers low, and not make people feel they were being forced to give up personal information. Williams said our area (District 1) in particular was resistant to pre-registration – which was described as “required” in the early going – and to giving up lots of personal information ahead of time.
Among the common concerns recapped by Howell were the need for more infrastructure to support the additional residents and the desire for affordable housing to be built in “high-cost areas” – in every area, not just for developers to choose the option of paying MHA fees to wind up funding housing in a few areas. Councilmember Johnson pointed out that the goal of HALA MHA is “50 percent performance” (building the required affordable housing in the same project as market-rate housing) and added, “We are working really hard with every community who believes that (Office of Housing) won’t build housing in their neighborhood” to prove that to be wrong.
HALA MHA will upzone single-family lots in urban villages as well as all commercial/multifamily lots, and Howell says that was a frequently voiced concern, with some suggesting that instead, land along arterials could be upzoned even more than proposed. And they heard a lot of concern about how the HALA MHA proposals do or don’t relate to existing neighborhood plans.
Williams said neighborhood plans – most of which date to the ’90s – were discussed in a process a decade ago (likely a reference to the process that included a multi-neighborhood meeting at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in 2009 and a survey). Many of the concerns raised in the HALA MHA workshops are similar to those raised then, he said, singling out West Seattle Junction Hub Urban Village concerns about a shortage of greenspace (which have resulted in the city reassessing what it counts as greenspace in that area).
Councilmember Herbold then said that neighborhood advocates are concerned that this is not the same kind of planning process and “want the same kind of intentionality” as happened with neighborhood planning in the ’90s. Later in the discussion, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw asked Office of Planning and Community Development‘s Sara Maxana how the city deals with those concerns. Maxana acknowledged that a two-year citywide process is not the same as a one-year neighborhood-specific process but contended that community members had been given the opportunity to give input, through these meetings, for example. Other examples of outreach she mentioned was the hala.consider.it website and Reddit. Another city staffer focused on HALA, Jesseca Brand, said they’re trying new things and are also using the Race and Social Justice Initiative to “shape” where they go and who they talk with.
Later, Councilmember Johnson said that for the amount of resources put into the 17 workshops, they might only have been able to do traditional neighborhood planning for two or three neighborhoods. He feels the outcome would be similar.
The slide showing a sample of “mapped comments” called out the Westwood-Highland Park Urban Village (the first workshop in our area and the most lightly attended).
Howell summarized by saying that there’s a “broad range of knowledge” about HALA MHA among citizens – less to more – and that the background presented at the start of the workshops was “helpful” in getting people “closer to a level playing field.” (The slide deck included a note that on a scale of 1 to 10, people had gained an extra point of awareness by attending a workshop.)
He again said that people often “came into the meetings loaded for bear” and wanted more of the traditional large-group format but he said organizers felt getting them into small groups was better and provided “really rich conversation,” particularly when there was a diversity of opinions around the table. He also noted that having local residents make points about where the maps didn’t make sense – topography concerns, for example.
Maxana said the legislation that is expected to go to the City Council this fall will “be informed” by “two years of engagement” including these 17 workshops. Next steps: They will “be wading through all of the engagement, all of the analyses.”
And that’s when she said the draft EIS will be out next week. And she adds that even once the public comment periods close, the hotline and e-mail account will remain available.
Johnson pointed out that the timeline now calls for a council vote in about a year “and I hope gives us the space for Council to put resources into neighborhoods” – he says they’re looking for funding to add more meetings and possibly some walks centered along topics such as:
*Privately owned public spaces
*’Missing middle’ issues
*Neighborhood business district issues
*Townhomes/single-family zoning together “and what that really means”
*Housing around major institutions
He suggested they could seek co-sponsors for such events, mentioning examples such as Historic Seattle, Feet First, and (to our surprise) WSB, which he described as “very engaged in land-use issues.” (Don’t know about engagement, but we certainly cover land use as closely as we can, since the peninsula is in a time of continuing growth and change. Our archive of coverage relating to “development” contains 1,500+ stories, newest to oldest, starting with this one.)