HALA REZONING: Digging into the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, part 1

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

If you want to settle into the weekend with a little light reading, consider the 460+ pages of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda‘s Mandatory Housing Affordability component (let’s just call it the HALA MHA DEIS for short).

Since it officially went public on Thursday, we’ve been looking through the HALA MHA DEIS in order to present the first in a series of “what you need to know about it” – or, ways to wade through it – reports, rather than just slapping up a news release and a link and moving on. While the comment period runs a month and a half, its marquee event – a City Hall public hearing – is only three weeks away.

The Draft EIS is the next major step in the process we have been closely covering since last October, when the draft maps showing proposed rezoning appeared online. The point of HALA MHA is to require developers to set aside a certain percentage of their projects as affordable housing, or to pay a fee into a city fund that will pay for affordable housing somewhere else. In exchange, zoning increases to give them more capacity – on average, an extra floor. But other proposed changes are more complex, such as upzoning all single-family areas in urban villages, and expanding urban-village boundaries in some areas (the West Seattle Junction Hub Urban Village is proposed for some of this).

The maps emerged quietly, without meetings or announcements declaring “in Urban Village X, the proposed changes are X.” Some local neighborhood advocates organized unofficial community briefings/workshops to offer interpretation. The city, for its part, has had two regional open houses, one in December and one in May, and “community design workshops” in each urban village (here’s our coverage of the recent City Council briefing at which those were summarized, with links to our coverage of three of the four held in West Seattle).

While general commenting on the draft maps remains open until month’s end – here’s how – the focus now shifts to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and what it says about how HALA MHA could affect neighborhoods. Comments will be taken by the city until July 23rd. But the centerpiece event of this time is a public hearing and “open house” at City Hall on June 29th:

Open House, 5:30 pm
Hearing, 6:30 pm
Seattle City Hall’s Bertha Knight Landes Room
600 4th Avenue

In addition to written feedback before and after that, you’ll be able to speak at the hearing.

But first, you’ll want to get to the heart of the Draft EIS.

Here’s one section that stood out to us; it’s part of the appendices, all embedded below:

As for the city’s summary:

Our Draft EIS studies three alternatives: a No Action Alternative and two different Action Alternatives. The Draft EIS identifies and describes potential impacts on the environment that could occur as a result of zoning changes to implement MHA. In October 2016, we published a first draft of the proposed MHA zoning changes. The alternatives studied in the MHA Draft EIS are not a direct reflection of public feedback received on the draft MHA zoning maps published in October 2016. Why not? Because the Draft EIS studies a much wider range of options and uses the results of the analysis to better understand the potential impacts of a final proposal. We developed the alternatives with public input about what we should study, but none of them represents a specific preferred alternative. Our Final EIS will include a preferred alternative that reflects public input.

You can follow this link to find maps showing the two options. You have to click Alternative 2 or Alternative 3 in the left sidebar once you get to that page, in order to see a map.

Then on the left sidebar of the page again, you can choose the option to comment.

The entire 462-page document is here. The actual environmental analysis begins with housing/socioeconomic analysis, 74 pages you can see here. On the fourth page, you’ll see a map showing West Seattle census tracts and what percentage of each consists of people of color. On page 10 of that section, a map breaks down what percentage of each census tract has people whose income levels would qualify them for what HALA considers “affordable housing.” Page 13 has a table showing how many housing units were in each urban village/urban center in the city, from 1995 to 2015 – one example, the West Seattle Junction area had 1,964 housing units at the end of 1995, and that had grown to 3,880 by the end of 2015. The growth rates in our area’s other urban villages are much lower.

Page 37 of that section shows how census tracts have either lost or added low-income households, part of the discussion of displacement concerns. Then on page 45, this observation that nothing can really fix Seattle’s current affordability problem:

The affordability of market-rate housing would continue to be a concern and a burden for many residents under all three alternatives, notwithstanding implementation of MHA. This is a result of economic forces beyond the reach of MHA. Ultimately, housing prices and rents are likely to be driven upward by demand generated by Seattle’s strong job market and attractive natural and cultural amenities.

Even with substantial new development capacity, Seattle’s limited land area would likely continue to contribute to upward pressure on housing costs. Low vacancy rates and tight rental housing inventory contribute to higher rents, especially when demand is fueled by a highly educated, high-wage workforce.

However, compared to Alternative 1 No Action, the action alternatives both provide more development capacity and about 37 percent greater expected housing supply. This additional capacity and supply is likely to reduce upward pressure on rents and housing prices. While this is likely to improve housing affordability at all income levels, the market is not likely to provide housing affordable to those earning below 60 percent of AMI under any alternative.

Some of the sections where you’ll find neighborhood-specific information:

Exhibit 2–20 Proposed Urban Village Boundary Expansions Action Alternatives: West
Seattle Junction (Low Displacement Risk and High Access to Opportunity) 2.41

Exhibit 3.4–6 Pedestrian Master Plan Priority Investment Network, Southwest Seattle 3.174
Exhibit 3.4–13 Planned Bicycle Network, Southwest Seattle 3.182

Exhibit 3.7–7 Changes in Park Availability in Urban Villages with Open Space and/or
Walkability Gaps, Alternative 1 No Action 3.291

Exhibit 3.7–8 Changes in Park Availability in Urban Villages with Open Space and/or
Walkability Gaps, Alternative 2 3.292

Exhibit 3.7–9 Changes in Park Availability in Urban Villages with Open Space and/or
Walkability Gaps, Alternative 3 3.293

There’s a lot to review, and we’ll be going through it to get to the key points – we hear various neighborhood groups are doing the same. The Junction Neighborhood Organization‘s Land Use Committee, for example, is on the agenda of JuNO’s meeting next Tuesday (June 13th) at 6:30 pm at the Senior Center/Sisson Building (4217 SW Oregon) to talk about it.

DEADLINE FOR ALL HALA MHA DEIS COMMENTS: The city has set 5 pm July 23rd as the deadline for getting any and all comments. They’re asking you to comment via this form on the city website – but when you get there, you’ll see other options, such as e-mail (MHA.EIS@seattle.gov) and postal mail.

More to come!

3 Replies to "HALA REZONING: Digging into the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, part 1"

  • harriet 1 benjamin June 12, 2017 (1:58 pm)

    It seems pretty clear if you all have your way there will be no more single family homes in Seattle.

    Developers will mostly choose I imagine to pay the fee instead of building affordable housing (which I think is a joke in this City.) and just pass the cost onto apartment owners who will than pass it on to renters.

  • For Livability June 13, 2017 (7:55 pm)

    I wonder if it’s coincidental that their definition of green space that includes fee-for-use golf courses and negatively impacts West Seattle more than other areas is a hard to read footnote buried in the report. This effort has nothing to do with livability. I wonder if they used the same fake bike use numbers that were used to support Let’s Move Seattle and pushed by Transportation Choices to dupe voters into supporting an effort with zero accountability. This EIS also ignored the FEMA slide zone maps that were presented to the city, because they don’t care about input. And Alternative 3 shows them taking away part of the Fairmount Park playfields to achieve even greater density and less livability for people with kids/families. More evidence that Rob Johnson and the pushers of HALA want to displace certain families with children. The Mayor stated his ill wishes toward families when he compared single family occupants to Trump supporters.

  • Carmine June 15, 2017 (10:48 am)

    Regardless of income, racial composition, age brackets and all that, of which I support equity and diversity, any neighborhood or “urban village” should have adequate green space & parks (not the golf course or shaded half lot ex-fire station), should not take part of a school field for profiteering interests, take away as much parking as is possible, not penalize the elderly with this walk the hills and get a bike mentality, attack and demonize single family homeowners who have paid a dear mortgage price, raised families and contributed to the community and schools for decades, a town square would be nice, and a transportation system that works before the 2033 light rail system which they use to build now. I didn’t think I was voting against myself, but I guess I have. 

Sorry, comment time is over.