FOLLOWUP: Church townhouse project should be subject to Mandatory Housing Affordability, City Council committee says

(Looking northwest across church’s ‘park’)

Though a Morgan Junction church’s request for an upzone to enable denser housing on open space next door has been in the city system for four years, it still should be subject to not-yet-finalized Mandatory Housing Affordability. So said the City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee tonight. Three committee members voted unanimously to approve the West Seattle Church of the Nazarene‘s proposed upzone – but without waiving MHA, which only the council has the power to do. With MHA, the church will either have to pay the city an estimated $200,000 – almost a third of the revenue it expected to get from the project and hoped to spend on renovating their deteriorating church building – or set aside two of the townhouses for “affordable housing.” Project supporters could not make their case to the council at tonight’s committee meeting because the rezone is a “quasi-judicial” action; project architect David Neiman laid out the issues on his website last week:

The general idea behind MHA is that a re-zone is supposed to confer value to the property owner, and in exchange the city asks the owner to contribute that value back to the city. In the case of WSCN’s project, the proposed project includes a Property Use and Development agreement (PUDA) that will dedicate much of the land to a public open space, constraining the use of the site to such an extent that it will actually have less development potential after the re-zone than it does today. …

… What will the City Council do when faced with a project that voluntarily provides community benefits that prevent it from using the development potential conferred by a re-zone? Does the property owner have to pay anyway even though they receive no value in return? Is MHA really about a fair exchange of value creation and value capture, or is it just a fine levied on all new development?

Neiman’s post also shows site plans comparing the townhouse proposa to six units that could be built on the church’s site right now without a rezone – three houses and three “accessory dwelling units” that would take up most of what the church had proposed leaving as open space. Tonight’s vote by Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Rob Johnson, and Mike O’Brien was not the final action – that’s up to the full Council, which will get the matter on December 11th.

DECEMBER 1ST CORRECTION: According to the agenda for next Monday’s council meeting, to which the final vote has been moved, those voting earlier this week were Johnson, O’Brien, Harris-Talley, and Juarez for, no one against, Herbold abstaining.

25 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Church townhouse project should be subject to Mandatory Housing Affordability, City Council committee says"

  • WS Guy November 27, 2017 (10:33 pm)

    Nice job cracking down on those nasty churches and parks, City Hall.  Make sure they pay up.  

    Their $200k is nothing in city with a $5.6 billion budget.  It will disappear in a flash, for nothing, or this open space disappears forever.  This is what MHA is all about.  It’s a failure right out of the gate.

    • Matt November 28, 2017 (7:01 am)

      Absolutely agree. For everyone who has made a point of commenting here against MHA, I hope to see you at Council testifying for this project.  Melissa, Terry, how are you organizing people to communicate to council on this?

  • Melissa White (Boggs) November 27, 2017 (10:49 pm)

    I attended the hearing and tonight’s decision was a hard pill to
    swallow. I felt like Lisa Herbold asked all the right questions and got answers
    that didn’t capture where our hearts are at in asking for this fee waiver. I
    attend West Seattle Church of the Nazarene which is a small multi-ethnic, cross
    economic community of faith that has served West Seattle for over 50 years. I’m
    one of the most fortunate members as more than half of our church community
    currently live, or have lived on the streets, in Tent City, shelters, assisted
    living or in public housing. We don’t have a lot to give, but our doors are
    always open and we are extremely active in our neighborhood. For example, just
    last month we immediately stepped up to provide temporary housing to our
    neighbors when an
    apartment fire broke out across the street. We love that the community also
    benefits from an open greenspace on our church property which is used daily as
    an informal park by neighborhood kids, families walking their dogs, and as a
    gathering place for our neighbors (summer movies, Seattle Night Out) and we won’t take that away from West Seattle. 


    In 2013, we realized we needed to find a way to come up with the
    funds to update our building so that we could continue to serve the community. We
    came up with a win-win situation to make our dreams happen by building just six
    town instead of 11 townhouses located on the back of our lot so that in selling
    them we could get the absolute minimum funds we needed to remodel the church
    while still providing the community an informal park here. And when I say
    remodel I’m not talking ornate design here, I’m talking asbestos remediation,
    fixing a leaky roof, repairing siding, and getting our heater back up and


    We didn’t budget for a $200,000 MHA fee hit because they didn’t exist
    at the time. We know that’s not an excuse, but these fees come straight out of
    the bottom line of the project which will make it impossible to fully restore
    the church & build a playground in the park as we’d hope. We see this as a
    public-private partnership where we are gifting this park to the community with
    our church maintaining it and making our church less of an eyesore to the


    I’m hoping and praying for a change of heart when the vote goes
    before the full council and they see that if waived we will be good stewards of these dollars and that they will be directly supporting
    the very people in the Seattle community that the MHA fees we’re designed to assist.

    • Ed Slope November 28, 2017 (10:06 am)

      This seems like a perfect opportunity for the City to buy this parcel(s) from the church at market rate and use it as a location to build the affordable housing HALA – MHA seeks/promises. 

  • TJ November 27, 2017 (11:40 pm)

    Redistribution of wealth is all this is. Scary times here in Seattle when things have gotten this socialist. Governments role was never to provide housing to people, especially by mandating a certain amount of units must not be market rate, or take a hefty percentage of the profits. Sorry, but let the market freely determine who can live where. What is currently a empty lot will have 6 new dwellings, yet that isn’t good enough? I wish the church had the means to thumb their nose at the city and turn the lot into a junk yard just to spite them. 

    • bolo November 28, 2017 (1:02 pm)

      I don’t know enough about the details of this project to have formed an opinion about the fees, but I do take offense to calling it an “empty lot.” It is not an empty lot! Wonderful trees, nice grassy area, birds, and other wildlife, nature! Often see people playing with their dogs there, frisbee, etc.

  • Terry Mattson November 28, 2017 (12:39 am)

    MHA Fees: Losing the
    Right Battle for the Wrong Reason is Frustrating

    Tonight, our appeal to
    have the MHA fees removed from our development project insuring the upgrade of
    our Church facilities and park was denied by the PLUS Committee of the city
    Council. What was especially frustrating was that Lisa Herbold, our
    representative, had asked exactly the right question but received exactly the
    wrong answer.

    She had essentially
    asked the staff member informing the committee: “Tell me please, why is
    the Morgan Junction Community Association (MoCA) supportive of the churches
    request to remove the fees?
      Is it, because the open space being
    gifted is considered a public benefit? …Perhaps it’s because West Seattle
    Nazarene’s (WSCN) private/public development began before the MHA fees were
    policy? Tell me, what am I missing here?”
    To which, the staff
    representative responded that both were relevant, missing completely the real
    reason: The public/private nature of our proposal results in less value, not
    more value for our land; less housing, not more.

    MHA fees are designed
    to capture the significantly increased value
     of an up-zone due to increased housing
    allowed for development. Our development, because we are gifting the open space
    and entering a binding commitment not to develop on it in the future, results
    in significantly less value to WSCN and hence no money to capture for public

    Given that omission
    to Lisa’s question, the discussion following left the impression, sadly, that
    WSCN was arguing for an exchange; Open green space in order to avoid affordable
    housing Fees. That false narrative could not be further from the real story.

    In my 17th year
    pastoring West Seattle church of the Nazarene we stumbled upon a promising
    resolution to a question: How can a multi economic and multi ethnic community
    of faith pay the bills when a large percentage of our congregants come from the
    streets or city housing? How can we rebuild this historic church and keep open
    space available to our community at the same time?

    The answer that had
    stared us in the face for 16 years was simple
    and needed no change in zoning.  Sell off three of five lots to a developer who would
    build six houses worth millions. It’s an answer that still looks tempting; if
    we wish to forget our primary mission
    in serving all of our neighbors, poor and rich, single
    and married, black, white and brown.

    Because so many in
    our congregation understand the need for affordable housing, this is at least a
    good cause to lose.

    What is especially
    sad for the city is the lack of recognition that all up-zones are not equal.
    Private/public partnerships can result in significant public benefit
    (non-profit viability and services, open space, historic buildings, etc.) that
    cannot be calculated in dollars and cents; that in fact
     remove profit. 

    I am hopeful that Lisa Herbold will continue to
    ask the right questions and in seeking, will find our answer in the record;
    Such that the members of the Seattle City Council may come to a different

    Rev. Terry Mattson

    Pastor Emeritus, West Seattle Church of the

  • D November 28, 2017 (12:45 am)

    Isn’t the MHA 40% of the median income around $40,000, and only 5-10% of the property That’s required for it?

  • Paul November 28, 2017 (4:50 am)

    Is it possible that the council might run afoul of RLUIPA?

    • Anonymous Coward November 28, 2017 (7:51 am)

      What makes you think the city council cares whether or not their policies violate the law?

  • The King November 28, 2017 (5:01 am)

    The mandatory housing laws are looking more and more like an unconstitutional government taking of property without just compensation. 

    • WS Guy November 28, 2017 (7:34 am)

      It is.  The “incentive” is to allow the owner to develop bigger buildings.  If the owner doesn’t want to build bigger/more, like in this case, she has to pay the MHA fee anyway.  That’s not an incentive.  That’s a tax on development and it’s unconstitutional.  

      What’s funny is the developers are going to wait until the council upzones are passed, then they’re going to sue away the MHA fees and keep the upzones. 

  • Gene November 28, 2017 (7:47 am)

    I dont quite understand- a staff member – gave all the wrong answers? Was this a church staff member- a city council staff member? If representing the church & it’s appeal why wouldn’t they be sure that person has the right answers to give? 

    I expect little of our City Council & they almost always live up to my expectations.

    • Terry Mattson November 28, 2017 (12:35 pm)

      Gene, Because this is a quasi-judicial proceeding (meaning the city council is acting as arbitrators of the law, not as makers-in this up-zone process) the Church, nor our associates can represent our position.  It is a city council staff person who communicates only what is already in the record.

      We did have access with the staff to point out our expressed position, as it was clearly in the record of the Hearing Examiner (who is the last person to recommend to the council).  I’m sure the staff member acted as he thought appropriate, but in my opinion, did not direct Council Woman Herbold to the record highlighting the central issue: “There is no economic benefit to us in the upgrade given the land set aside for public benefit”.  That ommission effected the narrative and thus the outcome.  Had I been voting, I would have voted against us if our argument was simply, the open space is a public benefit and should be given in exchange for avoiding the MHA fees.  That was what was so sad.

  • OP November 28, 2017 (9:36 am)

    The Seattle City Council has a lot in common with the Mafia, only under the guise of being for the People. What criminals.

  • zark00 November 28, 2017 (10:28 am)

    Is this green space truly a community benefit or is it part of the church? – like could the ‘Satan Worshipers of West Seattle’ use it too?   I suspect it’s less a benefit to the whole community and more part of the Churches property. Church already doesn’t pay taxes, and is sitting on open lots that would accommodate 11 townhouses yet can’t make the numbers work?  Seems fishy to me – maybe they need better financial planners.  The town-homes on California are all over $500k, more like $700k, 6 of those, very conservatively would be $3M, cost of construction should be well under $200 a sf so the project would be well under $2m – not understanding how they can’t get enough out of even just the 6 town-homes to generate enough money to fix their church and follow the same rules everyone else has to.

  • Chemis November 28, 2017 (10:47 am)

    The materials from the land use review are attached at the top here

    I’m still digesting this and the role the exceptional trees are playing, that’s perhaps not been talked about.  The exceptional trees are being preserved, which results in some questionable house shapes under the SF5000 zoning with DADUs.  Even with the LR1, it results in some of the new houses pushed off to the side.  At the same time, you’ve created a public mini-park (does it function as a playground for afterschool programs, etc?) and are keeping the land those trees represent off the tax roles as church property, perhaps.

    There’s a whole thing going on in this design that’s working around exceptional trees and it really does make me question if MHA policy should have had some reductions for preservation of exceptional trees and public space.

    One thing is clear, though…. if I had a big lot in Seattle I’d be cutting down trees not on the edges of my property before they grow up enough to be classified exceptional.  Absolutely not the intent of the regulations, but the headaches are real and I have doubts about that proposed alternative not resulting in undermined roots and dead trees.

  • anon November 28, 2017 (12:05 pm)

    I agree with the person that I also expect very little of our city council and they always deliver on that expectation. 

  • Bradley November 28, 2017 (3:00 pm)

    HALA = death to open spaces and trees in Seattle’s once-quiet neighborhoods.

  • Orwell November 28, 2017 (3:28 pm)

    Seattle City Socialist Council:

    2 + 2 = 5 

  • pw November 28, 2017 (7:16 pm)

    A church wants to build housing for its elderly parishioners, its is a good plan and the City Council cannot cannot stand the fact they are not in complete control. Leave the church alone and let them build whatever they want, they are community and keep the w seattle community together.  

    We should thank them.  Can’t the City Council just stay out of everyone business ?

  • steve November 28, 2017 (9:28 pm)

    I agree with TJ. What a shakedown!  Aren’t they already going to pay enough in property taxes once the project is done. No, the city council says you need to pay more. VOTE all of them out,  make a note of it, now!  In the interim, if you need some crappy cars to park on your lot, let me know. Put them on blocks too! This really makes me angry.  Doesn’t the owner have any rights anymore?

    • Jethro Marx November 29, 2017 (6:39 am)

      Why do my West Seattle friends seem to think that creating an eyesore will somehow stick it to the big bad government types?

       And I am really tired of hearing people say you ought to preemptively cut down trees to avoid some hypothetical problems down the road. What are we trying to do here, on this little peninsula? Make a nice place to live or clear-cut it and put cars on blocks on the remains?

       I appreciate the church’s effort to develop while also preserving trees and space. How about a little less cynicism and a more constructive way to help than offering to park your crappy cars there, what?

  • Sandy Adams November 30, 2017 (10:35 am)

    It seems to me that this issue should be brought to our new mayor’s attention.  She has been saying all the right things about including neighborhoods in the planning process, that she will listen and HEAR what they have to say.  This is a “poster child” project in that the neighborhood has been a party to the plan and will benefit from it.Please someone tell me that they will be asking for a meeting with her.

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