By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Four years after the West Seattle Church of the Nazarene initiated a project to build six townhouses on part of its open-space property, the requested rezone is finally coming to the City Council, with a committee vote expected next Monday night.
It aims to build more housing than original zoning would allow. But in a twist, the Mandatory Housing Affordability component of HALA – the city’s campaign to encourage exactly that – could put a hitch in the plan, though MHA hasn’t been imposed citywide yet, and wasn’t even proposed until long after this project started making its way through the system.
We first reported on the plan in September 2013. It would build six townhouses on a site currently zoned for three single-family houses, if the city grants a “contract rezone” upzoning it to Lowrise 1. The land at 5911 42nd SW has long been known as the church’s “park” and an agreement with the city would preserve part of it as open space. Church leaders explained in our first followup that the plan is intended to bring in money so they can renovate their sanctuary building – an option chosen instead of selling the entire site and relocating. At that same time, architect David Neiman explained more of the backstory; the project soon had its own website.
Since then, the wheels of the process have turned relatively slowly. There have been occasional updates at quarterly meetings of the Morgan Community Association (MoCA), which went on the record in 2014 as supporting the rezone proposal.
Then at last month’s MoCA meeting, a surprise: Though the project has been in the system for so long, the city told the church that it will be subject to Mandatory Housing Affordability fees – which are part of the so-called “Grand Bargain” with developers that has resulted in the HALA upzoning proposal that has not yet made it to the City Council for most of the city, including Morgan Junction.
The church says it would be charged $200,000 in MHA – to fund “affordable housing” somewhere else. That’s more than a quarter of the revenue it estimated the project would bring. A list of its concerns distributed at the October MoCA meeting includes: “These fees come straight out of the bottom line of the project. Every penny that we pay the city for MHA is one we don’t have to restore the church and build the playground.”
The church pointed out on the same one-sheet:
The MHA concept is based on the idea that the upzone allows the builder to build more housing, which adds to the value of the land. The MHA fees are a way to recapture this land value as a public benefit. In our case, we are not using the upzone to gain more building potential. We got the upzone to gain access to the flexible land use of lowrise zoning so that we could cluster the development against the rear of the site, preserving the front of the site as shared community open space.
If the site were left as single family, we could build three huge new houses with three backyard cottages for a total of six dwellings and over 16,000 sf of housing. If we were using the value of the LR1 upzone fully we could build 11 new units and over 20,000 sf of housing. Both of these scenarios would be of great benefit to the church’s finances but would use up all of the land, leaving no open space. Instead we are pursuing a scheme that builds 6 new units and only 9,900 sf of housing. It preserves the front half of the site for a community open space and playground.
The terms of our upzone prohibit full use of the site. We are not receiving additional development potential via this upzone. To the contrary we end up with less development potential than we would have if we simply developed it today. The upzone confers no economic value to the church, yet we are being required to pay MHA fees.
We asked the Department of Construction and Inspections why the project would be subject to MHA fees, given that it’s been in the system for years. Spokesperson Wendy Shark‘s reply:
In August 2016, City Council adopted Ordinance 125108, which establishes the regulatory framework for MHA. Council’s intent was that MHA should apply through future legislative or quasi-judicial rezones (See SMC 23.58C.015). To facilitate this action, Council also established that MHA could be applied through the terms of a contract rezone (See SMC 23.34.004.B), but delegated the rule-making to SDCI to determine interim payment and performance amounts. Director’s rule 14-2016 outlines the intent of the Mayor and the Council to make rezones subject to MHA.
City Council has the authority to approve a rezone subject to a property use and development agreement (PUDA) that includes the condition that development be subject to MHA requirements. As such, SDCI is directed to recommend that all rezones be subject to MHA. The Council has the final decision-making authority to apply MHA to a rezone application, depending on the facts of the record.
So City Councilmembers have the final say.Church of the Nazarene’s pastor emeritus Terry Mattson says the record so far includes their request for the MHA fee removal, made during the city Hearing Examiner’s review of the project. But he says the church was told it can’t lobby City Councilmembers for the removal, “given the quasi-judicial nature of the re-zone decision before the City Council.”
So now, Mattson says, “the removal of MHA fees is still a request we are hoping will be communicated via the staff person assigned by the PLUS committee to direct our re-zone recommendation as approved by the Hearing Examiner and SDCI.” And they have met with council staff to talk about it, reviewing the agreement that would maintain the remaining open space in perpetuity, among other things, plus “presentation of factual models showing that we could have sold our lots, built homes, and realized more profit under existing zoning or with the upzone and no park.”
So, Mattson adds, “We, therefore, respectfully request that the PLUS committee recommend to the City Council the removal of MHA fees because the very purpose of those fees are not relevant and given this project, including the perpetual gifting of our land for public benefit, pre-dated these new fees. I noted, in that meeting, that there is no more judicious decision that the council can make but to determine in what circumstances MHA fees really should not apply and/or be waived for public benefit.”
And he says there’s a larger issue – future public/private partnerships “may be inhibited” by what this situation has revealed, that city staffers don’t believe they are empowered to waive or recommend waiving of the MHA fees, and there’s “no public process for communicating exceptions such as ours.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee considers the rezone request during a 5 pm meeting next Monday (November 27th) at City Hall downtown (here’s the agenda). It could vote that same night. A final decision, including whether to charge the MHA fee, would be up to the full Council at a subsequent meeting.