6:44 PM: One year after a coalition of neighborhood groups, including five from West Seattle, challenged the Final Environmental Impact Statement for HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning, city Hearing Examiner Ryan Vancil issued his ruling late today.
Short version: He says the city’s FEIS stands, with the exception of one section.
That’s Vancil’s decision, toward the end of the 38-page ruling:
The neighborhood groups had argued that the EIS was inadequate in a variety of ways, including contentions that it was “one size fits all” rather than addressing unique potential impacts on neighborhoods. They argued their case in hearings over a two-plus-month period this summer; documents and audio recordings are all linked on this page of the Hearing Examiner’s website.
HALA MHA would implement upzoning in urban villages, as well as on commercial/multifamily property throughout the city, in exchange for developer/builders either including a certain percentage of “affordable” units, or paying the city a fee to finance construction of such units elsewhere. The plan now needs City Council approval; the council has had months of hearings (including this one in June in West Seattle) but its vote has been awaiting the appeal decision. (You can use this interactive map to see how any specific property would or wouldn’t be affected.”
So what happens now?
The Hearing Examiner’s decision is the final word from the city but not necessarily the final say in the matter – the appellants could choose to pursue a court case. We’re awaiting their reaction to the ruling.
On the city’s side, Mayor Jenny Durkan has issued a statement calling the ruling “a step forward for more affordable housing in Seattle.”
We’ll be updating this story as the evening goes on.
7:26 PM: First appellant reaction is from the Junction Neighborhood Organization, which filed its own appeal as well as being a member of the citywide coalition:
“On behalf of our neighbors and friends along the West Seattle peninsula, we are deeply disappointed with this ruling,” said Carl Guess, a member of the Junction Neighborhood Organization’s land-use committee. “It’s a big setback for neighborhood-level planning, and represents a new low in the relationship between the City and its urban villages.”
Indeed, hearing examiner Ryan Vancil chided the City for its lack of neighborhood-level analysis even as he largely affirmed its final environmental impact statement.
“[T]he choice not to tell a more detailed story of the City’s neighborhoods contributed to why the City faced a very protracted appeal and hearing process from representatives in many of its neighborhoods,” he wrote.
JuNO made those details the centerpiece of its appeal, pointing to what it called deficiencies in everything from traffic-flow analysis to conflicts between the HALA/MHA legislation and the neighborhood plan of the West Seattle Junction Urban Village.
Guess said those deficiencies remain, despite today’s ruling.
“When we wake up Monday morning, the City will continue to tell us that it takes only eight and a half minutes to cross the West Seattle Bridge during peak traffic flows, which is absurd. It will tell us there is enough infrastructure to support development, when we showed that 90% Seattle’s sewer lines are at or above capacity. It will tell us there are no conflicts with our neighborhood plan when we cited those conflicts specifically and repeatedly.”
Guess said JuNO will study the examiner’s ruling more deeply, then meet with its neighborhood to talk through possible next steps.
“Our neighborhood has been incredibly supportive throughout this process and we can’t thank them enough,” he said.
As for next steps beyond that meeting, one possibility for JuNO is to lobby the City Council in the ritual horse trading expected to take place as the HALA/MHA legislation moves toward approval. Another is to join a nascent effort to create an organization representing neighborhood groups within City Council District 1, now represented by Lisa Herbold.
“The City has destroyed a lot of goodwill in this process, and voters have very long memories,” said Guess.
ADDED 11:25 PM: We also asked Deb Barker, president of the Morgan Community Association – which joined the SCALE appeal as well as filing its own – for comment. Her reply:
MoCA is proud to have joined with the communities of SCALE. We took a stand against the city that acted without properly taking into account the voice of its residents and the impacts of its plan. SCALE made a tremendous effort to identify MHA FEIS deficiencies, and we are saddened how easily that effort was dismissed. MoCA is committed to ensuring that affordable housing remains in our community. To that end, MoCA will be evaluating options to achieve that goal as well as those of SCALE.
The MoCA and JuNO appeal documents were part of this 2017 WSB report.