‘Affirmed’: HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning can move forward, says city Hearing Examiner

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.

33 Replies to "'Affirmed': HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning can move forward, says city Hearing Examiner"

  • Abcgirl November 21, 2018 (7:43 pm)

    And the final nail in the coffin. West Seattle has been on  a slow methodical demise, decisions made based on inaccurate data and no interest in neighborhoods and quality of life.  RIP west seattle

  • WS Guy November 21, 2018 (8:29 pm)

    If the council thinks it takes 8 minutes to cross the bridge during rush hour, it’s no wonder they do nothing but ruin what was once a great city.

  • Delridger November 21, 2018 (8:42 pm)

    Nice. Hopefully we can see some increased density and a more vibrant and affordable West Seattle. 

  • Ron Swanson November 21, 2018 (9:22 pm)

    Good riddance to a terrible, pointless appeal. Your “neighborhood plan” drafted in 1990 is not the Ten Commandments to be followed blindly forever.  Conditions change; we have a housing crisis.  Bring on the upzones.

  • Moose2 November 21, 2018 (9:45 pm)

    Very pleased to hear this. Affordability is a difficult and serious problem in Seattle, and this is a great step forward. I am unimpressed by the efforts of JuNO to claim to represent all of West Seattle residents. 

  • Halayes November 21, 2018 (10:05 pm)

    Very happy, although not surprised. Juno’s response mentioned meeting with the neighborhood to discuss next steps. 1. Not the neighborhood, it’s always been a minority who say they speak for the majority. 2. There are no next steps, at over 200,000 dollars and wasting people’s time, it’s enough. Stop with the 8 minute thing, there’s traffic everywhere, not just on the bridge. You can’t stop people from moving here. 

  • zephyr November 21, 2018 (10:39 pm)

    I’ve never understood why that the folks who love density so much don’t just move to denser areas of the city.  Tour around a little bit–there’s plenty of jam-packed neighborhoods and districts to land in if that’s your thing.  What we have here in West Seattle is to be treasured and protected.  Thanks to JUNO for resisting this maneuver by the HALA group. 

  • dsa November 21, 2018 (10:58 pm)

    Here it comes.  I have talked to an owner or two who have waited for HALA to be approved before developing in order to get that extra story.  I suspect similar owners may comment here.

    • Kram November 22, 2018 (8:38 am)

      In West Seattle yes but in the core no. Construction will slow or stop in the core. People will not believe me but just wait. $32 a square foot ‘fee’ will kill projects.  Hala will be a mess overall and in the end I dont think many true affordable housing will be offered. But hey, the city can say they did something.

  • Jort November 21, 2018 (11:09 pm)

    It’s always fun to watch people almost literally light money on fire with these pointless appeals. Some people give their extra money to charities. Others like to blow money on NIMBYism. Hey, whatever floats your boat. At least charities actually HELP people, though.   Or just keep lighting it on fire. Whatever.  

  • T November 22, 2018 (1:25 am)

    “Affordability”has been a buzz word for a decade plus. Is this latest push going to result in anything? Don’t hold your breath. People’s memories are so short.

    • f November 22, 2018 (7:01 am)

      i agree – even WSB put the word in quotations. i really don’t know what the term means  and i’ve never really heard anyone explain the exact price that is “affordable” for as much as the word is used.

      • CAM November 22, 2018 (8:59 am)

        I could be wrong but I think the HALA legislation has rules which determine what is an affordable unit based on a percentage of average or modal income. 

        • Erithan November 22, 2018 (9:24 am)

          It has to do with median I think? Of course anyone who is disabled or elderly and on ss still can’t afford anything with all this. 12k a year or so is nothing when median is around what 80 or near 90k now?lot of buildings around here that are still being built or are empty too.

  • anonyme November 22, 2018 (6:33 am)

    What?!  The city ruled in favor of developers?  Shocking!!Affordability is a buzz word, nothing more.  Meaningless in regard to HALA.  If a developer is granted an extra story on a building in exchange for “affordable” units (whatever the hell that means – without a specific range/definition it’s just BS) and the extra floor represents those units, then it’s still just extra profit.  A few extra apartments will not solve, or even help, the housing crisis.   The real issue is the population crisis, and that problem will take care of itself – much sooner than any denier wants to believe.

    • HappyCamper November 22, 2018 (2:15 pm)

      There is a table for affordability in the HALA and MHA documentation. It is based on area median income. Of course “affordable” is a relative term. For some a Ferrari is affordable and for some a Camry so it isn’t going to be some specific silver bullet number. As with anything like this that number has to strike a balance between someone building it and not taking a loss and it being cheaper rent than a similar market rate place. Insert extra floor and it helps pencil out. And yes, developers will make money, that’s the business they are in. Trader Joe’s makes money, so does Nissan or any other company that’s in some other industry.

    • KM November 22, 2018 (2:33 pm)

      It’s always funny to me when people get upset about housing being built but have a big (biological) family. 

  • Graciano November 22, 2018 (7:16 am)

     They will just raise the rent on the other units to subsidies the HALA units.

  • wet one November 22, 2018 (9:40 am)

     Sad thing is most people that are pro HALA will come build, profit and move on. Those that have lived in WS long time or moved here thinking it would be nice place to raise family will be left with hour long commutes getting downtown shortly.  Laughable ? not so, remember port has T-5 project going in, when done there will huge amount of truck container traffic added and more railroad traffic . Get use to walking down dark streets as more tall structures block sunlight. If you have nice sunny backyard get ready for some changes as neighboring property’s will be allowed to build up with little set-back off property lines. The end of single family house zoning.  It’s all about city trying to keep money coming in covering poor spending/wasting of tax dollars, like a pyramid scheme. If people really think HALA  will help lower housing cost you’ve either drank to much city kool-aid, smoked to much pot or in it for the $$$$$$ . When rents do go down it will because economy is tanking…..  

    • jm18 November 22, 2018 (11:38 am)

      It already can take an hour to get downtown depending on when you leave. It’s already darker to walk because of some buildings, my point is, this all happens with or without hala. My goodness, people act like every sf homeowner in the rezone area is going to sell their home. You don’t have to sell. This is not the end of the world. So no, wet one did not get it right.

    • Soon2leave November 23, 2018 (1:57 pm)

      Yes WetOne is so right

  • dsa November 22, 2018 (10:49 am)

    Wet One got it right.

  • John November 22, 2018 (11:09 am)

    ” MoCA is committed to ensuring that affordable housing remains in our community. ”  Deb BarkerMaybe Deb can share some of the ‘affordable’ housing that still remains as Morgan Junction has long lacked any ‘affordable’ housing.I agree with comments about these neighborhood groups not being in the consensus.  They certainly muster a small tight group of activists willing to great lengths to force their view of our community.Happy Thanksgiving to our whole community.

  • TJ November 22, 2018 (11:57 am)

    Population growth here is being driven by people moving in, not births. This region won’t cobntinue to see this rate of growth. Look and you will see that in 20 years it is evident that the death rate will outpace the birth rate as Americans aren’t having children. Immigration only will push growth, and with stricter immigration quotas being put in place we can actually see a population decrease. Cheaper housing will only be built outside Seattle, and rhe only way it will be cheap here is with a market crash. I can’ t see what people see is good with cramming more people here. 

    • HappyCamper November 22, 2018 (2:08 pm)

      Less people, more housing, cheaper rent in the future!

  • Halayes November 23, 2018 (7:55 am)

    Moca replied they were upset at how easily their efforts were dismissed, are you kidding me? All that time and money people put in, all that time they delayed it, they think it was ‘easily’ dismissed? I will say what I have told my kid when they were 5, good effort, accept the decision and nobody likes a sore loser. Scale, moca, Juno and all others, just stop.

  • Matt Hutchins November 23, 2018 (8:36 am)

    Now that multifamily developers will soon be required to build in some rent-restricted housing or contribute to Office of Housing’s affordable housing projects, at least a little bit of the big changes to our city will benefit those on very the bottom end of the economic scale. 

  • Love WS November 24, 2018 (10:50 am)

    Wet One got it right. This is a win for developers plain and simple and won’t provide affordable housing to the extent that we need it.  Developers see the fee as just the cost of doing business. And, existing affordable housing will be leveled so that the next big development can go in.Remember that the best way to respond to this is through the ballot box next year since almost all of our city council is up for re-election.

    • WA Guy November 25, 2018 (8:31 am)

      Developers write the checks, but it’s the land owners that get hit with the fee.  The developers won’t give up their profit – they’ll just pay less for the land.  So the old lady that gets forced out of her home by a 5-story apartment across the street also lost $50k in home equity. 

  • Halayes November 24, 2018 (12:53 pm)

    It seems the people not happy with the decision are all about voting the council out. I guarantee you, you won’t be happy with the next round either.

  • JBlake November 26, 2018 (10:00 am)

    I can’t believe we didn’t win more points with the hearing examiner. I gave SCALE $1000 and we were fully funded and all we get is a token nod to the FEIS inadequacy for historic buildings??? Further legal action against the city- count me out.

  • AdmiralSpade November 26, 2018 (7:21 pm)

    +1 for Wet One.  All you budding socialists that somehow think this is going to make it affordable for everyone – joke’s on you.  Once we get to this place, the economy will have reverted to the mean and you’ll be left with a bunch of paper-thin walled, characterless, sunless condos, fighting for parking spaces while the fewer remaining decent properties – which you actually wanted – will be even more expensive.  By that time, the developers will have skipped town and the petri-dish progressivism leaders will have logged their minimum to get life pensions.  Do you want “The Swinery” or “Dominos”?  Easy Street or Best Buy Express?   Don’t destroy this beautiful asset – have been all around the country and there are very few city neighborhoods like West Seattle.  This is a transportation problem not a zoning problem.

  • Jackbo November 30, 2018 (4:10 pm)

    5 bucks says that the people saying this is good thing don’t live in the Urban Village boundaries.

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