Ever since the HALA report was released last year, the plan to upzone the urban villages has proceeded like a steamroller out of City Hall. We were promised lots of opportunities for public engagement, and there have been a few. The HALA public engagement problem is this: all of the public engagement meetings exist on the premise that the upzones are going to happen, and public input is just to discuss how we should upzone.
I don’t want to talk about HOW we should upzone, I want to talk about IF we should upzone.
HALA presentations to City Council always mention the extensive public outreach plan. However, many of us who have been to these public meetings leave feeling frustrated. The current HALA engagement process is predictable. There is the sales pitch: broad generalities to which HALA is alway the right answer. Upzones are equated to affordable housing as if they are the same thing (they are not). There is usually a presentation that tries to not-so-subtly guilt us into agreeing to the program. And then limited time for public discussion, often leaving participants still feeling their questions have been unanswered and frustrated.
In my opinion, the public engagement process is worthless if we are not allowed to ask the question IF we should upzone. I am going to tell you a secret that the Mayor does not want you to know: Upzoning is not the only way to achieve affordable housing.
IF we should upzone is the logical first question that should be asked. According to the City of Seattle’s own documents, our current zoning can handle expected population growth. Wallingford’s residential growth estimates predict a net increase 967 housing units during the period of 2015-2035. With our current zoning, Wallingford has a development capacity of 1,857 units. So we have room for about double the expected population growth over the next twenty years. And this trend is not unique to Wallingford. The City’s report shows that every neighborhood in Seattle has more than sufficient room with current zoning for expected population growth. To see development capacity for all of the neighborhoods follow this link.
The Mayor often says he has backed away from rezoning single family neighborhoods, but there are currently around 700 Single Family homes inside the Wallingford Residential Urban Village that would be upzoned under the Mayor’s plan. A significant percentage of these are older homes. These single family areas blend seamlessly with the areas outside the urban village boundaries and are part of an architectural treasure of Craftsman and other beautifully constructed older homes. Changing the zoning in Wallingford would likely lead to increased developer speculation and put at risk the history and the beauty of Wallingford. Similar losses of history and culture are likely in urban villages and centers around the City.
Other options to fund affordable housing do exist. Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) is the name of the program that exchanges upzones for affordable housing. But MHA is not the only option. The Community Housing Caucus, a very respectable group of affordable housing advocates, released a report last year of alternatives, but the report seems to be just collecting dust on the shelves. That report identifies alternative options to increase affordable housing without upzoning. Our current housing boom should also be providing additional government revenue. Property values in Seattle have been increasing, and with this comes an increase in property taxes. This equates to more property tax revenue for our government to collect. Also any fees associated with development are increasing. Given these potential sources for increased revenue, even if it means moving around a few things in the next budget, can’t the City find the money for affordable housing without handing over our neighborhoods to the highest bidder? Why aren’t other options being considered?
The cynic in me says it is because upzones have the backing of the developers.
Regardless of the message the Mayor’s office is telling us, the upzones are not final until the City Council votes on them. The process is beginning. MHA is the precursor to the upzones. If MHA passes, then upzoning is the next step. On August 2nd, the Planning, Land Use and Zoning committee of the City Council is expected to discuss MHA and amendments and may possibly vote on it. If it passes in committee then it is expected to quickly move to the Full Council for a vote. If you want to stop this steamroller from moving forward, the time to act is now!
- Make a Public Comment at the August 2nd Planning, Land Use and Zoning City Council meeting. Public comment is first on the agenda at 9:30 AM, meeting is at the City Council Chambers, Second floor, City Hall.
- Write to the City Council at [email protected]
- Read the Community Housing Caucus report & share it.
- Sign this petition: http://www.seattlefairgrowth.org/petition.html
- Make a comment to be considered with the EIS (see next section below)
MHA will be going through an Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Comment deadline: 5:00 PM on September 9. Here is information from the official notice:
The lead agency has identified the following areas for discussion in the EIS:
The EIS will consider potential impacts associated with land use, housing and socioeconomics, aesthetics and height/bulk/scale, historic resources, open space and recreation, transportation, public services, and utilities.
Agencies, affected tribes, and the public are invited to comment on the scope of the EIS. You may comment on alternatives, mitigation measures, probable significant adverse impacts, and licenses or other approvals that may be required. The methods and deadlines for providing comments are:
1. Provide written or verbal comment at the public scoping meetings on:
Saturday, August 13, 2016 Rainier Valley Summer Parkways Event Rainier Ave. S., between 29th Ave. S. and 42nd Ave. S. 1:00PM – 3:00PM
Saturday August 27, 2016 Ballard Summer Parkways Event Ballard Ave. NW, between NW Market St. and 22nd Ave. NW 1:00PM – 3:00PM
2. Mail written comments to the Responsible Official at the address below or email comments to [email protected]. The City must receive comments by 5:00 pm on September 9, 2016 for the comments to be considered. Responsible official: Sam Assefa, Director Office of Planning & Community Development 700 5th Ave, Suite 1900 PO Box 94788 Seattle, WA 981247088