There was an uproar when HALA proposed to rezone single family homes, as nobody is looking forward to being displaced or living in the middle of a construction zone. The fact is that even if you are supportive of low income housing, few people want to live like Edith Macefield, and many people have an attachment to their home and neighborhood that is more than fiscal.
The mayor and city council back tracked, and the Seattle Times ran triumphant stories like “Mayor Murray withdraws proposal to allow more density in single-family zones” and Danny Westneat declared victory. Other news outlets then echoed the sentiments, with the Stranger howling in disgust.
That left people thinking that single family upzones were off the table for HALA, but that’s not the case at all. Upzoning single family to low rise multifamily (condos, apartments, town homes) is still planned inside urban villages (recommendation MF3) and possibly along arterials (MF4). Further, Low Rise Multifamily is also planned to be changed to favor apartments and condos over town homes (MF6). See pages 22 and 23 of the HALA report for more detail.
In other words, Wallingford is going to be impacted by HALA to a great extent, as we have a lot of bus routes and a very large “residential urban village”. Upzone boundaries are unclear- If you’re in the urban village (colored areas on the left map below) then you’re definitely in the upzone target area (source: Seattle 2035 multifamily housing maps). If you’re in the purple area on the map on the right then you’re at risk, particularly in Fremont where urban village enlargement is proposed (source: HALA rezone map):
It’s also worth noting that Wallingford already has a lot of capacity for new buildings with higher density, particularly along 45th. Some landlords, such as the owner of the building with Murphy’s and Mejara, are holding out for the higher height limits HALA will allow before redeveloping. According to the WCC land use committee, these property owners are seeking 6 stories of condos, whereas current zoning is mostly limited to 4 stories along 45th street.
For background, here is the current generalized zoning map for Wallingford, which mostly dates back to our 1998 neighborhood plan:
I spoke with Esther Handy, O’Brien’s representative, to verify the facts in this article and to get a timeline for HALA adoption. This is crazy complicated legislation that’s been partially withdrawn and left a muddle, so some aspects like whether the mayor withdrew the arterial upzone recommendation aren’t even clear to them.
The most consequential parts of HALA for single family are in the timeline section entitled “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing & Mitigation for Commercial Development”, including:
- Zoning changes allowing approximately one additional story in all zones that allow multi-family development
- Rezones of single family areas within urban villages to residential small lot or a Lowrise zone
- Activating the mandatory inclusionary housing/ commercial mitigation programs
The plan is for the rezone to be discussed next year, with the groundwork being laid now. Here is the timeline for zoning changes:
|Mandatory Inclusionary Housing & Mitigation for Commercial Development||Dates|
|EIS structure & consultant selection||9/2015 – 11/2015|
|EIS evaluation including impacts, urban design, massing etc.||12/2015 – 12/2016|
|Community review and engagement||10/2015 – 3/2017|
|Draft and refine zoning code changes:
||9/2016 – 6/2017|
|City Council review and action (Packages of rezones by zone category or geography are expected)||3/2017 – 9/2017|
Clearly Seattle is in a housing crunch, and it is desirable to have more affordable housing. How that should be accomplished is the key question. We are sympathetic to certain ADU / DADU changes being made in HALA- incentive zoning that puts more people in the existing zoning envelope while demanding affordable rents is a good thing, as can be more town homes and other forms of living smaller. Portland is leading the way there as they always do (see greenways), for instance by waving fees for ADU permits.
On the flip side, HALA is also packed full of developer giveaways in neighborhoods like ours while asking nothing of the neighborhoods with the lowest walk scores and largest home lots (single family 9600). That means that if you live near the coast in places like Magnolia, Laurelhust, or Wedgewood then HALA leaves your car-centric neighborhood completely untouched.
What HALA could have done was go into neighborhoods that were car-centric and look to convert them into walkable neighborhoods like Wallingford. That would mean splitting lots larger than 5000 square feet, creating new urban villages in areas where it is not possible to walk to amenities, creating bus lines that would network urban villages, and building out bike and pedestrian infrastructure in those places.
None of those ideas were touched on by HALA. Instead, HALA is looking to concentrate all development in already walkable places like Wallingford. Here are two maps of Seattle- walk scores on the left (green is more walkable), HALA residential upzone areas on the right. All the green, walkable areas are what are being targeted for redevelopment:
Seattle used to be considered a great city as it had modest bungalows on little lots that the middle class could afford. Seattle was a city of neighborhoods. That legacy could be embraced if HALA looked to create more neighborhoods like Wallingford.
Instead, HALA is being set up to convert the city into a place where the ultra-rich live in mansions on the coast with multi-car garages, and everyone else is packed into condominiums along transit lines. That’s the vision of 26 developers and low income housing advocates that Murray appointed to write HALA, but is that really the vision we want for the city?
Mike O‘Brien‘s office was very helpful in providing information for this article, so I wanted to give them a chance to respond. Here is Mike O’Brien’s statement:
The City’s comprehensive plan sets the framework for guiding growth and development in the City. Seattle has adopted an Urban Village Strategy which plans for most of the new growth to occur in designated urban villages like Wallingford. Those villages, by design, are the City’s most walkable and service-rich areas, with access to transit. This strategy allows the city to create great places and cost-effectively provide transportation and other services where there is a concentration of housing and/or jobs.
The HALA recommendations build off the City’s urban village strategy to advance affordability and accommodate additional growth. As Eric notes, over the next two years, the City will look at single family zoning inside urban villages to determine where there are opportunities to add density. The City expects to convert approximately 6 percent of the single family zones across the city to multi-family zoning, in order to implement the new mandatory inclusionary housing program. All new development in these new multi-family zones will have an affordability requirement and collectively, the program will create 6,000 new affordable housing units in new development over ten years.
The City is planning to engage all neighborhoods in 2016, including Wallingford, to determine the scope and specifics of these potential zoning changes. We want to hear your input about how Wallingford can best welcome new people into your neighborhood. No zoning changes will come before the Council until 2017. I expect each neighborhood will have unique approaches to how they want to manage growth in their urban village and our process will be designed so that communities have meaningful input on how they grow.
Wallingford is a great, walkable neighborhood that we hope will continue to grow so that more new neighbors can access the services and amenities of there. I look forward to this conversation with your neighborhood in the coming year.