(Wallyhood welcomes Jack McLaughlin as writer and editor.)
I was fortunate to go shopping up at the QFC last Monday. I normally consider myself indifferent to the task and exact location of my shopping, but I ran into Max who was distributing flyers encouraging interested neighbors to attend the HALA Community Conversation taking place at the Hamilton School on Wednesday (March 30). I had heard rumblings about this, and Max’s flyer provided the additional incentive I needed to attend.
Since the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee issued its report in July of last year, articles and discussions have consumed quite a few bits here on the ol’ blog. Readers as forgetful as me will want to refer back to this article from last October. (Closely related are proposed changes to Seattle 2035, a comprehensive, city-wide development plan, which we wrote about here in November.) While I won’t rehash all the elements of HALA here, suffice to say that the idea is to make housing more affordable in the city by increasing supply. Since there are no plans to annex Shoreline or Renton, the city must become more dense, and therein lies the rub.
The meeting opened with an opportunity to peruse some posters and pick up some handouts describing HALA’s goals, strategies and timeline. (A sample appears as the cover photo for this story, but much, much more of this material is available on HALA’s website.) These materials gave more of a general flavor of the effect HALA might have city-wide with no real specifics on how those changes would manifest themselves here in Wallingford. Ultimately, about 150 people turned up at Hamilton. I would say the mood of most in the crowd was certainly not of opposition to the possible changes, but interest in what those changes may be and apprehension that the concerns of those in the neighborhoods may be left out of the process. While milling about, I ran into one of my “blockmates,” and was able to debrief her on all the latest news about my cats. As exciting as this must have been for her, we did eventually move to a table for the final phases of the meeting.
Jesseca Brand, Strategic Advisor for the city’s HALA effort, gave a presentation briefly describing HALA and what led up to the Wednesday meeting. In July of 2015, the 28-member HALA committee set up by the city issued its report containing over 60 recommendations for improving housing affordability mainly through increased density. While Ms. Brand described this committee as “broad-based,” some in the crowd objected to this characterization saying that the committee lacked sufficient neighborhood representation. Brand conceded that, in any case, the report was not exactly well received, and that has led to a series of Community Conversations, meetings in the neighborhoods intended to get the word out about HALA and gather feedback. These will take place over the period Fall 2015 through the start of 2017 with the city council set to act on the HALA recommendations as early as September, 2017.
The next presentation was given by Rick Mohler a professor in the UW Architecture Department whose students have been at work envisioning how density could be increased in Wallingford in a tasteful and efficient way. As it turns out, Rick is actually one of us, a Wallingford resident. Rick went through, rather quickly, the results of quite a few of the student projects showing artist concepts of how new constructions might look right in our neighborhood. (The images actually show these new housing units in recognizable parts of the neighborhood such as along Stone Way.) Depicted were images of various types of “edge housing,” i.e. housing along arterials, park edges and industrial zone borders – all areas potentially slated for additional development under HALA. Also shown were several concepts for connecting detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs) and ADUs within the same block in such a way as to allow for green space and even mid-block foot and bike paths. I was particularly interested in a map that showed all the parking lots (city-wide), leading one to wonder if, in this day and age, those were really a good use of space. An extended version of Mohler’s talk is available here.
The Community Conversation concluded with a break out session in which several staff from the neighborhoods department sat down at tables with residents to list concerns on flip charts. There were some objections voiced that this process would prevent folks from learning what went on at other tables, but Ms. Brand responded that the information from the flip charts would be consolidated later and published in the HALA newsletter. In the interests of doing my neighbors a solid, I wandered around to all the tables, and noted these particularly interesting or recurring themes:
- Will parking become a problem in the neighborhood?
- How will lifting the residency requirement for ADUs and DADUs impact lot size?
- Would new constructions actually be affordable?
- Where do developer fees actually get spent? In the neighborhood of the development?
- We want to know more about developer fees!
- Can our infrastructure (sewers, roads, etc.) support increased density?
- Will design review be adequate to assure that neighborhoods retain their quality and desirability?
- Do we even need upzoning or is there sufficient buildable capacity right now?
- Does HALA offer any guarantees that housing will be affordable?
- How would upzoning affect property taxes?
- How will HALA affect families?
And so with that, I called it a wrap, and headed back to the cats.
Folks interested in helping to shape a Wallingford neighborhood response can do so by working with the Wallingford Community Council’s WallHALA working group. A list of proposed changes by the city to zoning and other building and land use regulations that might impact the Wallingford Urban Village area were posted here on Wallyhood by WCC last January. I stopped by their meeting on Tuesday night at the Good Shepherd Center. WallHALA has formed breakout groups to help divvy the work up into manageable pieces: Engagement, Research, Communication, Alternative Plans and HALA-related activities in Other Neighborhoods. Their next meeting is April 13, and more information is available on the WCC’s website.