As reported on this site over the weekend (article here), the City has released the draft zoning map for the Wallingford urban village. Many Wallingford residents knew the zoning changes were coming and over the last six months there has been a good deal of discussion, debate, and push back on the City from pockets within the Wallingford community. The major focus of that Wallingford community response so far (some of which has happened on this site) has been to argue against upzoning and the concessions given to developers and for protecting the single-family residences and the character of the community. These arguments, for the most part, have created factions of pro-density and anti-density residents, pitted homeowners against renters, and painted those of us who own single family homes as elitist NIMBYs who are anti-affordability. While it is true that many of us might prefer that our lots were not rezoned for multi-family, I, for one, am not against increased density in Wallingford. I am pro-affordability. What I am against is the lack of a plan to bolster Wallingford’s infrastructure to support density. Instead of asking ourselves, how can we fight increased density, we should be asking how can we fight the lack of planning and attention to the unique circumstances of our community and the lack of interest from City Council in providing residents in Wallingford – current and future – communal resources in a growing city.
My attempts to make this argument – that Wallingford is in need of more communal resources and infrastructure to support growth – to City Council members has fallen on deaf ears. Not just deaf ears, but uninterested, disbelieving ears. Here’s why – the focus of the City’s 2035 comprehensive plan is equity – as it should be. The City is using a study – Seattle 2035 Growth and Equity – to determine what growth should look like in different neighborhoods. While I don’t claim to understand the calculus that has gone into developing this approach, I do know that the resulting analysis suggests Wallingford is one of the most well-resourced neighborhoods in the city. We are ranked as both “high access to opportunity” and “low risk of displacement.” I believe the bulk of that assessment comes from our high property values, high performing schools, and access to jobs; all of these are true, and Wallingford is, in some ways, a well-resourced and fortunate neighborhood. However, the other elements in the city’s analysis include access to transit, a library, a community center, and parks and playfields. On those elements, Wallingford falls short.
The ”high access to opportunity” categorization means the city thinks that all Wallingford needs to be an exemplary urban village is to become more affordable and accessible to a broader range of residents. Therefore, the plan for Wallingford as an urban village fails to come with any concurrent planning for how new and existing residents will be served by the already over-crowded schools, parks, libraries, and roads in our urban village. While the title of HALA includes both Affordability and Livability, in Wallingford, at least, livability is a non-issue for the City Council. Here are the reasons we should be concerned about that for ourselves as residents and for the new residents who will live in the urban village:
- We are the ONLY neighborhood in Seattle without sufficient access to a community center. According to the Seattle Parks and Recreation 2016 Community Center Plan, “A community center should be located within one mile of every Seattle household; and/or one full-service center to serve a residential population of 15,000-20,000 people. Each Urban Center of the City is to be served by a community center” (SPR Plan, 2016, p. 44). The plan goes on to say that “In 2016, the most significant gap is in the Wallingford neighborhood” (p. 44). So, while we are home to a middle school of 1100 and about to have a high school of approximately 1600 – both of which are smack dab in the middle of the urban village– we have very limited opportunities for recreation for our residents and those almost 3000 students. The tiny Boys and Girls Club on 45th can serve approximately 200 kids (elementary through high school) in its after school program and are just about at capacity. Community Centers around the city are strategically placed to serve neighborhoods and support the health and well-being of all its citizens including seniors, the disabled, and families with young children. Our neighborhood needs and deserves the same consideration.
- Lincoln high school, which is slated to open in 2019 was planned as if it will not be in the midst of an urban village. At a recent meeting to review the Environmental Impact Study and associated mitigation, the planners and school board member present expressed surprise that the area around the school would be heavily upzoned. This is what happens without concurrent planning. Seattle Schools has designed a high school to fit in with the population, traffic, parking, environmental, and recreational needs of the current neighborhood and yet, by the time Lincoln is completed, 100s more people will already live in the area immediately surrounding the school. The impact to both students and neighbors will be much more significant than anyone has suggested; this merits attention prior to more growth.
- More on Lincoln: part of the planning for Lincoln included the assessment that all of the high school’s athletic teams could readily use Lower Woodland fields. While, theoretically, that is a reasonable idea, the fact is that Lower Woodland has the second highest use rate in the city – currently! The average annual use-hours on a Seattle turf field is 1900; Lower Woodland is at 2400 annual use-hours. Only Jefferson Park is more used. Can the city and parks department explain how the most-used fields in the city, on which some soccer teams currently get 1/6 of a field for practice, will support hundreds more high school users along with 100s more recreational users as people populate the urban village? It is a completely unfeasible proposition that will, again, impact the health and recreational opportunities available to all the residents of the village.
- We have the second smallest library in the City. At 2,000 square feet, the Wallingford library is 1/5th the size of the libraries in other neighborhoods our size (average neighborhood library size across the city is 10,000 square feet). Located directly adjacent to the coming high school, the library could offer more excellent opportunities for after school programming and tutoring, as libraries do in other areas. However, the size and hours restrictions means that Wallingford residents cannot use this communal resource in this way. In many neighborhoods, the library also serves as a hub for community meetings, provides internet access to those who do not have it, and offers robust educational programming and support for families and residents. Wallingford – without a suitable library or community center – does not have such a hub.
- We are one of the only urban villages without a walkable neighborhood school (The UDistrict, with even more substantial proposed upzones, is another). The neighborhood school for the Wallingford urban village is BF Day, which is across Aurora Ave. Since there are no parking requirements for new housing developments in the upzone area, and one goal of City Council is to reduce the number of residents with cars, we should expect that families and children can safely walk to school (and other services). Children in Wallingford cannot safely walk to BF Day especially given new early start times and the danger of walking over and around the highway on dark and rainy mornings.
- Transit: the laughable notion that Wallingford is effectively served by transit merits an article all to itself. Suffice it to say that, yes, Wallingford is optimally positioned between Seattle’s two main North-South highways; however, the three one-lane roads that run East-West through Wallingford (50th, 45th, and 40th) do not allow buses to run separately from traffic; there is no dedicated bus or bike lane on any of these roads, and no plan for Wallingford to have light rail within the timeline of the 2035 plan. That means that as more and more people move to the area (and high school students drive and bus to the area), the bikes, buses, and the cars (it’s true – some people moving here will indeed bring cars), are stuck on the same unsafe, congested roads that they are now. SDOT, in a recent traffic study of the Route 44 bus which runs on 45th street, is seeking alternatives to address what it calls “the lack of competitiveness of transit in serving east-west cross town trips.” Even they have failed to come up with solutions that wouldn’t adversely impact the business in 45th corridor, an essential element of the urban village. You only need to spend a few minutes stuck at one of the horribly dangerous cross roads in our community (45th & Wallingford with QFC pedestrians and parking; the 40th, University bridge, Burke Gilman trail, I-5 entrance intersection; the 50th, Stone Way, Greenlake Way nightmare recently deemed the most unsafe intersection in the city by the Urbanist) or drive along Wallingford Ave. when Hamilton middle school gets out to recognize that the infrastructure does not exist to get more people in and out of the urban village safely and effectively.
This is not an exhaustive list of the concurrent issues that viable urban planning requires. It is a list of some items that Wallingford residents – homeowners or not – should be concerned about as our neighborhood is subjected to major restructuring and growth without a holistic plan and without community input. This list also points out where the city’s own planning documents contradict its categorization of Wallingford as having “high access” to the resources essential for healthy and safe urban living. Seattle – on the whole – has been extraordinarily dedicated to providing high quality community resources to residents. Its outstanding community centers, libraries, and parks are part of what makes this city a great place to live. While Wallingford residents contribute their fair share to these systems, we currently do not have the same kind of access as other residents. Even if City Council thinks that our (on average) affluence means that the people currently living in Wallingford do not need or merit improved concurrency planning and communal resources to have a vibrant urban village, perhaps they will take up these important issues of health, recreation, education, and safety – of livability! – on behalf of the 1000s of people who have moved into Wallingford in the past 5 years and the 1000s more who are coming – as students and residents – to our urban village. If a livable urban village is important to you, please contact our City Council representatives Rob Johnson ([email protected]) and Mike O’Brien ([email protected]) and let them know that more planning needs to be done before the city adopts the rezoning plan for Wallingford.