Wednesday, February 22, 2017

City Council Passes University District Upzone

Yesterday Seattle City Council voted unanimously to adopt the University District upzone, which could increase building heights to up to 320 feet (32 stories), plus another 15' for mechanicals.

The affected area is the main University District core (15th  Avenue NE to the freeway and 41st to NE 50th Street) and potentially 240' buildings in other areas of the core area.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold issued this statement after Council’s adoption of the University District MHA Rezone:
As I considered the U District Rezone and the new MHA requirements, my top priority was insuring that the new requirements to contribute to affordable housing were adequate to meet the need.  The historic new requirements in MHA help but I’m concerned that they aren’t robust enough to both expand housing opportunities for people who move to our City and to prevent displacement of low-income residents who make the University District their home today. 
Displacement prevention is the reason I pursued an amendment to increase affordable housing requirements for developers in new U District highrises and why I proposed a resolution to evaluate the risk of displacement in residential zones in neighborhoods slated for area-wide rezones next year. 
The Displacement Risk Analysis for the University District Rezone proved insufficient to allow the Council to consider new and additional strategies to more fully mitigate displacement.  This newly adopted resolution seeks a more thorough evaluation of residential displacement from increases in development capacity.   
We want people of diverse incomes to be able to stay in our City while making room for others to move here.  Moving forward, I’m hopeful we can improve affordability and opportunity in neighborhoods for both.

Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle), Chair of the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee, issued this statement: 
Today’s passage of the University District Upzone represents a huge step in living our values as a welcoming, sustainable, and inclusive city.
These zoning changes are the first to enact our Mandatory Housing Affordability program, requiring all new multifamily and commercial buildings include affordable housing units or make a payment in lieu to support the City’s construction of affordable homes.   
By taking this action today, we support the growth in the neighborhood with a number of investments and programs that have been identified by the community as priorities to result in a more vibrant, equitable neighborhood for all who live and work in the area.   
The passage of this legislation culminates a 5-year process in which city staff engaged with people who live, study, and work in the U District; this legislation includes changes we made in direct response to the concerns and opportunities we heard, and for that type of responsiveness, I am especially proud. For example, we delayed zoning changes along a stretch of the Ave so a study on the potential impacts on small businesses could be completed. We provided additional incentives to designate and preserve landmark structures in residential areas of the U District. And we created incentives for more family-sized units to ensure families continue to have a place in the U District. 
I would like to thank all of the folks who have come out to testify, wrote emails, or called, and I would like to thank the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee members for all of their hard work on this bill.

The Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) said prior to yesterday's vote:
Housing advocates and resident organizations from the U District strongly urge the public to attend and speak against the City’s proposed plans.  Within “ground zero” of the area of the upzone there are over 1500 units of existing low income and affordable housing (go here  for inventory), historic buildings and dozens of small businesses which are in jeapordy (go here for letter from small businesses placed at risk and opposing these upzones) by proposed plans driven largely by large property owners and the UW.
The old Safeco Building, now owned by UW, is 340 feet high, and some development plans include copying those heights along the highest part of the UDistrict, of which some would be taller than any South Lake Union buildings.  The natural views of the beautiful Olympic Mountains will be blocked out forever by these concrete rectangles along the "new" skyline, not to mention the creation of a dense and darker streetlife in this old neighborhood. 
Numerous other issues are at stake with the proposal, such as displacing existing housing with "new and taller" which means "more expensive", and lots of folks cannot afford it, nor want to live in such tall buildings. It forces a lifestyle change in the entire district which has the diversity of many smaller, locally owned businesses.
The gradual upzone should be allowed, but permitting silos of concrete is not the right scale for the diverse fabric and livability of the U District The only infrastructure improvement offered is for impacts on transportation is the LIght Rail system with its 2 or 3 cars, in a corridor that only runs north and south. Not much else is guaranteed by any developer. And those who talked about living there with families are out of luck-no larger units offered, and there is no operating public school. and there is no green space planned in area that already has a parkland deficit.
Go here for more information. 

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