Wednesday, April 5, 2017

LCC Comments To City Regarding Recent U District Zoning Approval And Neighborhood Advocate Weighs In

LCC's comments on the University District zoning were posted in the most recent Laurelhurst Community Club newsletter.  

City Council approved the upzoning which  includes taller building heights of 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 foot buildings in other areas of the core area.

The tall buildings, neighbors report, will be seen from areas of Laurelhurst and change forever the viewlines, as well as the eclectic neighborhood character of the University District.

In addition, 100s of existing low income and affordable housing, public open space, historic buildings and dozens of small businesses are in jeapordy with "proposed plans driven largely by large property owners and the UW,"' LCC commented.

Prior to the City Council’s recent passage of the U District upzone, LCC submitted a long comment letter outlining concerns below.  

The LCC newsletter article reported:

While much time and effort was invested into proposals for the University District’s zoning changes, additional options should have been considered. A more moderate approach could have helped retain the livability of the U District, adhered to the rules and guidelines of the Seattle Municipal Codes, and provided more than enough capacity for projected future growth.
LCC recommended Seattle City Council adopt the amendments from the City Council PLUZ committee that included:
• No changes on the “Ave” and, require that affordable housing funds be spent near developments that generated these payments.
• Amend the reporting requirements to require MHA for any high rise over 120 feet to be 10 percent of all high-rise units to create a cluster of lower-income residents, rather than just an isolated few. 
• Remove the proposal to rezone mid-rise between NE 50th and NE 52nd Streets and maintain low-rise zoning. 
• Require an implementation plan for infrastructure improvements, or a planned and paid for public open or green space, funded by a development impact fee or from the Seattle Parks District levy. If that is not embedded in the alternatives, it will never be donated by private developers.  
LCC supported the PLUZ Committee amendment to clarify that Open Space will be publicly accessible. Despite the amendments proposed, Laurelhurst Community Club suggested that City Council VOTE NO on the planned U District upzone as proposed.  
LCC recommendations included: 
• Reduce the overall development to a sustainable level that the infrastructure could accommodate. 
• Rework the transitions from the lower zoning to a more gradual plan for adding height. Gradual zoning from 65’ to a maximum of 160’, the height of Hotel Deca, would be consistent with the Seattle Municipal codes. 
• Rescale heights taking into consideration the U District’s natural elevated topography. 
• Embed open/green space for the public. 

Alex Pedersen, a Northeast Seattle neighborhood advocate,
who publishes 
monthly newsletter recently
posted this information: 

Do you recognize this bulldozer? It's hard to tell because
there are so many rumbling in Northeast Seattle these days.
(It's the one on NE 50th and Brooklyn).

Seattle leaders should prevent demolitions and displacement.
Instead, our local government officials -- led by Councilmember
Rob Johnson -- have been spending an enormous amount
of time and taxpayer resources to quickly implement polices
that will benefit their for-profit developer campaign donors and
intensify demolitions and displacement.

Councilmember Rob Johnson’s recent Op Ed entitled
“U District leads the way in citywide rezone effort” was misleading
and irresponsible. Johnson, who was elected to represent Northeast
Seattle in "District 4", was not only celebrating his efforts to enact
a law massively upzoning the U District but also giving notice
to the rest of the city that he plans to upzone their neighborhoods, too.
Disturbingly, many of his statements lauding the upzones were false.

In this troubling era of government officials spreading alternative
facts to push their agendas and confuse communities, COUNCILMEMBER

Misleading Statement #1: Rob Johnson wrote, “for the first time in
Seattle’s history we will require affordable housing as we grow.”

Reality:  The U District and other neighborhoods in Seattle already
had “Incentive Zoning” that required contributions to affordable housing
(and child care and parks) if for-profit developers wanted to build higher.
While the new mandatory approach could have been better, Johnson
blocked amendments that would have increased affordable housing
from just 9% to 10%. Without showing his math, Johnson claimed it
would hurt for-profit developers. “The Urbanist” organization pointed
out that other, bolder cities set-aside 20% for affordable housing.
Unfortunately, the upzone enacted by City Hall may actually reduce
affordable housing, as noted by the Seattle Times in their recent piece
entitled "Build-Baby-Build Frenzy Leaves Affordability in the Dust."

Misleading Statement #2: Rob Johnson wrote that the upzones
are “living our values as a welcoming, sustainable and inclusive city”

Reality:  Rob Johnson gave for-profit developers a loophole: 
they can write a check rather than housing low income people in
their buildings. Not requiring affordable housing onsite is the
opposite of inclusive.

Misleading Statement #3: Rob Johnson wrote, “We required
developers to provide more open space”

Reality: Rob Johnson dismissed an ongoing, grass-roots effort to
create a public square above the light rail station.

Misleading Statement #4: Rob Johnson wrote, “By investing in
citywide assets like...schools…we encourage more people to live
in high-amenity areas.” 

Reality:  Rob Johnson did nothing for schools. In fact, he had a
once-in-a-generation opportunity to charge developer’s Impact Fees
by which developers would finally to pay their fair share of growth
as they do throughout the country. State law specifically allows
impact fees to pay for schools, parks, and fire stations. Schools
in Northeast Seattle are bursting at the seams, but Johnson ignored
community requests for impact fees.  What Johnson did NOT 
mention in his editorial is that his election campaign was funded
richly by for-profit developers. (CLICK HERE and HERE).

Misleading Statement #5: Rob Johnson wrote that the upzones
are “contributing to stable neighborhoods, businesses, and schools”

Reality:  Borrowing the term from legendary urban thinker Jane
Jacobs (who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities,
Rob Johnson’s massive and rapid upzone is “cataclysmic” and
therefore the opposite of stable:  it will de-stabilize the neighborhoods
and the small, local businesses we cherish.  Demolishing existing
buildings to construct more expensive units that require higher rents
will push people out and economically gentrify neighborhoods.

Misleading Statement #6: Rob Johnson wrote that upzones
will “continue to lower our greenhouse gas emissions”

Reality:  Rob Johnson’s upzone is an environmental shell
game:  by pushing people of modest means out of the U
District as wealthy tech workers snatch up the expensive
new buildings, the former residents will need to commute
longer distances in their cars, thereby doing nothing to curb

Misleading Statement #7: Rob Johnson wrote "we delayed
zoning changes along a stretch of the Ave so a study on the
potential impacts on small businesses could be completed."

Reality: This "delay" was a cynical tactic to allow passage of
the larger upzone everywhere else in the neighborhood.
Because Rob Johnson is the Councilmember representing
the Ave, it's like having the "fox in the hen house". He has
shown no intention of letting any "study" stop him from
upzoning the rest of the Ave to benefit his developer donors.
It seem he and the bureaucracy are simply waiting out the
neighborhood, hoping they tire of fighting City Hall. Fortunately,
there is a growing movement to Save the Ave (see end of this

Misleading Statement #8: Rob Johnson wrote, “This
legislation includes changes made in direct response to feedback”

Reality: As shown above, Rob Johnson constantly ignored
feedback from community members.  In fact, he shoved
several more blocks into the upzone at the last minute,
ignoring pleas to preserve the affordable housing there.

Sadly, Rob Johnson stooped to a new low by comparing
concerned communities to Trump for challenging his bulldozer
approach to city planning.  Reality: The people in the neighborhoods
wanted more affordable housing whereas Johnson pushed for less.  

We expect our government officials to listen and lead, not to spout
misinformation and mislead. Thankfully, residents are not letting the
U District upzone get them down and are still turning up the volume
on City Hall.

What can you do?  Engage. Fight Back. City Hall is coming to
develop your neighborhood whether you like it or not. Why? Because
most of City Hall is representing the moneyed-interests, not the
public interest. While they complain about "wealthy" homeowners
(many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes), our elected officials 
take money and direction from local billionaires.

Save the Ave:  There is a new and growing effort to
preserve the funky, small businesses on The Ave
(University Way NE).
  • For the small businesses devoted to preserving
the Ave, CLICK HERE.

Support Councilmember Lisa Herbold: Make the 1% pay
more than 2% !! Make downtown developers pay their fair
share for the cost of growth and congestion.
Write today to reach all 9 City
Councilmembers. Ask them to support Lisa Herbold's amendments
to increase the affordable housing obligations for developers in
downtown and South Lake Union. Since Rob Johnson blocked
neighborhood requests to increase affordability in the U District,
making the Council increase affordability for downtown will set a
better precedent as City Hall plots to redevelop other neighborhoods.

Need Inspiration?  For news footage of neighbors banding together
recently to protest City Hall's top-down,
pro-developer policies, CLICK HERE.

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