Seattle neighborhoods for sale?
By Jean Godden
Quick question: What's the difference between Seattle and Portland? One of the biggest contrasts between the two cities is that Seattle has distinct neighborhoods whereas Portland is more homogeneous -- one quadrant pretty much resembles another.
Not so in the Emerald City. Official records list 127 individual Seattle neighborhoods, although their boundaries are fluid and districts within a larger neighborhood like Ballard blend into one another and overlap. Still they are iconic: you wouldn't mistake Seward Park for Greenwood or Sunset Hill for Columbia City.
One-of-a-kind Seattle neighborhoods -- pleasant, leafy-green family-oriented communities -- contribute to the city being repeatedly named "most livable," "best city to raise a family" and "best city for moms." Seattle's neighborhood movement coupled with strong citizen participation and attention to neighborhood planning has long been a large factor in Seattle's attraction.
However, those very distinctions may be threatened by a strong development push at Seattle City Hall. The city appears to be moving headlong into wholesale zoning changes, intent on carving away at Seattle neighborhoods, increasing height and density. There's a push to extend Seattle's mandatory housing allowance (MHA) program from high-growth zones like downtown into the rest of the city.
The MHA program, a behind-closed-door bargain struck between developers, business interests and the former mayor, requires developers to provide affordable units in new buildings or pay a fee. In exchange, developers can build taller, more dense buildings and waive parking requirements. But now those upzones aren't just happening in urban villages and urban centers they also are moving into single family neighborhoods.
This pell-mell push for higher, broader, more dense development is occurring, even though the city's growth plan indicates the city has capacity for growth without extensive upzones. Such upzones would be a windfall for developers, giving them an irresistible shot at cheaper land.
Aside from doubts over how much the MHA program is adding to the city's stock of affordable housing, there also is concern for the plight of Seattle's neighborhoods. There already is a tendency to disparage neighborhoods. Density promoters like to proclaim that single family zoning occupies 65 percent of the city's landmass. That's disputed by neighborhood defenders who say that, when you count land used for streets, parks and other amenities, single family zoning accounts for only 35 percent. Truth lies somewhere between.
Beyond that, neighborhood defenders themselves are demonized as NIMBYs -- Not-in-my-neighborhood. Apple pie and motherhood used to be prized. Nowadays defenders of places where one can raise a family are disparaged as selfish, venal, even racist. Better, by far, say density promoters, to build studios, one-bedroom apartments and kitchenless dorms.
Meanwhile, there are other plans afoot at City Hall that would virtually triplex the city, eliminating the need for owner-occupancy and allowing both mother-in-law apartments and unattached accessory units on a single lot. Further talks are underway that could allow speculators to negotiate land use leases and intensify development.
The density push has been fast tracked. A public hearing on the massive rezones is set for Feb. 21. A preliminary council vote is scheduled for Feb. 25 and a final vote is expected March 18.
There is a feeling of inevitability, particularly since several councilmembers are not seeking a new term and may feel less constrained. This could be the year when the forces of density, flush over run-away construction throughout the city, will succeed in pushing for more construction, targeting backyards and setbacks, chopping into Seattle neighborhoods and displacing long-time homeowners.
These distinct neighborhoods -- think Highland Park, Gatewood and Loyal Heights for example -- are among this city's greatest assets. They have drawn people to this city. It is time for careful consideration before making radical changes. The truth is that once neighborhoods are gone, there will be no bringing them back.
Former Councilmember Godden is decrying the ‘fast track’ MHA is on, but the proposal debuted when she was on the Council 4 YEARS AGO!
She might also recall that the ‘A’ in MHA stands for Affordability not ‘allowance.’
When this proposal was introduced, it looked totally different, didnt guarantee parcel upzones IN ADDITION TO density bonuses, and IMPACT FEES were attached.
What the MHA proposal has evolved into since then is just a massive developer giveaway, a shadow of what it should be.
This is deregulation of development. Trump 101.
Hidden inside the MHA proposal are changes to land use code, and Seattle's comprehensive plan.
These changes affect land use, building standards, tree protection, and they strip communities of the ability to plan for themselves.
This isnt just one upzone event. It changes when and how communities can be upzoned in the future. Tell the council to VOTE NO.
Get yourself on the public record, protect your rights.