By Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times
Published on February 8, 2019
View original article.
City Council Wades Into Debate - Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González, who represent the city at-large, spoke out against attempts by certain district-based council members to scale back upzones proposed for some blocks of single-family houses.
Excerpt: Small-business owners and their supporters, meanwhile, are pleading with the council to remove University Way Northeast from the plan, saying upzones would lead to displacement on the quirky street known as "The Ave."
Some potential battle lines were drawn Friday as Seattle City Council members debated trimming a plan to allow denser construction in the hearts of 27 neighborhoods while imposing affordable-housing requirements on developers.
Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González, who represent the city at large, spoke out against attempts by certain district-based council members to reduce upzones proposed for some blocks of single-family houses.
“This is a moment in time and a unique opportunity for the city to be bold … around increasing density,” González said as the council debated the plan in committee.
The upzones plan would allow developers to build one or several stories higher in neighborhood nodes already zoned for apartments and along commercial corridors while also loosening restrictions on nearby blocks now reserved for single-family houses. As currently proposed, it would affect only about 6 percent of Seattle’s single-family lots, according to the city.
Proponents such as the Martin Luther King County Labor Council predict the plan would generate thousands of desperately needed affordable apartments while opening up more of the city to people who can’t afford pricey, detached houses. Foes say they doubt that and argue upzones can goose demolitions of older rentals. Some opponents associated with neighborhood groups have raised concerns about tree-canopy loss, parking and gentrification but recently lost a legal challenge.
Small-business owners and their supporters, meanwhile, are pleading with the council to remove University Way Northeast from the plan, saying upzones would lead to displacement on the quirky street known as “The Ave.”
Friday was the first chance for Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Rob Johnson and Mike O’Brien to pitch amendments that would scale back upzones proposed for certain areas in the districts they represent.
They said converting a number of single-family blocks in West Seattle Junction, Wallingford and Crown Hill to residential small-lot zones rather than to low-rise zones would result in gentler changes that would be better received by existing homeowners.
Residential small-lot zones allow more units per building and per lot than single-family zones. Low-rise zones, in turn, allow more density than residential small-lot zones.
“I appreciate the folks in the city and in my district who are embracing [residential small-lot zones],” Herbold said, describing her amendments as limited tweaks. “We’re underestimating how big a culture shift that is.”
Joined at one point by Councilmember Debora Juarez, Mosqueda and González raised objections, saying the amendments would cause fewer units of affordable and market-rate housing to be constructed.
Under Seattle’s plan, the upzones would trigger a Mandatory Housing Affordability policy requiring developers to include some rent-restricted apartments in their projects or pay fees to fund the construction of such units for low-income households elsewhere.
“Reduced capacity means reduced numbers of people being able to live in that neighborhood,” Mosqueda said.
Herbold said her West Seattle Junction amendments would have very little impact on the production of affordable housing.
Mosqueda and González were more receptive to attempts by Council President Bruce Harrell and Johnson to remove from the plan blocks where portions of the recently designated Mount Baker and Ravenna-Cowen Park federal historic districts are in line to be upzoned.
Many neighborhoods set to be upzoned, such as Lake City, South Park, Georgetown and Magnolia, aren’t yet the subject of any amendments. Resident Patricia Valentine urged the council Friday to reconsider changes set for the Central District.
The council intends to take an initial vote on the plan in committee Feb. 25. Before that, staff hope to calculate how many fewer affordable-housing units might be generated were the council to approve the various amendments. A public hearing on the upzones has been scheduled for Feb. 21 at City Hall.
The upzones plan would require developers to devote 5 percent to 11 percent of their projects to affordable apartments or pay $5 to $32.75 per square foot in fees. It was initially proposed in 2015, under then-Mayor Ed Murray.
Mandatory Housing Affordability upzones already have occurred in the University District, downtown, Lower Queen Anne, the Chinatown International District and parts of the Central District.
In 2017, small-business owners and their allies persuaded the council to exempt The Ave from the U District’s upzone. The owners of neighborhood stalwarts like Bulldog News and Big Time Brewery asked the council Friday to again spare the street.
Where Seattle’s upzones would take placeThe Seattle City Council is considering legislation that would make changes in 27 urban villages and some other areas while imposing new requirements on developers to help create affordable housing. The changes would occur across various density levels. Most land now zoned exclusively for single-family homes would not be affected.
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