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Let’s Get Roosevelt Station Area Land Use Right

2011 May 23
by Brock Howell

< 65th and 12th, the site of a future light rail station in Seattle's Roosevelt neighborhood >

Recently, Futurewise told the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) there would be a significant impact on the environment if it did not allow more development.

You ask, “The state’s premier advocacy group for holding local governments accountable to environmental land use laws did what?”

For the average Washingtonian who probably thinks that environmentalists are always fundamentally against development, this may come as a surprise. So I think Futurewise’s recent letter to DPD regarding the Roosevelt station area merits further explanation.

First, a little background.

In 2008, the voters and taxpayers of the Puget Sound region passed “Mass Transit Now,” a ballot measure that raised billions of new taxpayer dollars to build an extension of the Sound Transit Link light rail system to the south, east, and north from the Phase I of the Link line.

Given the previous failure of the “Roads and Transit Act” in 2007, which was opposed by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, I don’t think it’s too far of stretch to conclude that voters and taxpayers approved the “Mass Transit Now” ballot measure in order to achieve a range of shared  goals, including reducing global warming pollution, providing better transit, spurring economic development, and creating livable neighborhoods.

Through the 2008 transit-only measure, the region’s taxpayers chose to invest $1.4 billion in the north-end corridor that connects Downtown Seattle to Northgate with three stops: the University District, the Roosevelt neighborhood at 12th Ave and 65th St, and Northgate. In anticipation of light rail, a station area upzone process was conducted for the Roosevelt station area, and recently DPD had to decide whether the proposed upzone would have a significant impact on the environment.

Unfortunately, from Futurewise’s perspective, DPD  said the upzone wouldn’t. I say unfortunately because the planned upzone is inadequate for achieving the regional taxpayers’ goals and vision for the Link light rail and their accompanying station areas.

In a time of constrained public budgets, it’s imperative that we maximize every dollar spent for our common goals and vision. For our region, the goals that rise to the top include addressing climate change, saving local farms and forests from sprawl, protecting clean water, expanding more transportation choices, providing more housing opportunities, and building vibrant, walkable neighborhoods in which small businesses can flourish. If we do the planning correctly now, the Roosevelt neighborhood can easily be part of that vision.

Transit investments are leveraged most effectively when combined with opportunities for more people to live, work, and meet their daily needs within close proximity to stations. To a large degree because of the investment in the Link light rail, the Seattle Planning Commission’s recent Transit Communities Report identified many of the neighborhoods along the north-end alignment as ideal for more development and infrastructure.

But in some areas as close as one block from the Roosevelt light rail station, the proposed upzone would constrain the developable capacity to single-family zoning.  And much of the commercial zoning within a 5-minute walk of the station would be limited to 40 feet in height. These constraints would lead to a major wasted opportunity to help solve our region’s biggest environmental problems.

It is critical that Seattle planners and elected officials thoughtfully evaluate all land use decisions in future station areas. That’s why Futurewise asked DPD to reconsider its initial finding that the rezone to the station area would not have a significant impact on the environment, and to instead undertake a comprehensive station-area planning effort as a high priority to ensure our communities continue to grow into thriving, high-value neighborhoods that benefit the immediate community, Seattle, and the region.

As light rail is built out, station areas like Roosevelt will offer unmatched opportunities for achieve the region’s goals and vision. Seattle must not hinder our capacity to achieve the region’s desire for more people to enjoy a higher quality of life with more home, business, job, and transit choices.


Brock Howell is the King County Program Director for Futurewise, a statewide public interest group working to promote healthy communities and cities while protecting farmland, forests and shorelines today and for future generations.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. JoshMahar permalink
    May 24, 2011

    I don’t disagree with your assessment but I think a good chunk of the responsibility lies with Sound Transit as well. I’ve been in Seattle for nearly a decade and there has been absolutely no indication that the SFH areas around Roosevelt and 65th would be open to density increases. I have a hard time believing that Sound Transit and other planners didn’t know that when they decided to route link there.

    I think the same could be said for Central Link and it’s undoubtedly part of the reason for the underwhelming ridership.

    It’s a systemic problem with ST planning. Rather than trying to force changes in a community after already giving them major investments, we should be allocating infrastructure resources to places that already ensure a more efficient return due to density and urban-ness (ie. ballard, fremont, greenlake, west seattle, central district, white center).

  2. Dan McGrady permalink
    May 24, 2011

    Here is the letter that Leadership for Great Neighborhood sent to DPD and elected officials requesting them to get it right in Roosevelt. Right on Brock and FutureWise.

    May 12, 2011

    Geoffrey Wentlandt
    City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development
    700 Fifth Ave.
    P.O. Box 34019
    Seattle, WA 98124-4019

    RE: DPD’s Roosevelt Rezone Proposal

    Dear Geoffrey,

    On behalf of Leadership for Great Neighborhoods (LGN),we would like to comment on the SEPA Determination of Nonsignificance issued by DPD regarding DPD’s rezone proposal in the Roosevelt neighborhood. As you may know, LGN encourages support for vibrant, urban communities that provide the most benefits for the greatest number of people. LGN is committed to ensuring Seattle establishes policies to promote sustainable, urban neighborhoods. Specifically, we encourage thoughtful land use decisions that complement the region’s substantial investment in fixed-rail, public transit. It is well documented that having the right blend of land use and transit investments is critical for creating walkable and bikeable communities, that improve the health of people, the planet and our city as a whole.

    Over the next decade, Sound Transit will be spending $1.4 billion dollars to extend Link Light Rail from the University of Washington through Roosevelt to Northgate. Recently, the Seattle Planning Commission released the Transit Communities Report and identified many of the neighborhoods along the North Link alignment as ideal places for increased public and private investment in housing, neighborhood necessities like parks and community centers, and new businesses in large part because of this investment.

    It is imperative that Seattle planners and elected officials thoughtfully evaluate all land use decisions in the future station areas to ensure that we maximize our regional transit investments. By crafting a progressive land use policy that effectively leverages our forward-looking transportation investments, we can be sure that we are creating opportunities for more people to live within close proximity to these future stations. We must couple this region’s significant investment in public transit with a similar commitment to investing in smart land use decisions. In this way, we will ensure that the public’s dollar is maximized, and that light rail successfully contributes to the creation of walkable and bikable urban communities.

    We encourage the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to take a step back and reconsider the issuance of the DNS, largely because the significance of the current proposal is one of a profound opportunity lost. We believe DPD has not fully considered the long-term land use impacts related to this rezone, which, surprisingly, allows single-family zoning to occur within one block of the light rail station. We understand that the City is facing constrained resources, but we ask DPD to undertake a robust, thoughtful comprehensive station-area planning effort so that the community-driven discussions around what we want this place to be can be fully explored. This planning should be a high priority. Areas such as the Roosevelt neighborhood witness tremendous opportunities as light rail becomes a reality. It is imperative that Seattle not pre-determine outcomes that might unnecessarily limit the opportunities for creative placemaking at these nodes without further, more comprehensive study.

    Thank you for your consideration of our comment.

    Renee A. Staton
    Chair, Neighborhood Leaders Group
    Leadership for Great Neighborhoods

    Stephen Antupit
    Member, Leadership for Great Neighborhoods
    Cowen Park neighbor of the Roosevelt station

    Michael McGinn, Mayor
    Richard Conlin, President, Seattle City Council
    Sally Bagshaw, Seattle City Council
    Tim Burgess, Seattle City Council
    Sally Clark, Seattle City Council
    Jean Godden, Seattle City Council
    Bruce Harrell, Seattle City Council
    Nick Licata, Seattle City Council
    Mike O’Brien, Seattle City Council
    Tom Rasmussen, Seattle City Council
    Diane Sugimura, Director, Department of Planning and Development
    Marshall Foster, Department of Planning and Development
    Tom Hauger, Department of Planning and Development

  3. Mark Sollitto permalink
    May 24, 2011

    I completely agree with LGN,Futurewise and Dan.

    DPD and past Councils have consistently caved to local nimby’s at the expense of achieving vibrant urban neighborhoods within walking distance of light rail stations. Restricted land use densities around Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Mt. Baker, Othello and other existing stations are sad examples of lost opportunities for smart growth. Hopefully this will change in Roosevelt.

  4. May 27, 2011

    Nimby is a nice label for communities that reject all change. Roosevelt has spent the better part of 10 years developing a plan for growth around a light rail station. When you invest in a neighborhood you should be proactive in allowing that area to expand wisely. Rewarding nonresident slum lords who hire outside developers to rape a neighborhood in the name of mass transit is criminal. Residents of Seattle’s neighborhoods should take a stand and insist on wise, well-planned growth or soon the city will have no great, livable places and the value of the light-rail will be lost.
    Not everyone wants to live in a high-rise and this kind of density is not the only way to provide for ridership on mass transit.

  5. Mark Miller permalink
    May 27, 2011

    The idea that the light rail system as currently configured is likely to affect our environment for the better is a fallacy. Look at population growth figures. Seattle’s population is now barely above that of 1960. Yet traffic has increased markedly along with pollution. Why? Commuters from the suburbs. What does light rail do for that? Essentially nothing. We aren’t even planning to add park and rides so that commuters could drive to the outskirts of the city and take public transportation into the city. And, to boot, developers are planning to have parking in their buildings. All that does is ensure that we will have more traffic locally with more people sitting in idling cars. The Roosevelt neighborhood plan is hardly nimby. It will add thousands of people within a very small radius of the transit station, and that’s assuming no further up-zoning of the nearby single family areas. Additionally, areas not officially in Roosevelt, like the eastern corners of NE 65th and 15th Ave NE, currently having a population of zero, will significantly add to housing units in the future. Serious growth in this area will happen and be welcomed by the Roosevelt and Ravenna neighborhoods under the current zoning being considered. I will welcome it provided that offstreet parking is eliminated, pedestrians and bicyclists are given plenty of room, and buildings are of reasonable size and architecturally complimentary to the 100 year old neighborhood in which they are to be built.

  6. Dave Haddock permalink
    May 27, 2011

    A really great neighborhood and planning for improving a great neighborhood needs to consider the present and the future. The Roosevelt neighborhood abuts the Ravenna neighborhood and both neighborhoods currently have a large number of single family residences. When it became clear that the light rail station would be built in the Roosevelt neighborhood, residents of both Roosevelt and Ravenna became active in preparing a new Neighborhood Plan for Roosevelt that would embrace the light rail station and add significant density to the area. This plan, that Futurewise considers so flawed, considers both the need for growth and increased density (the future), and the need for single family residences (the present). The plan increases density directly adjacent to the station and along the other primary transportation corridors in the area, Roosevelt Way and NE 65th Street. The plan considers the need to increase density adjacent to the station but also the need to ramp down building heights and density adjacent to existing single family residences. This is a well thought out, workable plan for both the present and the future. It is also a plan that respects the needs and the vision of the areas current residents. Where was Futurewise, Great Neighborhoods, Great Cities, and other naysayers when this plan was being developed??? We can have and expand Great Neighborhoods like Roosevelt and Ravenna without destroying the character and livability of our current neighborhoods. The Roosevelt Plan has been endorsed by DPD and should be approved by our city council.

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