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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.