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Roosevelt Environmental Benefits Statement

2011 May 24
by dan bertolet

Since last summer my employer, the integrated design firm GGLO, has been a consultant to the Roosevelt Development Group on their plans to redevelop properties near the future LINK light rail station in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood. As part of this work we developed a new tool for promoting sustainable development called an Environmental Benefits Statement (EBS).

The Roosevelt EBS was intended to be a resource for informing the ongoing debate over upzones in the Roosevelt station area (background here and here), and I encourage people to download the full document.


In general, the purpose of an EBS is to articulate the wide range of economic, social and environmental benefits that can be provided by thoughtful development. Unfortunately, the controversy that often swirls around proposed development has a tendency to overshadow the potential benefits. Furthermore, large-scale development projects usually require an Environmental Impact Statement, a document that tends to frame the public debate in terms of the potential negative impacts.

An EBS helps balance the discussion by focusing on the positive; it elucidates the full range of economic, social, and environmental benefits that responsible development can provide; and it holistically focuses appropriate attention on all there is to be gained—at the neighborhood, city-wide, and regional scales.

As described in the Roosevelt EBS, the impacts of land use decisions around the future Roosevelt light rail station extend far beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood. At the same time, there is an opportunity for well-designed development to result in a win-win for the neighborhood and for the greater region.

The critical enabling component in all this is zoning that allows enough height and density to fully leverage the benefits offered by the transit investment. And while the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association’s upzone proposal currently being assessed by City planners is a step in the right direction, it is not enough. And if you want to know why, it is all spelled out in the Roosevelt EBS.

Lastly, if you think this is important and have an opinion, please email your comments to city planners Shelley Bolser ( and Geoffrey Wendtlandt ( at Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development. Your comments matter.


20 Responses leave one →
  1. Dan Staley permalink
    May 24, 2011

    Dan’l is this a tool or simply a resource? What exists in this plan that allows manipulation of something into something new or to do a particular function?

    And how does greater density reduce impervious in a sub-basin?!?

    Compact development also reduces impervious surface
    (on a per capita basis), which helps mitigate stormwater
    runoff and reduce the delivery of toxic chemicals to local
    water bodies. Less driving also means less runoff pollution
    from streets

    It is important to present information at proper scale. Greater density in a sub-basin requires much mitigation, which requires green and gray infrastructure, which has a cost.

    Nevertheless, despite that basic flaw, a good read.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      May 24, 2011

      Sorry DS, I’m not following your objection. If you put more people into a building with a given footprint, you reduce per capita impervious surface.

      Mitigation of what? And please elaborate about the significance of being in a sub basin.

      Are you saying that it is a BAD IDEA to increase density in a sub-basin because of the cost of mitigation? Spit it out, man!

      • Dan Staley permalink
        May 24, 2011

        Dan’l, it is the wrong scale. Using per capita is effectively hiding the fact that impervious surface area is increasing in that particular sub-basin and therefore decreasing WQ in that sub-basin; it is true that maybe someone will choose to live there rather than in rural KingCo, and that area will have less impact from that choice.

        It masks the impacts to frame it in this way. Density does not increase WQ without increased mitigation costs. This is why green roofs are so important – to try to lessen the impact of all that impervious on WQ.

        It doesn’t matter how many capitas you have in a basin or sub-basin if it is 80-90% impervious. That will have negative impacts on WQ – you can’t per-capita that away. That need to be mitigated to maintain WQ and to lessen the impact on the CSO system. Sure, increased density may take a few people away from a neighborhood in outer KingCo or PierceCo and those few capitas will not degrade the WQ in, say, Black Diamond or Lakewood.

        But the real impacts are in the future, for those who choose to live in such density. Those capitas may lessen the impact of water quality by not living in, say, Parkland and instead find the choice of density to be better.

  2. Josh Mahar permalink
    May 24, 2011

    This is a great tool. At the very least it tries to quantify some of the real benefits of TOC communities and allows us to compare them.

    But again, it seems like it would be much more effective if this were used as a guide for choosing where we put infrastructure investments rather than trying to implement these principles afterward.

    It seems logical to me, these households just received a $120,000 investment each. For every new household, that total goes down. So not a big incentive for them to support density increases.

  3. May 24, 2011

    Having lived in Europe for half my life, I feel really connected to the density issue. What I’m not connected to, is this notion that we have to cram XXXX amount of bodies in a quarter mile of a proposed transit stop to maximize ridership. It would be much more appropriate to have several blocks of 40-70′ buildings a la Copenhagen, Freiburg, Paris, Amsterdam. Malmo and Vauban offer real-world relevant examples of a transit appropriate density w/ open space outside an urban core.

    Having utilized effective and efficient transit systems long before I moved to Seattle, I know there are ways to maximize transit usage without ruining the existing scale of a neighborhood. The RDG’s effort to upzone Roosevelt to levels applicable for a downtown core are ridiculous and inappropriate. I seriously hope the city doesn’t buckle for this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to ruin Roosevelt.

    This report isn’t so much a resource for informing debate, as it is a watered down series of talking points prepared for a developer that wants to run roughshod over the neighborhood. (Prepared… for the Roosevelt Development Group, instead of prepared for the Roosevelt neighborhood)

    Just a few observations…
    I don’t know any households in Roosevelt (including a handful with commutes to the east side) that pay over $10,000 per year in transportation costs (unless you count airfare). This stat feels bogus to me.

    Several “findings” in the “report” are extremely misleading or even false, skewed to make RDG’s TOC-centric position look rather favorable & justified while ignoring existing neighborhood scale and residents desires to not end up looking like Northgate. Dressing it all up in a “TOC is greener” cloak just makes it worse. For example, if RDG were progressive and built all lots as living building challenge/passivhaus buildings to the existing zoning, they’d be far more environmentally beneficial than the boxy blights that will inevitably be constructed. So claiming that building 80-120’+ buildings is somehow greener is just not true.

    “Consequently, upzones in the station area will be necessary to reach densities appropriate for a TOC”
    It’s not necessary to have ‘TOC appropriate densities’, so upzones obviously aren’t necessary.

    “The combination of existing low density buildings and limited development capacity allowed by zoning in the Roosevelt station can be expected to place a suboptimum limitation on ridership.”
    Sub-optimum by whose definition? If the RDG lots were maximized to the existing code, the ridership would not be sub-‘optimized’ for the neighborhood, in fact it would be maximized.

    “Based on the principles of TOC discussed throughout this document, the majority of
    these parcels are underzoned, given their close proximity to a high-capacity regional transit station.”

    They may be underzoned compared to a TOC, but there is nothing that states that Roosevelt should be a TOC (except this report and RDG). This is nothing but pandering for RDG. Also, if the nearly 5 acres that RDG owned were to actually be built out, the density of Roosevelt would be adequate for a transit station.

    “Properties developed appropriately for long term growth will provide better buildings and infrastructure in the neighborhood core, thereby generating historical continuity for the Roosevelt Neighborhood in the years to come.”
    Considering several of the existing RDG-owned buildings are dilapidated, of course they’d provide ‘better buildings’ – but the boxy abortions that will inevitably be built (like the examples shown in the report) won’t generate any ‘historical continuity’. To pretend otherwise is laughable.

    “But these properties also represent an invaluable opportunity to bring positive change to the neighborhood, and to help create a high-performing TOC.”
    Again, where is the need for a TOC coming from, but RDG and GGLO? And boxy abortions won’t bring ‘positive’ change. In fact, I’d contend they’d have the opposite effect.

    “In general, taller buildings can be built to higher quality standards, enable more flexibility in form”
    Again, misleading. Can be built to higher quality standards, but the reality is usually the opposite. Same for form, which is usually maximized and then modulated per code, resulting in horrific boxy abortions.

    “It became evident that for the majority of the properties, it would not be economically viable to develop under the existing zoning.”
    Evident how? I know people that have developed lots in Roosevelt at the existing zoning, and they were “economically viable” – and would be even more so with the selling point of transit. RDG saw the opportunity to increase their profits further, but to claim these lots aren’t “economically viable” is again laughable.

    “And in so doing, these new households and jobs will revitalize the Roosevelt

    I didn’t know Roosevelt was a dying neighborhood, with tons of vacant storefronts.

    I expect a lot better, Dan.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      May 24, 2011

      There’s a lot in this comment I’d love to discuss, but I found this comment very interesting:

      “For example, if RDG were progressive and built all lots as living building challenge/passivhaus buildings to the existing zoning, they’d be far more environmentally beneficial than the boxy blights that will inevitably be constructed. So claiming that building 80-120′+ buildings is somehow greener is just not true.”

      Let’s ignore the bizarre assumption that 40′ zoning would result in passivhaus buildings, whereas 120′ zoning can only produce boxes. Let’s even assume we tax everyone to fund every building to be a passivhaus, built to the full 40′. These buildings would still be less environmentally beneficial than the 120′ buildings.

      One new family home in the passivhaus would displace a family in the suburbs. There’s be perhaps one fewer car driving around, one driveway less concrete in CO2 emissions and impervious surface. Two thirds less roof area of impervious surface. A portion less mall area, freeway area, and sprawled school area. A portion less concrete drainage pipe, power lines, phone lines, sidewalk, lawn, and freeway-wide suburban street. And almost an entire home’s worth of reduced energy consumption.

      But 120′ buildings would house 3x the number of people as the 40′ zoning. That means that except for the energy use you’d have 3x the savings in absolutely everything on that list. And because city condos and apartments use so much less energy than suburban single family homes, you even likely use less energy. I don’t have good numbers, but I’d guess an urban box dweller uses half the energy of a suburbanite – multiply that by 3 and you get 1.5 suburban home’s worth of energy.

      Of course this is all assuming the dream that you could make every 40′ building a passivhaus but never make a 120′ building one, which is just not true.

      • May 25, 2011

        the assumption isn’t bizarre – it’s going to be easier to hit LBC (via passivhaus) on a 40′ building than a 120′ building. i was trying to express that larger doesn’t necessarily equal greener, there are a million things that go into that equation (embodied energy, operational energy, etc).

        i never mentioned suburban v. urban
        a few things worth noting:
        -new urban housing doesn’t displace suburban housing
        -the suburbs have multi-family developments
        -the recent EPA Location Efficiency report showed that energy usage was almost identical between similar typologies (e.g. MFH in suburbs and rural)
        -there are folks doing development work in the ‘burbs utilizing pervious paving.
        -the 120’ building could house 3x more households if the FAR allowed, but i’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

        -and most importantly, per the National Academy of Sciences, significantly increasing density will do little to curb greenhouse gas emissions as compared to increasing transportation efficiency

        • Matt the Engineer permalink
          May 25, 2011

          [mike] You’ve solved your own riddle.
          – you compare mf housing in urban and suburban areas
          – you correctly state that mf housing is energy efficient, no matter where it is
          – you tell us that transportation efficiency is the most important factor for greenhouse gases

          the only logical conclusion from this is that we need to build mf housing where we can get transportation efficiency. The only place you can do that is in a city.

          There are two pieces of the puzzle you’re missing.
          – You claim that new urban housing doesn’t replace suburban housing. You are wrong. Housing prices are a proxy for demand, and people demand housing in the city. Build 100 new homes in the city, and you bring in 100 families that would have lived outside the city. The same goes for 1,000. Or 10,000. There is a very large supply of people living in the suburbs that want to live in the city, if your zoning laws didn’t keep them out.
          – Just because the suburbs have multifamily housing doesn’t mean you can compare that housing to urban multifamily. Land is cheap in the suburbs and the average home is far larger in the suburbs than in the city, especially when looking at a given price point.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      May 25, 2011

      Well Mike, I guess I could say the same about you. I’m not sure where to start. If you think the EBS is a puff piece for RDG, go read the TOC report GGLO wrote with Futurewise and Transportation Choices Coalition and you will find the same arguments backed up with numerous cited sources:

      Or do you believe that Futurewise and TCC are just “pandering” to developers too?

      Copenhagen (2X the density of Seattle) and Paris (7X the density of Seattle) reach high densities with mostly mid-rise buildings because–unlike Seattle–they have very little low-density single-family housing. Are you proposing to wipe out massive swaths of single-family in the Roosevelt neighborhood to make it like those cities?

      The Roosevelt neighborhood is not an island. The region has chosen to make a substantial transit investment, and the whole region loses if the Roosevelt station area is underdeveloped. Furthermore, it is no stretch to say that with respect to climate change, the entire planet also loses. That’s where the need for TOC is coming from.

      • May 25, 2011

        new housing doesn’t displace suburban housing because not everyone who moves to the metro area wants to live in the city. going off median sale prices in the last 4 months, issaquah, kirkland, woodinville, bothell and sammamish are as or even more desirable as many parts of seattle.

        building new urban housing won’t cause a significant dent in GHG issues because the existing stock in the suburbs is too great an issue. the only logical solution is to increase transportation efficiency significantly so that those folks don’t contribute as much to the GHG issue – because they’re not all going to pick up and move to urban TOCs. and as there are several suburban TOD/TOC developments, obviously the city isn’t the only place to increase transportation efficiency.

        the gglo prepared report for futurewise/TCC wasn’t prepared for a specific project that gglo was already a party to benefit from, so it doesn’t come across as a “puff piece” – though do i struggle with aspects of that report as well.

        per this map, most of downtown seattle (including portions of the roosevelt rezone) is already at or near the density of copenhagen – it’s just not laid out as well due to poor planning/design. but yes, the city as a whole suffers from horrible density due to large areas of single family zoning.

        do i think that eventually areas of single family zoning will need to be upzoned to keep up with demand? yes – but this isn’t anything new, in fact it’s what happened on several of the lots this EBS was written for.

        roosevelt isn’t an island or even an urban core, it’s an urban village. it’s a ridiculously far stretch to say that the entire planet loses with respect to climate change if a few hundred housing units (or even several thousand) aren’t added to the neighborhood – especially given the relative inefficiency of MFH built in the last decade.

        • Matt the Engineer permalink
          May 25, 2011

          I still don’t think you get my point. Increase the housing stock in the city by X, and you get X new families living in the city that would have lived elsewhere. This is true for any value of X until you approach the number of people that want to live in the city. I claim this number is very high – certainly higher than any amount of housing we could build in the next few decades no matter how we zoned. Your claim that you won’t get new families living in the city doesn’t imply that “not everyone who moves to the metro area wants to live in the city” but that nobody that lives in a metro area wants to live in the city, a claim that I shouldn’t have to debate.

          “building new urban housing won’t cause a significant dent in GHG issues because the existing stock in the suburbs is too great an issue” Not in the slightest. Unless you’re claiming that people would so much rather live in the suburbs that the price of homes in the city would drop near zero (the necessary condition for these new homes we build to sit empty), people will move in from the suburbs. We have artificially limited supply of housing in the city thanks to your zoning.

          (the suburbs) “are as or even more desirable as many parts of seattle”. Ah, but check out the price per square foot. That home in Bothell that’s selling for the same price as a home in Rainier Valley is much, much larger. That means that yes, people will pay the same price for a home in Bothell as they would in the RV except you’d have to give them twice the house and a huge lawn. That also means that lowering the price to live in the RV by a little would shift a large home buyer to a small home or even a condo. Comparing apples to apples, I think you’ll find housing in Seattle to be more expensive than anywhere else. This is mostly due to limited supply thanks to your zoning rules keeping people out who want to live here.

          • Dan Staley permalink
            May 25, 2011

            I still don’t think you get my point. Increase the housing stock in the city by X, and you get X new families living in the city that would have lived elsewhere. This is true for any value of X until you approach the number of people that want to live in the city. I claim this number is very high – certainly higher than any amount of housing we could build in the next few decades no matter how we zoned.

            I think there will be a fraction of our population that will move to cities as our society declines, and wealth transfers upward at the same time cheap energy goes away. This fraction will move out of necessity. I don’t see that number as being “very high”. I see it as maybe 1/3-1/2 the population. Our society is acculturated to a different paradigm. That will not change overnight. Cheap energy scarcity will force some to move to places like Roosevelt. Not a “very high” number, in my view. YMMV.

        • Joshua Daniel Franklin permalink
          May 25, 2011

          I don’t have any dog in the “boxy abortions” fight but I also just don’t understand it. Couldn’t this opposite statement be equally true: “it’s a ridiculously far stretch to say that the entire neighborhood loses if a few hundred housing units (or even several thousand) are added”?

          Roosevelt would actually gain a very distinctive cluster of buildings and many more residents to would support local businesses and organizations, especially if they were mainly walking to the rail station to get to job centers like UW, downtown Seattle, or the Eastside, all of which will be connected by then.

          • Matt the Engineer permalink
            May 25, 2011

            [Dan S] You do realize that 1/3 to 1/2 of the metro area’s population is 1,300,000 to 1,700,000 right? And that Seattle’s current population is around 560,000? I’d call that pretty high. I was thinking more on the line of a few hundred thousand people, at least for the next few decades.

    • Mark U. permalink
      May 26, 2011

      The densities afforded by European settlements are a product of general height limits of ~7 stories. If that were the general limit there probably wouldn’t be a need to go up and beyond 100′. But for that kind of settlement to have an impact like e.g. Vauban, Freiburg (a settlement of multi-story passive house buildings) it would have to be a contiguous area from approximately 75th street to Ravenna Blvd. A few blocks alone won’t do it – that’s simply not enough mass to make the transit investment count. Is there support for a general height limit that allows ~7 stories? It doesn’t look good (see the rude rant “Goddamned Seattle Liberal Hypocrites”).

      As to the danger of another Northgate: the most blighted things about Northgate are the horrible designs and the vast parking lagoons. The surface parking problem is solved by default through transit and buildings. Design standards are easy to solve if there is an explicit community consensus about what is wanted. Specifying what is not wanted results in these endless zoning and design codes and processes with mediocre results. If the “boxy abortions” are a problem (I’m inclined to agree) demand a pitched roof everywhere and in turn allow a few more feet to make that possible. For example, Duany & Co. have drawn up design guidelines that fit on a dozen pages and make codes virtually unnecessary.

      As for statistics: the department of Commerce says that the average family of four making $50,000 a year spends $7,900 a year on their cars, maintenance, and fuel combined–more than they pay for taxes or medical care. Many families actually spend more on getting around. With gas prices on a long-term upward trajectory, that number won’t come down unless there are lots of other choices or unless it is forced down by multiple economic crises (like the current one). Are we just itching for the latter?

      • May 26, 2011

        a 1/4 mile radius walkshed would be equivalent to nearly 1.33 vauban’s. vauban isn’t built out yet and has over 5000 inhabitants on 38 hectares. the tallest buildings in vauban are 5 stories.

        at 1/2 mile walkshed would be the equivalent of 5 vaubans…(~20,000 people) without any unsightly towers or anything approaching 85′ – i think you’ll find the neighborhood would be more than happy to say that’d be appropriately scaled. vauban is also a pleasure to walk around, thanks to the comfortable scale (if i recall, max height is about 65-70′ – most buildings are significantly less at 3-4 stories)

        also, not all the buildings in vauban are passivhaeuser, most are niedrigenerghaeuser (low-energy standard, not quite as stringent as passivhaus – but outperforms 95% of what we build here).

        DRBs have little weight to make fugly buildings better, as witnessed by the plethora of horribly designed buildings that continue to be built in the downtown core. that’s a function of terrible architects being cozy with apathetic developers. unfortunately, the exceptions are insanely rare (dunn & hobbes)

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