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The Value And Limits Of Neighborhood Planning

2011 June 6
by dan bertolet

Reprinted below is a letter calling for leadership from Mayor Mike McGinn on the need for a more robust planning process in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood, the site of a future light rail station. The letter was written by a coalition of urban planning advocates called Leadership for Great Neighborhoods, and includes signatures from residents, as well as representatives from the Cascade Bicycle Club, Futurewise, Transportation Choices Coalition, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and the Seattle Downtown Association. Whenever you have disparate groups such as Futurewise and the Chamber on the same page, it’s a good bet there’s something to the issue.

In short, the concern is that the the proposed upzone currently being considered by the City is insufficient to enable the level of development appropriate for a neighborhood with a regional, high-capacity transit station (see related posts here, here, and here). If you wish to add your signature to the letter, please use this Google form, or contact

This circumstance also highlights a contentious debate over the role of local residents in planning decisions that have impacts beyond the local sphere. The groundbreaking neighborhood planning process conducted by the City of Seattle during 1990s is nationally recognized as an urban planning success story, and the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association (RNA) was actively involved. In 2005 RNA was successful in convincing Sound Transit to move the planned light rail station from the freeway into the heart of the neighborhood, and soon after, under their own initiative, RNA completed a neighborhood plan update that includes the upzone currently under consideration.

Overall, RNA has been an inspiring model for how neighborhood residents can become meaningfully engaged in the planning process. But unfortunately, their proposed upzones do not pass scrutiny when factoring in the importance of creating high-performing transit-oriented communities for the region. And this is not the biased opinion of shills for development—it is the broad consensus of urban planning professionals and sustainability experts nationwide (start here for information that supports that claim).

What this demonstrates is that while we all value public participation in the planning process, we also must face the fact that there is a limit, and that decisions of regional consequence should not be left entirely up to local residents. In the case of Roosevelt, this means that—as described in the letter below—the City of Seattle needs to step up and commit a level of planning resources commensurate with the important role the Roosevelt station area should play in helping the City and region achieve their stated sustainability goals. It means Seattle’s leaders have an obligation to make sure land use decisions benefit not just the neighborhood, but also the greater region, and in a very real sense, the entire planet. Achieving urgently needed, systemic progress towards regional sustainability and climate stability depend on it.

Letter after the break, pdf here.


[ Disclosure: My employer, GGLO, is a consultant to the Roosevelt Development Group—Citytank has no financial ties to either.]

June 3, 2011

The Hon. Michael McGinn
City of Seattle
600 4th Avenue, 7th Floor
Seattle, WA 98124-4749

Re: DPD’s Proposed Roosevelt Rezone


Dear Mayor McGinn:

We urge you to take a leadership role regarding DPD’s currently-proposed rezone in Roosevelt.  As you know, several individuals and groups have written to comment on the proposed rezone, which will constrain development capacity within close proximity to the future Roosevelt Sound Transit Station.

The creation of transit-oriented communities supports the significant public investment in transit that will occur in Roosevelt as a result of the new station.  Transit investments are most effective when combined with opportunities for more people to live, shop and work near the stations.  The Planning Commission’s recent Transit Communities Report identified several communities, including Roosevelt, as areas in which more housing and infrastructure should occur to take advantage of the investment in transit.  Futurewise’s Blueprint report made similar recommendations related to the Roosevelt neighborhood.

The current zoning plan as proposed by DPD constrains development in the station area, a 5-10 minute walk, to primarily single family housing, with only 2-3 blocks of additional NC-65 zoning in the neighborhood core. The core, areas currently zoned for NC3-65, have no proposed increases in density. Other proposed changes are primarily minor single level “step ups” to transition from the slightly larger core to surrounding single family housing (Ex. LR1 to LR2), or character changes (Ex. LR to NC).

All together the current plan will only result in an increase in housing capacity of only 350 units. A majority of this increase is immediately adjacent to I-5, where Sound Transit originally proposed to build the station.

The Roosevelt community successfully lobbied Sound Transit to move the station closer to the heart of the Roosevelt neighborhood in order to create a vibrant neighborhood center.  DPD’s plan does not properly increase capacity in the correct locations to take advantage of the great work accomplished by the Roosevelt community in moving the station, and the plan fails to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the creation of a transit community in Roosevelt.

We believe that in order to fully take advantage of the transit investment in the Roosevelt neighborhood, and the work accomplished by the Roosevelt community members in moving the station, DPD must undertake a full station area planning effort complete with an Urban Design Framework Plan, similar to the planning efforts in South Seattle, South Lake Union, West Seattle, and other transit-oriented locations.  Such a planning effort must include much higher heights and densities than currently exist in the DPD plan, which will ensure the appropriate level of development in close proximity to the public’s $300 million investment in the Roosevelt Light Rail station.




Chuck Ayers 

Executive Director, Cascade Bicycle Club

George Allen 

VP, Government Relations, Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce

Stephen Antupit 

Cowen Park neighbor of the Roosevelt Station

Adam Bejan Parast 

Seattle Transit Blog

Craig Benjamin 

Seattle Resident

Dan Bertolet 


John Coney 

Seattle Resident

Eric de Place 

Seattle Resident

Martin Duke 

Seattle Transit Blog

Kevin Futhey 

Roosevelt Resident

Zach Herrington-Shaner 

Seattle Transit Blog

Brock Howell 

King County Program Director, Futurewise

Sean Howell 

VP, Friends of Seattle

John Jensen 

Seattle Transit Blog

Rob Johnson 

Executive Director, Transportation Choices Coalition

Sherwin Lee 

Seattle Transit Blog

Gary Manca 

President, Friends of Seattle

Brice Maryman 

Seattle Resident

Dan McGrady 

Leadership for Great Neighborhoods

Andrew McManama Smith 

Roosevelt Resident

Ben Schiendelman 

Seattle Transit Blog

Jon Scholes 

Downtown Seattle Association

Catherine Stanford 

Chair, Great City

Renee Staton 

Leadership for Great Neighborhoods

Roger Valdez 

Seattle Resident

Don Vehige 

Ravenna Neighbor of the Roosevelt Station


cc:        The Hon. Sally Bagshaw

The Hon. Tim Burgess

The Hon. Sally Clark

The Hon. Richard Conlin

The Hon. Jean Godden

The Hon. Bruce Harrell

The Hon. Nick Licata

The Hon. Mike O’Brien

The Hon. Tom Rasmussen

Diane Sugimura, Department of Planning and Development

Marshall Foster, Department of Planning and Development

Barbara Wilson, Seattle Planning Commission