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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


38 Responses leave one →
  1. David permalink
    June 6, 2011

    So Dan, neighborhood planning is only good when the results match what you think they should match?? And your talk of how this letter is supported by a coalition of planning advocates. Looks to me like a list of folks who are in one way or another linked to developers and not necessarily linked to the neighborhood. Maybe you should point out that you are a consultant whose firm is working for a key developer in the neighborhood. Wouldn’t that be fair??

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      June 6, 2011

      I have added the disclosure. It is not something I am trying to keep a secret, and was clearly stated in this recent post on Roosevelt:

      Perhaps you could now tell us who you are, David?

      And you are missing the point, I’m afraid. I am not the only one who finds fault with the neighborhood’s proposed upzone. You seem to believe that only people who are “linked to the neighborhood” can have anything to say about land use decisions there. I disagree, as the post describes.

      • David permalink
        June 6, 2011

        Dan. I’m the guy who has been catching the bus to work from the neighborhood (right in front of Sisley’s and RDGs blight) for the past 8 years or so. As a Ravenna neighbor, I’ve also had an interest in the RNA plan. I’m been an “environmentalist” for more than 30 years and I am all for density. But density (like the 12 story apartment house RDG is looking to develop)doesn’t belong next door to single family homes. I would like to see Sound Transit do more with their station development. It is in the Roosevelt neighborhood core where density belongs.

        And I’m not saying that only neighbors should have a say in the plan. But this planning process has been ongoing and very public for almost ten years and, as far as I know, no one from Futurewise, Great Cities, Great Neighborhoods, etc. were to any of the planning meetings or even expressed an opinion. Now, you want to come in at the end of the process and tell the neighborhood, DPD, and City Councli what should be done??

        And, if you and your colleagues are truly interested in “transit-oriented development” for the good of mankind, where is your pressure to upzone other transit neighborhoods?

        • dan bertolet permalink*
          June 6, 2011

          David, try googling “HB 1490” and “Futurewise.”

  2. Wellspring permalink
    June 6, 2011

    It’s pretty clear the neighbors don’t want superblock apartments there, and the public doesn’t want to live next to rail stations. That project down by Othello Street is a disaster. And no, just because it’s a white neighborhood near Roosevelt it would not fare better. It would be out of scale.

    • June 6, 2011

      Wellspring… ? You consider this project a disaster? By what measure?

      Also — is (other than this) a lack of development around stations during the biggest recession in 80 years a metric to prove anything?

    • Sarajane Siegfriedt permalink
      June 6, 2011

      It’s pretty clear that more people are moving to apartments in the city near transit. Just look at the transformation of Lake City. Homeownership is going to be lower and demand for apartments greater for the next decade or two. It’s hard to justify the under-planning for Roosevelt when you place it beside the density planned for Yesler Terrance, going from 561 units to 5,000 units. How can you justify retaining single-family zoning directly north of the Roosevelt station, when all of Lake City up to six blocks east of Lake City Way is zoned L2, L3 and up?

      • David permalink
        June 6, 2011

        Sarajane. The area in Roosevelt that is similar to Lake City is on Roosevelt Avenue. That area is zoned for density similar to the development in Lake City and could be developed in a similar manner. That is what residents of the area want and have worked on for many years. What we don’t want is “extreme” upzoning on the east end of the Roosevelt area directly adjacent to Roosevelt High School and single family neighborhoods. We are not anti-development. We just want development where it makes sense. Not where it just happens to be financially attractive to a “here today-gone tomorrow” developer.

  3. Mark permalink
    June 6, 2011

    If history says anything it is that growth needs in Seattle will less than anticipated. The recession of 1970-71 resulted in falling population in the area for almost 3 decades with the population of Seattle just recently having surpassed that of 1960. The recent/current recession is worse than that of 70-71. Furthermore, Boeing is now starting to move jobs out of state and Microsoft is now a chronic catchup ball player falling farther behind with essentially no growth in 10 years and little to suggest that will change. It seems to me that modest increases in capacity around the light rail are more than sufficient for now. Additionally, upzoning the single family area north of Roosevelt High will undoubtedly devalue many of those properties. Is the city able to fend off an inevitable “takings” lawsuit should they try to upzone? Are Seattle taxpayers going to be responsible to make all those landowners whole?

  4. June 6, 2011

    All of this argument stems from one land owner and his developer wanting to exceed well planned zoning for appropriate growth in a n urban village. It’s all about money for a slumlord. By the developers admission, if the project isn’t big enough, their lease isn’t worth a dime.

    Had all of those lots stayed useable single family homes and Lowrise developments and the Roosevelt Neighborhood recommended C2-40 zoning the development around the light rail would have been applauded and there would be projects underway by now.

    So cut the crap. This isn’t about appropriate zoning for a light rail station. It’s about money and everyone supporting zoning beyond 6 stories seems to have their hand or their hopes in the till.

  5. Kelly Rench permalink
    June 6, 2011

    I think that it is also worth mentioning that the development group RDG is also a member and large financial sponsor of Great City and I suspect that more than one person who signed this letter is a member of Great City. So in addition to your firm being employed by the development group and Great City being funded by it there does seem to be a conflict of interest.

    I would like to ask that anyone who supports this letter actually review the Roosevelt Neighborhood plan and tours the neighborhood before speaking out against it based on studies and reports. DPD has spent many hours working with the community and even added density to our plan. It was by no means designed in a vacuum and takes into consideration existing conditions and established patterns of development.

    Upzone efforts by RDG have called for up to 16 stories of development across the street from 100 year old single family homes. That is not good planning or anyone’s idea of Livable.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      June 6, 2011

      Kelly and Glenn, your claim that this is all about RDG only proves that you are either ignorant, or deceitful. I, for one, have been writing about insufficient density at Seattle’s light rail station areas since 2008, before I even knew RDG existed. Many others have been making similar arguments much longer than that.

      The case that the proposed upzone is insufficient is grounded in the realities of creating regional sustainability, and has nothing whatsoever to do with any particular developer. So why don’t you stop trotting out the boogey man, and give us some rational reasons why we shouldn’t be concerned that the proposed upzone is going to compromise progress towards sustainability, and result in the underutilization of a massive public investment in light rail.

      • June 7, 2011

        Well, Dan, Since 2008 sounds like a mighty long time ago. If you want to take a barren tract of land and build a village, your idealism will go far to create something that may or may not be a solution to problems as you see them. On the other hand, villages are made up of people first, and in my system of belief, it’s the people who live there and raise families there, and retire there, that know the best way to grow density in response to the addition of transit to the area.

        I respect your zeal to fix everything in quick time, but to me, it would make more sense for you to improve the footprint of the village where you live, and own property, and raise your children, before you try to fix things for everyone else.

        You didn’t show up for this discussion 15 years ago when it started. You only showed up when you were put on the payroll. Just because you say the upzone is insufficient doesn’t make it so.

        • dan bertolet permalink*
          June 7, 2011

          Glenn, thank you for so clearly illustrating the point of this post. Based on what you wrote above, you believe that anyone who is not a neighborhood resident and been involved in the planning process for 15 years has no right to say anything about planning issues there. I disagree. I am NOT claiming that local residents should have no say. I am saying that there is a balance that must be struck between local and regional concerns.

          A few other points for the record:

          The vast majority of my writing on urban planning issues has been uncompensated.

          There’s no light rail station planned for my neighborhood. The importance of places with light rail stations such as Roosevelt justifies much more planning focus.

          Lastly, I repeat: There are many many people besides me who believe the upzone is insufficient.

          • David permalink
            June 7, 2011

            Dan. Then explain to us why you are so late to this party. Planning for Roosevelt and the light rail has been going on for nearly ten years. We have had meeting after meeting after meeting, several attending by more than 100 Roosevelt residents. It would have been nice to have had this dialogue with you about this three years ago or even two years ago. Now you are trying to stop something that our residents have put their sweat and tears into for nearly a decade. To be blunt, this attack, at this time, by you and your “holier than thou” colleagues doesn’t smell right.

          • Matt the Engineer permalink
            June 7, 2011

            I have no financial or personal dog in this fight, but I’d like to give an outsider’s perspective.

            Take a step back and look at Roosevelt and light rail from a regional perspective – pretend you don’t live there for the moment. We currently have a process that is strongly weighted toward the wants and needs of the neighbors of the new station. Not only from a legal standpoint, but these are the people who have the direct financial and personal incentives to show up to meetings and comment. Even if someone from, say, Federal Way had taken a bus to a meeting and talked about density I’m not so sure they’d be very welcome let alone had their ideas incorporated.

            We have a one-sided system of everybody looking out for their own neighborhood and nobody tasked with bringing a regional perspective. Criticizing Dan for showing up late for the party misses the point. He’s one of the few trying to speak for those millions of people affected by land use decisions made by a hundred local neighbors.

            As a side note, I’ve noticed the DPD has based its zoning completely on a document that Roosevelt produced a decade ago. Has nothing changed in a decade? I know my neighborhood looks much different compared to a decade ago. What’s happened at all of those meetings since then?

          • Matt the Engineer permalink
            June 8, 2011

            One more point with regard to the *showing up late* comment. This station won’t open for another 9 years. Wait another 8 years and then it might be more apporpriate to call people late to the party.

  6. biliruben permalink
    June 7, 2011

    Is it too late to re-route to Lake City, and skip Roosevelt entirely? We’ll take 20 stories, if that’s the case.

    We in Lake City been the ugly step-sister when it comes to any sort of new transit or infrastructure, yet we’ve happily taken on immense density in a short amount of time. Much that is low income, VA and senior housing, population which all scream for more transit.

    If the NIMBYs in Roosevelt want to abdicate their regional responsibilities, maybe they should abdicate their shiny, new train.

    • Renee permalink
      June 7, 2011

      biliruben –

      Unfortunately, it is too late for Lake City. And, Lake City was also passed by on the northern climb of light rail past Northgate.

      That said, have you considered advocating for a street car connection between Lake City and Northgate? Now is the time to do so with CTAC -III and the Transit Master Plan group evaluating priority transit corridors. The Northgate/Lake City corridor is in the running as a significant corridor.

      • biliruben permalink
        June 7, 2011

        That’s an excellent suggestion, Renee. I’m not certain a streetcar would be appropriate for the route, as there is not much density between Lake City and Northgate, but some sort of improvement on the 20 minute slow-boat to Northgate would be optimal. Right now it takes longer to get to Northgate than it does to downtown, during peak commute times when the 522 is running at high frequency.

        I would recommend an express, collector option of some sort, making sure to keep it under 10 minutes. Longer than that, and LINK would be silly to use from Lake City. Bus would be fine for this service.

        Honestly, given how slow East-West is, the Northgate transit center just doesn’t really make sense as a 2-seat ride from Lake City. Lake City Way to I-5 is just so much quicker.

        Drop a nice big Transit Center in the middle of Roosevelt neighborhood, and it would make much more sense. I’m sure the NIMBYs in Roosevelt would love that.

  7. Kelly permalink
    June 7, 2011

    Roosevelt Neighbors are not NIMBYs. We have participated in the planning process and encouraged density and openly asked for input. A representative from Great City even met with us and offered not suggestions for improving our plan. Why do you need to bash the architects, planners and consultants who developed the plan? That’s like stepping into a project that’s in construction documentation and questioning why the building entrance faces east? You can’t criticize an outcome until you understand the process that lead to it.

    Your angst against people and a process you know nothing about doesn’t speak well for the blog and those who support it.

    • biliruben permalink
      June 7, 2011

      Hi Kelly –

      I don’t know the process and I don’t know the players. All I see is the outcome – very little added density. That outcomes screams out NIMBY, but I could certainly be wrong.

      It may be that RN pushed hard for far more density and was rebuffed by unnamed entities. In which case I stand corrected on that score.

      It certainly seems like the neighborhood had far too much say in a decision that should have had more regional input.

      I am sorry if I offended your sensibilities, but as someone who lives in a neighborhood with sharply increasingly density with significant social equity issues, and crush-level transit which is only getting worse, you can see where the situation in Roosevelt is a bit frustrating, to say the least.

  8. June 7, 2011

    @Matt – The process started 15 years ago, was delayed until the location of the light rail station was determined, and then updated. The Plan was discussed by business owners, residents and anyone else who wanted to be there. You tell me that “He’s one of the few trying to speak for those millions of people…” Give me a break. There are more ways than one to achieve most goals and TOD is included. That Roosevelt went through a long process which included everyone interested is important and in my view the proper way to handle the issue. You go ahead and believe what you want.

    Why did hundreds of people attend these meetings and spend thousands of hours in an effort to get it right. Because we’ve invested in living and working in this area and are witness to too many developer schemes that go bad. Convince me that RDG, GGLO and Hugh Sisley have the best interests of, and work well with a neighborhood in creating walkable, bikeable, cityscapes that are clean and green by showing me a similar project any of them have been involved in.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      June 7, 2011

      I completely agree with most of that. The opinions of local residents and businesses should have a strong weight in these decisions. I just think a regional perspective is missing from the process.

      Roosevelt isn’t alone. Beacon Hill was even worse, and we ended up with single family homes surronding the station there. If you ask me (and I know you didn’t), I think part of the siting process for light rail should have included a garuntee of a minimum amount of density. If the neighborhood doesn’t agree, the station goes elsewhere. Anyway, too late for that.

  9. Dave permalink
    June 7, 2011

    Our multi-billion dollar public investment in regional transit was intended, I think, to significantly improve access to jobs and housing for everyone and to help preserve our environment. This whole debate about height and pocket-lining is ridiculous. Please get back to a constructive discussion about how our hard earned tax dollars are going to help improve social equity and opportunity in our neighborhoods. Isn’t this really the issue here?

    Seattle is expected to accommodate somewhere near 70,000 households in the next 20 years. Given that most of this growth will (and should) occur in our urban centers, villages, and station areas, I don’t see how anyone can defend a position that says, and I’ll paraphrase, “don’t put any more than 350 new homes near our very expensive brand new rail transit station.”

    It seems to me that accusations about undue benefits at taxpayer expense could go both ways. So can we please move on to higher level topics?

  10. Brian permalink
    June 8, 2011

    Great argument Dan. To all the Roosevelt Neighborhood posters, it seems like you’re all reacting very emotionally to Dan’s post. I get that. It’s probably an emotional issue. After all, we are talking about your neighborhood. But let’s get past attacking the credibility of the people laying the arguments against the currently proposed station design/zoning. From this thread, I get the impression many of you think that anyone that doesn’t live in the neighborhood, isn’t a long term Roosevelt resident, and hasn’t been involved in the planning process for the past 15 years or whatever should be allowed to weigh in. That seems absurd. That’s not how you build an effective regional system. I was still in Elementary School 15 years ago. That doesn’t mean I can’t look to the lost opportunities from Central Link (Mt. Baker Station, Beacon Hill) and think, “hmm… it seems like that those were big wasted opportunities. Maybe we should learn from our mistakes and do a better job in the future with appropriate zoning around future link stations, especially subway stations.”
    I haven’t been to a single planning meeting in the Roosevelt neighborhood. There, I said it. But two big suburban-looking transit boxes surrounded by single family housing? Come on! That’s what 15 years of meetings and planning have given us? I’m not calling the residents of Roosevelt NIMBYs. I know that the Roosevelt neighborhood has been very open to growth. But the current station plans look like YIMBY (yes in my backyard) as long as pretty much everything else stays the same.

    • June 8, 2011

      Brian, the argument escalated when a commenter said the Maybe Roosevelt didn’t get it right. So, if I read you right, a few young scholars’ opinions trump generations of “living in a neighborhood you actually own property in.”

      We in Roosevelt object to the design of the station as poorly conceived in light of our effort to increase density at that location. So don’t blame that on us. And Sound Transit didn’t show up at the meetings either with any valuable input from their vast experience. (The seemed to have got the airport location wrong. The jury is out still on Columbia City.)You say that mistakes were made in Mt. Baker Station and Beacon Hill, but by whose metrics. Perhaps in the long term it will be seen that the neighborhood did get it right.

      Yes, you haven’t been to any of the meetings and neither have you looked at the RNA Plan if you can state that we have purposed nothing but “two big suburban-looking transit boxes surrounded by single family housing? ” Perhaps you’ll come to a few meetings, or just visit the neighborhood. We have seen the mayor’s memo to DPD and will be working with DPD to increase some zoning as high as 85′, and we intend to locate it well too.

      • Steve permalink
        June 8, 2011


        How do you think ST got the airport location wrong? You do know that TSA wouldn’t allow them to site the station any closer to the terminal, right?

        • June 8, 2011

          Steve, no, I didn’t know that. Thanks. I just know that it is in the wrong place to make it a viable option for many travelers. At this point the fix would be an enclosed moving sidewalk.
          TSA in my opinion is misguided and designed always to be one day late to the party.

      • Kelly permalink
        June 10, 2011


        I think the point Glenn made was that Brian’s statement verifies that many people commenting here no nothing about which they speak :

        “But two big suburban-looking transit boxes surrounded by single family housing? Come on! That’s what 15 years of meetings and planning have given us? I’m not calling the residents of Roosevelt NIMBYs. I know that the Roosevelt neighborhood has been very open to growth. But the current station plans look like YIMBY (yes in my backyard) as long as pretty much everything else stays the same.”

        This is a clear example of why people are frustrated, most of the people calling for increased density and posting on this blog haven’t even looked a the neighborhood plan and have no idea how disappointed the neighborhood is in the station design or how little input was solicited in the process! They don’t know what they’re talking about and they’re throwing out false statement.

  11. Barb Wilson permalink
    June 15, 2011

    Dan, You bring up some very good questions that many of us think about daily. Thanks

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