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Planning For Density

2011 June 10
by dan bertolet

On Tuesday both Mayor Mike McGinn and Councilmember Tim Burgess sent letters (pdfs here and here) to the director of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) asking that the proposed rezone for the Roosevelt neighborhood be reworked to allow for greater heights and densities.

Here’s the KOMO news headline: “McGinn pushes city for taller height limits near Roosevelt light rail.” Am I dreaming?

This may seem like a big yawn, though not if you are familiar with the context. Because what McGinn and Burgess have done is to publicly defy the will of a well-organized, proactive neighborhood group—an almost unheard of move in Seattle politics. But indeed, it’s just the sort of leadership Seattle needs a lot more of when it comes to planning for our light rail station areas.

In 2006 the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association (RNA) handed DPD their completed neighborhood plan update, which included the proposed station area rezone currently in question. Then for four years the rezone effectively sat on a shelf (some speculate that the Nickels administration believed it was inadequate and privately put the kabosh on it).

In 2010 the RNA plan was dusted off and began chugging through the process to the point where  a Council vote was expected this summer. And it did not go unnoticed that the proposed rezone is insufficient for a high capacity transit station area.

One might expect Councilmember Sally Clark, chair of the Committee on the Built Environment, to provide leadership on the debate, but she has kept quiet. Considering the neighborhood orientation of Clark’s political base (she once worked for the Department of Neighborhoods), and given that she’s up for election this Fall, this is not a shocker. In contrast, Tim Burgess—also up for election—is much more aligned with the downtown business community, and so has less to lose by saying “no” to a neighborhood.

Regarding rezones in Seattle’s light rail station areas, the ones to also keep an eye on now are Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, and Othello. The recently completed draft Urban Design Frameworks include the latest rezone recommendations, which will be moving to Council in late Summer. So far, there has been no backsliding on the preferred upzones that came out of the neighborhood planning process, but future push back from the neighborhoods should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Getting past such resistance will hinge on Seattle’s political leadership acting in accordance with the point of view that Burgess nails in his letter: “I have been very concerned that the City is not adequately addressing density opportunities near our transit station areas… I don’t want to wake up in 15 or 20 years and find ourselves asking, ‘Why didn’t we properly plan for density in these areas?'”


7 Responses leave one →
  1. Sally Clark permalink
    June 10, 2011

    Dan – Too bad we didn’t talk before you posted. Quick clarification on the time lag – The Roosevelt neighborhood did submit their neighborhood-devised plan update a few years ago. It did indeed sit for a while, but city-side work started up when Jean Godden and I plugged money into DPD’s budget to kick-start the zoning review necessary to do the upzones Roosevelt proposes. The RNA plan includes kicking some Single Family up to Low-Rise and some Low-Rise up to Neighborhood Commercial. This is a well-organized, proactive neighborhood group — and they proposed added density! I agree it doesn’t go quite far enough right around the station itself and along Roosevelt, but it’s hard for me to lump the RNA people in with some other opponents of change. I’d like to hear them out at Council so we can debate the reasons for the heights they chose. The community may not be able to come to agreement on anything higher than what they’ve proposed, but that creates a space for well-reasoned leadership from the Council. That’s if we can get the proposal delivered with enough analysis to back up any crazy ideas we may have.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      June 13, 2011

      Sally, thank you for the thoughtful comment. I was aware that you and Jean Godden helped resurrect the Rooselvelt upzone. What I wrote in the post is in regards to what’s been happening in the past couple months. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have not heard anything from you that would suggest you were not on the path of approving the proposed rezone as is, with no modifications. I apologize if my interpretation was wrong, and if you would like to present your thoughts in a Citytank post I’d be more than happy to publish it.

  2. June 10, 2011

    So, Dan, It’s clear from your comments that every thing is all right with the way things are handled if the are in line with your beliefs, but if they don’t fall into your major high density for all transit, make Roosevelt look like Belltown perspective, there is some underlying defect. I understand that working for a company that’s existence depends on the building industry, more buildings, bigger buildings, buildings anywhere, will do that, and so, you are inclined to say these things.

    I approach it from the position of a resident. I chose to live in a location because the location was attractive to me. Yes, locations do need to change. And I like to see the change come from within. So push back from neighborhoods that aren’t totally in sync with your perspective should be expected and they should be ongoing. That’s life in the big city.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      June 11, 2011

      Glenn, have you ever noticed how when people have nothing rational or intelligent to add to a debate that they often resort to irrelevant and unfounded personal attacks?

  3. Dan Staley permalink
    June 10, 2011

    When we first moved up there, we were amazed at the hand-wringing and analysis paralysis endemic to the region. This is leadership. You don’t have to go to max density. But you can. Finally.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. The Roosevelt Rezone Dustup: Simple Issue Uncovers Complex Questions | citytank
  2. This is More Important: Setting the Density of Urban Centers in King County | citytank

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