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Just Say Nay

2012 May 30
by dan bertolet

For those who hope for the kind of transformational change that will be necessary to create a truly sustainable and resilient Seattle, the City’s disproportionate reaction to Mayor McGinn’s recently proposed set of regulatory reforms is a far more important issue to tackle than the reforms themselves.  Consisting of relatively modest, low-hanging-fruit tweaks to the land use code intended to enhance livability and the local economy, the proposal has generated an astounding amount of opposition, most recently with a crowd of naysayers at a Council hearing that succeeded in getting one major component of the proposal thrown out.

The psychology behind this scenario is complex. The ugly legacy of urban renewal still casts its shadow, and at the core we’re dealing with a wariness of change that is basic human nature.  But while this attitude can be an obstacle to progress in many U.S. cities, here in Seattle it has festered with a mix of timid political leadership and an expectation that everyone must be not only heard but appeased, to form a singularly toxic political dysfunction that would be an entertaining intellectual curiosity if it wasn’t so potentially detrimental to the future of the City.

This is not to say that Seattle is making no progress. It is. But considering all the brainpower, wealth, and environmental concern to be found among Seattleites, our eccentric political culture is the biggest impediment to public policy that would bring Seattle to the international forefront of sustainability.

The Developer Stigma
Consider McGinn’s regulatory reform proposal as illustrative example.  First of all, as played up in the Seattle Times, the fact that some of the people on the advisory group have connections to the development community is apparently all we need to know in order to conclude that it’s all about lining developers’ pockets.  Never mind the reality that Seattle has one of the most progressive development communities in the country.  And never mind that developers know a thing or two about putting up buildings, which happen to be something that we want more of in Seattle, both to satisfy demand from people who want to live here, and to garner the local and regional benefits of smart growth. And never mind that urban infill redevelopment has the potential to be a massive economic engine that fills the gap left by the decline in construction of sprawl.

Why is this knee-jerk enmity of developers so prevalent in Seattle?  Where are the existing development horror stories that people are so afraid of repeating?  Sure, there are a few clunker buildings here and there, but by and large Seattle’s built environment is good and getting better. And Seattle is a city thick with corporate influence—so why do developers take so much heat for being fat cats?  I see no rational answers.

What’s Not To Like?
The piece of the reform package that was shot down last week would have allowed small commercial establishments in some multifamily zones, as a strategy to help “bring back the corner store.”  First of all, how, one might ask, would this benefit developer interests? It doesn’t, and in fact one could argue that it is against their interests because it would open up competition for the retail spaces that are typically part of new mixed-use projects.

There are no doubt some who fear the invasion of ludicrous commercial uses—A topless barbershop!  A corner Walmart!—but these concerns are irrational and deserve to be ignored as such. Others object more judiciously to new uses that would be “out of character” with the neighborhood, that handy catch-all phrase for anything someone doesn’t particularly like.

But wait, last I checked I thought we progressive Seattleites were supposed to be all enamored with exactly the kind of small independent businesses that this policy was designed to promote. And don’t we all love the idea of the kid running to the corner store for a quart of milk? What on earth is everyone so afraid of? It’s like Seattle’s angst-ridden debate over backyard cottages all over again.

Too Much Walkability?
Some residents of Capitol Hill expressed more nuanced objections:  Why allow commercial uses in more areas when there are already so many empty existing street-level retail spaces, and when many urban villages in Seattle have great walkability as is?  In response to Walkscore being cited to support the latter, Walkscore’s Matt Lerner tweeted that he “never imagined a high Walkscore would be used to prevent walkability.” Furthermore, the code would apply to areas across the entire City of Seattle, which has plenty of neighborhoods that lack walkable access to stores and services.

It is true that street-level retail is less viable when spread out and diluted. However, the reason many existing spaces aren’t landing tenants is because they are too expensive, or don’t have the right spatial layout, or are poorly located. Indeed, a common complaint about new mixed-use buildings is that the retail spaces are too large and expensive for small-scale independent businesses.  The proposed reform would have helped open up affordable, usable alternatives to these spaces—otherwise known as creating economic opportunity for the little guy.

In any case, as we have learned from the current glut of vacant street-level retail spaces scattered across Seattle, a flexible, market-based approach to small-scale commercial is likely to be more successful than trying to mandate where it should or shouldn’t be.  After all, that’s how Seattle’s best neighborhood centers developed in the first place, organically creating the kind of practical, livable mixed-use urban form that we’re trying to emulate today.

Naysayers Win
Given how relatively benign the commercial use proposal was, it’s apparent that much of the opposition was driven by indignation over being left out of the process. Yes, Mayor McGinn deserves some blame for that, and yes, Seattle’s residents have much insight to contribute. But I have to wonder if some opponents are letting their indignation preclude a fair assessment of the issue at hand. If it’s a good idea, who cares who proposed it? Is the full-on, dragged-out Seattle process really necessary for every policy decision?

In hindsight, the smarter political approach would have been to put stricter limits on the proposal, such as a smaller allowed floor area, or an exclusion of particularly objectionable business types. This would have helped ease concerns and diffuse opposition, and there would always be the opportunity to update the code after people got more comfortable with it over time. Incremental change is better than no change.

And what of the Council’s acquiescence to the naysayers? Those who testify at Council hearings do not necessarily reflect the sentiments of the entire community—especially at hearings in the middle of the day when most people work.  Nor do neighborhood group leaders necessarily speak for the majority in their neighborhoods. And on my read, the views expressed by Capitol Hill residents who were agitated enough to show up at last week’s hearing are not shared by most people who live in “vibrant, walkable urban centers,” in contrast to what Councilmembers apparently assumed.

The fact that a few dozen motivated naysayers so easily swayed the Council to abruptly kill a thoughtful policy proposal a year in the making is classic Seattle-style political dysfunction. And if Seattle’s electeds continue to be incapable of providing consolidated leadership in the face of opposition to relatively painless policy changes like McGinn’s regulatory reform, we might as well forget about ambitious goals such as carbon neutrality that are guaranteed to involve far more challenging policy and politics.


Dan Bertolet is a Seattle resident and the creator of Citytank.

(P.S.  The regulatory reform proposal also contains two other components—adjustment of the SEPA categorical exemption, and elimination of off-street parking requirements within a quarter mile of frequent transit—that have already generated controversy, and will no doubt stir up more as they are taken up by Council. I’m hoping that my masochistic tendencies will sufficiently motivate me to address these in followup posts.)




43 Responses leave one →
  1. Cascadian permalink
    May 30, 2012

    It’s not just simple NIMBYism. The fact is, for decades development was sprawling, car-centered, and anti-human. People rightfully associate development with ruining their neighborhoods. Some people are now invested in that sprawl because it’s familiar, but many just don’t want things to get worse like they did consistently in the past. So they fail to make distinctions about different kinds of development.

    I would love to have more corner stores in residential neighborhoods, though I’m skeptical about how well they can thrive when people are used to driving to supermarkets. I can think of several specific lots where a store or small restaurant would transform the neighborhood, mainly by dissuading property criminals who currently take advantage of underdeveloped spaces and lack of eyes on the street. Maybe what we need is a pilot project targeted on a select number of these areas, to demonstrate the advantages and build support for more sweeping changes.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      May 30, 2012

      “I’m skeptical about how well they can thrive when people are used to driving to supermarkets.”

      I visit a supermarket perhaps monthly. My daily trips are to the small Trader Joe’s a few blocks away. Sure, TJ’s are probably bigger than the corner stores envisioned, but a store 1/4 that size could take care of 3/4 of my trips. My typical list is: milk, eggs, bread, veggies, coffee, wine.

      I highly recommend living a short walk from a grocery store – it changes how you live your life, and you need to warehouse and maintain far less food. This will be at the top of the list of any home I buy in the future.

      • Bill Bradburd permalink
        May 30, 2012

        Home, or a condo in a high-density building?

        • Matt the Engineer permalink
          May 31, 2012

          Single family home. Though I’d be happy in a condo.

          Honestly, in Cap Hill it isn’t the condos or apartments that need corner stores – they are often in very walkable areas. It’s in the SFH neighborhoods where you could use easier access to groceries.

        • Matt the Engineer permalink
          May 31, 2012

          (that’s “single family house” – obviously most condo and apartment buildings are filled with single family homes :-)

          • Bill Bradburd permalink
            May 31, 2012

            the Reg Reform proposal was not seeking commercial uses in SF zones

          • Matt the Engineer permalink
            May 31, 2012

            (runs off to read the proposal)

            You’re kidding me. People are against street retail in LR2 and LR3 zones? I assumed that was legal already.

            I’m getting further from understanding the problem with this.

  2. Sophia Katt permalink
    May 30, 2012

    During the mid-nineties, the condo development project Malden Court was built by Threshhold Housing, a now infamous three years plus process that highlighted the problems enlightened developers faced when dealing with DPD, and which subsequently led to Mayor Norm Rice’s complete redo of that department. The project won the state’s first Growth Management Act award, and units have held value above those of many condos in the area.

    Residents on Capitol Hill were very wary of the project at first–the erection of the dreadful federal housing building at 14th E. and E. Mercer and of another vinyl-sided box with almost no windows facing the street a few blocks south had everyone on the Hill who cared about long term architectural quality up in arms. However, TH handled their community interaction really well, and put drawings of their intended street look on all their site signage. By the time the City had to enact an ordinance tailored specifically to the one project, nearly two dozen households showed up to root for Malden Court.

    The lesson here for those who would like to insert mixed use and multi-family buildings into single family housing areas is pretty simple–make sure the first three or four projects are done really well, with excellent architectural quality that respects the existing neighborhood feel, and that attracts what the residents already agree will be an improvement, and not a drag on property values.

    Unfortunately, most of the mixed use five/six story buildings on Broadway erected in the last few years have achieved the opposite. We have an odd jumble of second and third story hoops tacked onto the U.S. Bank branch at E. John, an even stranger burst of allready dated looking textures and greater height at The Broadway Building, and the Brix, an utterly sterile Vancouver style green-glass-brick box that poor Espresso Vivace ended up having to retreat to after the Hill sacrificed a really nice Thirties modern building to the Link Station. Even Michael Malone, who has given us some truly inspired retrofit work in Pike/Pine, inflicted a red and black–you-guessed it–upper story jumble of shoebox apartments with nothing but generic chain rental space beneath.

    I believe the majority of Capitol Hill residents could sincerely welcome the extra density that the Mayor was looking to create, even though we are already one of the densest hoods on the whole West Coast. More than three hundred civic minded CapHillers showed up last night at CHHIP’s Ecodistrict forum to support exactly that. However, we have seen what the present policies will create, plopped up and down Broadway already. All the north Capitol Hill owners and renters of the quality vintage housing that attracted them to the Hill in the first place took a good hard look and don’t believe that a Genki Sushi, a Panera Bread franchise, or a GNC a block from historic Volunteer Park will be good for property values or the long term sustainable health of the community.

    Dan, don’t assume that the folks who showed up were in the minority. There are a lot more of us out there suffering from poorly designed density than you seem to realize. Until the Mayor can deliver a streetcar extension to Aloha and complete the transit support that the proposed mixed use commerce needs to thrive, maybe he would be better off fixing the parts of the city that really don’t work for density at all right now. Density fatigue is starting to set in on Capitol Hill.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      June 2, 2012

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Sophia. Agreed that development projects can benefit from community engagement. But I think if you are truly suffering from a project like Brix then you will never be happy. Also, I get the sense that you believe the Mayor has an agenda to force density on people. The truth is, density is rising in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill not because of city policy, but because people want to live there.

      • Sophia Katt permalink
        June 3, 2012

        The truth is, density rises now in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill because the city and state policies set in the early to mid-Nineties placing density resources and policies in urban village areas of Seattle by listening to the designated areas’ residents. Then the people came. I was a volunteer member of the Growth Management Act resource group then, and witnessed the process firsthand.

        The rabbit warren environments that pass for residential spaces like the Brix, the Joule, and the Broadway Building sell and rent at a discount to the market on the Hill, or don’t rent’/sell at all. People of many ages and backgrounds like CapHill for its human scale, character, and patina, and say so loudly and often. Witness the furor in Pike/Pine when the traditionally built Bauhaus Cafe area was threatened by one of those misguided developers that proliferate green-glass-brick boxes popped up to provide “greater density”.

        It takes only a few misdirections to break the continuity of soul in a neighborhood’s built environment. That isn’t good for anyone, particularly those of us who believe that taking the long view, and not the throw-it-up-and-run developer view, is the way to grow density. While I don’t always agree with his love of flat roofs, as they make for ongoing maintenance headaches that eat up resources, I generally admire Josh Feit of Schemata Architecture and his thoughtful ongoing analysis of what constitutes quality architecture on CapHill. And it isn’t the Brix.

        • dan bertolet permalink*
          July 21, 2012

          Sophia, neither state nor city policy created the growth that has come to our region. The policies were created to prepare for growth that we knew was coming, and policymakers decided it would be better to accommodate that growth in city neighborhoods rather than in greenfields on the urban fringe. Do you disagree with that intention?

          And the growth that’s happening now in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill probably has a lot more to do with demographics, economics, and cultural trends than with any government policy.

          Also, your claim that the new buildings don’t rent well is just plain wrong:

          People like those places you deride, imagine that?

  3. Wilty permalink
    May 30, 2012

    The introduction of commercial uses in residential areas has nothing to do with density. You may picture mom ‘n’ pop stores, but this “reform” had enough loopholes for developers to drive trucks through. Sure, some neighborhoods may need (and welcome) such development – let them lobby for it, just as the residents of our neighborhood lobbied against it. These changes should be coming from those affected, not theorists who think they know what’s best and certainly not as a one-size fits all proposition. By the way, nothing is stopping the ongoing residential densification of Capitol Hill – I see it everyday and let me assure you – it has nothing to do with affordability.

  4. JoshMahar permalink
    May 30, 2012

    You know, I was hoping to write my thoughts about what this situation tells us but finishing up grad school was a bit more work than anticipated. That said, I’m going to try and stream-of-conciousness a few of the points I wanted to make anyway.

    Seattlites Hate Top Down Decision-Making. First and foremost this battle hits home the fact that Seattlites truly despise not being included in policy making. Ever since the Nickels era, our elected leaders have tried to push a particular version of Seattle rather than a more outreach driven approach. I think this worked for a time, and on some smaller issues, but communities have gotten so fed up with it that most people tend to be incredibly skeptical of any policy pushed down from the top.

    This fight was no different. I’d say the biggest complaint from neighborhood groups was the lack of outreach. I mean, when you have an urban policy being opposed by the most urban community in the city (Capitol Hill) that’s a pretty good sign that the engagement strategy was a failure. Continuing this top down planning is simply going to continue this deadlock.

    Stay Away From the Density Debate. Fact: there is an enormous contingent of Seattle that loves it for being a fairly urban place with lots of wonderful single family neighborhoods. And I’m certainly not saying this is wrong, the SFH neighborhoods around town are beautiful and many are even walkable or at least bikeable to all kinds of great things. I personally live in a shared SFH, and I live a fairly comfortable car-free life.

    So when people hear all the rhetoric about increasing density, they hear, “make Seattle into New York”. So they oppose it. They are generally happy with the “urbanness” of Seattle and aren’t excited to make it bigger. This becomes even more true when you consider that the public benefits of increasing density, mostly sustainability and affordability, aren’t immediate or even all that visible on a personal level.

    Anyway, the takeaway is that in any policy advocacy, we need to steer well clear of the density debate. In this particular case, I thought McGinn initially did a good job arguing that this was an economic policy geared toward increasing opportunities for entrepreneurs. Yet, it somehow quickly turned into a density debate even though it in no way directly related to increasing density in Seattle.

    Small is Doable My last point you touched on a bit. But the fact is that sweeping changes simply don’t get done in a well-educated and relatively engaged democracy. The policy changes brought forth three fairly controversial issues together at once which brought a lot of attention and opposition.

    Urban advocates need to be ok with smaller, more incremental changes. A pilot program for retail spaces in a couple locations, or more strict limitations on the types and sizes of businesses would probably have been much better in the short term and could pave the way for some more changes in the future.

    The Roosevelt discussion was another good example. We are talking something like 40ft of difference on less than a square block. It was a handful of potential units. I think it was a totally reasonable trade-off for appeasing the neighborhood groups. Then a few years down the line (since, you know, we’ve got a good 10 years before the thing even opens) maybe increase height on another block or two.

    I really think it is time for the urbanism advocates in this city to seriously reconsider their strategy and tactics. Your title says it all, naysayers are winning. You can disagree with their views, opinions, lifestyles, what have you, but the reality is that they have the more political influence. As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them. And frankly, having a slogan of “Big Development” isn’t exactly going to win any hearts and minds.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      June 2, 2012

      Thank you Josh! Did you notice that I didn’t use the word density in my post, yet many of the commenters reacted against density nonetheless?

      One point about public engagement: Yes, it is important and can lead to better outcomes, but it also is expensive and time consuming. It is highly doubtful that an in-depth public process for McGinn’s reg reform would have been feasible given the City’s limited resources. Though it probably would have been a good idea to provide more info via relatively inexpensive methods such as online surveys.

      • Sophia Katt permalink
        June 3, 2012

        Yes, Josh, you didn’t use the word “density”. But that didn’t fool us! :-) Our density radars caught you!

  5. Matt the Engineer permalink
    May 30, 2012

    I question the strategy of several commenters above of trying to win over local communities. The problem is, under our system, NO always beats yes. Make 90% of a community happy with watered-down proposals and developer give-aways and free puppies, and you’ll still get the 10% that hate all of the new puppy crap that they imagine they’ll step in on the sidewalks.

    What we need is a real democracy. Your vote shouldn’t count 1000x because you show up. The purpose of gathering community input is exactly that: gathering community input, not a biased focus group of opinions. Council members need the backbone to take the input as constructive criticism, and use it in their decisions if they think it makes sense. In the end, they work for all of the voters, not the self-selected group that shows up. Those people likely have a direct interest in the outcome, and often aren’t working toward the city’s best interest.

    • JoshMahar permalink
      May 30, 2012

      Matt, I think you’re misinterpreting our, or at least my, views a bit. This isn’t about appeasing the few naysayers at community meetings. Those have always been around. This is about a much deeper, and very real divide in this city that has caused unbelievable gridlock that ultimately will end in a lose-lose for everyone if we can’t move past it.

      Yes, one solution to this, as you suggest, could be to just pass a bunch of legislation regardless of public opinion. My guess is that this will pretty much guarantee the end the tenure of many of our elected leaders, who actually tend to agree with most of the urbanist opinions espoused on this blog and others like it (Bagshaw, Clark, Rasmussen, Burgess, O’Brien, Conlin are all easily urbanist sympathizers, not to mention McGinn of course).

      My suggestion is a different tact, to use the age old adage, “if you can’t beat them join them”. Star really listening to the concerns of these communities and start allowing them into the decision-making process. I think in the end, we’ll realize that our vision for this city isn’t all that different (as long as we don’t mention the D-word).

      • Matt the Engineer permalink
        May 31, 2012

        I think that’s great. In theory. But how do you define “the concerns of these communities”? Do you let those that show up to meetings “into the decision-making process”? It seems like that’s what we have now, and it isn’t working.

        • JoshMahar permalink
          May 31, 2012

          How so? McGinn announced his plans for these particular policy changes without any real outreach beforehand. Then there were no negotiations through community meetings, workshops, or anything that had substantial influence on the design of these changes.

          Also, a bigger issue, we utterly gutted the neighborhood planning process (in the DON) and replaced it with a centralized planning process (DPD).

          When you do bad community engagement that’s when you only hear from the squeaky wheels. Good community engagement is an active and deliberate process. It means reaching out explicitly to various groups, it means translators, it means setting up community working groups, it means withholding judgement, it means supporting citizen proposals and allowing them fair discussion, it means providing real, accessible information and data to people about laws, regulations, processes, finances, demographics, it means delegating roles and responsibilities to non-city leaders.

          This is a proven and systematic process and we simply do not use it anymore. It mostly left with Jim Diers.

          For a visual illustration, check out the Ladder of Participation. I’d say we fall at about the “informing” stage, maybe the “consultation” stage. But clearly in the TOKENISM section.


          • Matt the Engineer permalink
            May 31, 2012

            Ouch. “placation” “manipulation” “tokenism” “citizen power” No bias in that course.

            I think we can absolutely agree on taking public input at all stages. If Seattle is really fits the consultation stage (“no guarantee that those views will be considered or taken into account”), that’s not good enough. But then, the meetings I’ve been to it was clear that the council members really were considering our opinions. Of course that rung on the ladder doesn’t mention a small group of citizens’ ability to completely kill a project or proposal.

            A rung on the ladder I’m not seeing I’ll call the listening stage. Really listening to the community at every phase of a project. But giving them zero control.

  6. dan cortland permalink
    May 30, 2012

    Those who testify at Council hearings do not necessarily reflect the sentiments of the entire community…

    Your vote shouldn’t count 1000x because you show up.

    But the relatively small, non-transparent, private email-account-using group of mostly industry folks on the mayor’s advisory group represent the community better, and their views should count 1000x? Yeah, right. Word is that Council also received a very large number of emails and phone calls rejecting the proposal. You want to disenfranchise activism you don’t agree with, when you lose a policy debate. Rick Scott has jobs for you in Florida right now.

    Seattle citizens rejected the perversion of the land use code into a jobs program for the building industry, which apparently believes it’s entitled to such favors.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      June 2, 2012

      Sorry to hear you fell so easily for the Seattle Times hype, Dan. And sorry that you don’t like representative democracy. And sorry that you think the Mayor shouldn’t be allowed to consult with a group of experts to get their policy advice.

  7. dan cortland permalink
    May 30, 2012

    Those people likely have a direct interest in the outcome, and often aren’t working toward the city’s best interest.

    As opposed to all the civic-minded, financially disinterested types on the advisory group, who purposely hid their discussion from the public?

  8. Julianne permalink
    May 31, 2012

    As one of the noisy protesters, though only by email, and as a long-time, enamored resident of Capitol Hill, I believe in the concept of dense, walkable cities with good public transportation to get people out of their cars. We own a 1996 car in great condition with only 65,000 miles on it. The increasing density of my neighborhood makes me feel comfortable going out alone at all times of day; people are always around, often with their dogs.

    Here’s the problem with developers: they should not be privileged over citizens in deciding what happens in our neighborhoods. Actual residents of the affected areas were not invited into the planning process that resulted in these proposals. Indeed, it was clear we weren’t wanted. Many insults have been levied at us for our effort to join the process. We’re NIMBYs, we should move to Laurelhurst, we have some kind of retro lefty opposition to the big-money development folks and the planners-who-know-best.

    But the planners obviously don’t live here, and the developers come for the short term, to make their money and move on. We’re the ones who care about what they leave behind. Everybody on Capitol Hill lives near stores, restaurants and services. We have density, and it’s increasing. Do you? We have trouble finding parking. Do you? We’ve lost historic homes that were replaced by giant nondescript and largely temporary housing. We have half-way houses, mental institutions, clinics, hospitals, and many quietly operating in-home businesses. We have areas where people live on arterials, in small units in large buildings, with retail businesses all around them, and others where historic single-family houses prevail. In my immediate area, condos, apartments, houses, B&Bs, and charitable institutions are mixed, and there’s even the lauded “corner store” — a 7-Eleven — three blocks away. Yet it’s residential. I would not welcome the additional traffic, parking woes, noise, signs, and other potential disruptions of businesses that belong on our nearby arterials.

    So why did the planners shut us out of their deliberations? Why are you attacking us now that we managed to get a word in? If your ideas are really so one-size-fits-all, why can’t you defend them without resorting to rudeness and slander?

    And stop already about the damn corner store. We have plenty. Some of them are cute and serve a purpose. Many are a blight. None of them can go up against the nearby Safeways, QFCs, Trader Joes, and Madison Markets without a specialty. Maybe it’s halal foods, fine (in a business district, please). Usually it’s the opportunity buy cigarettes and booze at all hours of the night. Your single example of the beloved corner store masks the cold fact that many businesses would qualify under your description and not all of them would be welcome right next to your home.

    And that’s what would be required: ALL of them must be benign. Because when you let this camel in the tent, you won’t be able to get him out.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      June 2, 2012

      Yes Julianne, Capitol Hill is a wonderful, diverse neighborhood, but it’s not the only neighborhood in the city that matters. If there are already plenty of well-located small local shops on Capitol Hill then it would very unlikely that the proposed policy would have resulted in any changes on the ground, because new shops wouldn’t make economic sense.

      Regarding rudeness, I don’t think there’s any in my post, so please don’t project.

    • June 2, 2012


      I think Julianne is refering to me when she talks about being rude.

      Julianne, you are entitled to your opinions and you are entitled to organize and to persuade council. And the Council is entitled to support your views.

      You are entitled to be wrong, too, as you are on this issue.

      This was a modest proposal that was permissive. It did not mandate that corner stores go anywhere, it would allow them. It was not just targeted at Capitol Hill. And people in the neighborhood and all over town knew about this many months ago.

      Your brand of negative activism is choking of creative ideas to accomodate growth. Your approach is to stoke fears about all the bad things that might happen if we change things, even just a little bit.

      Why don’t you try to rally people around something postive and something that will help us grow this city in an intelligent and inclusive way? What are your ideas for making this city bigger and better? Do you have any? Do your colleagues?

      This is a great forum to talk about them. I’m interested in hearing how you’ll make Capitol HIll open and inviting for even more people, more businesses, and more great things.

      But as long as you and your friends spend your time trashing new ideas, new development, and resisting new people and businesses coming into our community I will continue to do what I can to call it out for what it is: fear of change.

      If that’s rude, so be it.

      • Sophia Katt permalink
        June 3, 2012

        Maybe a way for some of the posters on this thread to doublecheck their thinking about representative democracy vs. showing up to protest (negativism, etc.) might be to reframe after considering how the infamous deep-bore tunnel came to be.

        My guess is that a number of the posters here who consider themselves to be density activists felt that their push against the tunnel (which for the record I believe to be a colossal waste of money and time) were quite okay with looking like negative gadflies in the face of Port of Seattle, the Seattle City Council crew, and so-called expert policy makers who wanted that tunnel because it meant “progress for the good of the region” no matter how bad the tunnel actually was for Seattle. And for the region. Yet someone who operates in the same way to object to growth on the neighborhood scale is an opponent to progress. Hmmm.

        Maybe we should all check our Big Picture principles? I’ve been putting myself through this particular filter in 2012, especially after the tunnel is already in funding trouble, just to make sure I’m not implying during a post that it’s okay for me to object but for not for anyone else…

        • June 4, 2012


          There is nothing wrong with people opposing a project or a proposal. Nobody, including myself, is saying that it isn’t ok for people to organize to stop something. The question is why and how does that opposition lead to a sustainable outcome. With the tunnel that’s obvious: it’s wasteful to build more highways when people are driving less, and we are trying to find alternatives.

          My point is that the activism of “no” is all we are seeing now. I don’t see neighborhood groups organizing themselves around how they want growth to happen. In other places I’ve written about how the neighborhood movement of the 90s was about “what will we get when the growth comes to our neighborhood.”

          Now it’s “how can we stop the change that comes with growth, and more people?” Taken together, what I hear from opponents of regulatory reform, new development, and density is about all the awful things that will happen if we change things, not a positive vision of the future.

          If their vision of the future is for things to be just like they are today, that’s fine. But it’s not a vision that I share or one we should adopt as a community and region.

  9. Cholene permalink
    May 31, 2012

    What’s not to like? Try strip malls without parking for starts. Those difficult-to-rent (or sell) first floor units could be cheap retail shell space – occupied or not, the developer makes his profit and the neighbors are left with whatever-comes-along. Unintended consequences – given the opportunity, developers will take it; look at the future flophouses known as apodments. Do you think families will be attracted to those? How sustainable will those little slices of density be when the residents move on to the suburbs as their lives change and there is no suitable housing in town? An advisory committee of hand-picked members, heavily weighted to development should not be making public policy in secret. This whole process has been tainted – the Mayor, DPD and the “urbanist community” should be ashamed of themselves – neighborhood groups don’t stand in the way of progress but hubris might.

  10. Sophia Katt permalink
    May 31, 2012

    “Those people likely have a direct interest in the outcome, and often aren’t working toward the city’s best interest.”

    But the Capitol Hill residents who objected to the proposal ARE the city, or part of it, at least–they are simply part of the city that doesn’t want random noisy businesses at their doorstep while their live-in grandma is trying to take a nap.

    And lack of affordable family size housing has been a CapHill problem for decades. The small units that are the general toss-in by “affordable program” developers don’t improve diversity, they further cement the increasing lack of it. Over and over for years my friends who meet, marry and conceive a child leave the Hill and move to a suburb like Shoreline for the improved schooling and a house with a backyard. Tearing down charming Craftsman houses, plunking in a 5 story green-glass-brick box full of nothing but studios and 1 bedroom apartments, and leasing in a 7-Eleven three blocks east of Broadway isn’t going to fix that.

  11. Brad permalink
    May 31, 2012

    I find it somewhat humorous that Dan’s byline on this article read:

    Dan Bertolet is a Seattle resident and the creator of Citytank.

    Rather than his standard:

    Dan Bertolet is an urban planner with VIA Architecture and the creator of the Citytank.

    After all, there’s no stigma in being a developer is there? :)

    What’s your address, Dan?


    • dan bertolet permalink*
      June 2, 2012

      Excellent sleuthing Brad! You’ve uncovered yet another layer in the vast developer conspiracy to bring back the corner store!

      Assuming you’re not a stalker, why do you want to know where I live and why is that relevant to this discussion?

      • Dan Staley permalink
        June 3, 2012

        Dan, he is using two separate standard tactics – both patently transparent and tired – to silence discussion. Ignore him and continue on trying to foster democracy.

  12. June 1, 2012

    It’s great to see the diversity of opinion on this comment thread. The CityTank is not just an urban echo chamber any more.

    However, I disagree with several of the commenters above who are critical of the Mayor’s proposal. What I am reading is a lot of concern over noise, parking, traffic and aesthetic issues with small retail in residential areas, and with new development in general. These are, by definition, suburban concerns. Cities thrive on diverse uses and lots of people causing lots of traffic and noise. Always has been throughout history, until the 1950s through 1980s in the USA, when suburban values eclipsed our urban memories. Most people who had their formative years in that period continue to avoid the urban ethic and protect their suburban enclave. But you already live in Capitol Hill, the most urban neighborhood in the Northwest? No, you want to live near the Urban amenities of west-of-15th Capitol Hill, while maintaining suburban values in the immediate surroundings. Basically, you want the best of both worlds, at the expense of others.

    I also live in an L2 zone, with no local shopping available (in West Seattle). I would love to be able to quickly walk to a coffee shop or a grocery or a Redbox machine, but current zoning does not allow, despite being on an arterial with frequent transit service. Why did I move so far out, you may ask? It was the only area of the city where I could afford enough space for my family. Many others want to live in walkable urban places, but thanks to those who oppose these measures, the City won’t allow the urban zones to expand outside their historic boundaries. Traffic! Noise! Parking! Go away!

    Why do you think the mayor has to include you in the development of a policy proposal? He was elected on a certain platform, which was visible ahead of time through his leadership of Great City. Once elected, he moved to implement his platform. He gathered some like-minded people to work out the details of the proposal. After the proposal was announced, it goes to the city council for consideration and debate. Then the public gets opportunity to weigh in on the matter, and the council-members decide. Sounds like a model democracy to me.

    • Lemmy permalink
      June 1, 2012

      You moved away to an area you could afford family housing in – if you want commercial uses in YOUR residential zone – lobby the city for them. The urbanist arguement is to get rid of family friendly housing in the zones they think need to be densified. Changing the zoning of residential areas most definitely should include the residents of the changed zone – that is democracy. Mayor McGinn campaigned on a platform of transparency and listening to the neighborhoods; why all the secrecy? And not only this “reform package” there’s the arena business…

  13. Janet Wright permalink
    June 2, 2012

    Well said, Dan. it is very sad that a small group of people cannot envision the benefits of corner stores, and how this helps create community, encourage walking, and reduces auto use. It reminds me when I worked in Kirkland of a woman who opposed the same idea, stating, “I don’t want my child going to the store to buy candy and junk!” I was incredibly appalled that this woman opposed a corner store due to her concerns about her child’s spending habits…it seemed incredibly selfish for her to deny that accessibility for others to buy basic foods within walking distance of their homes.

    I live in a small town of 3,000 population in Guatemala where there is no zoning, so mixed use is everywhere! Daily I see the benefits of allowing street level stores with residences on the 2nd floor. Within a few blocks I can walk to a variety of stores and get all of my needs met. And here we thought undeveloped countries were somehow inferior to the USA!…not much obesity here and there exist great social networks due to being out and about with neighbors for shopping and other tasks!

  14. Dan Staley permalink
    June 3, 2012

    a mix of timid political leadership and an expectation that everyone must be not only heard but appeased, to form a singularly toxic political dysfunction that would be an entertaining intellectual curiosity if it wasn’t so potentially detrimental to the future of the City.

    When I moved up there, the italicized is one of the first things I noticed. This is why nothing gets done in Seattle. Tiny changes to make a place better are rejected?! Dumb.

  15. Camino Cielo permalink
    June 5, 2012

    Great piece, Dan. Just one question: were you just being discrete by not mentioning what I think was the main reason for Capitol Hill”s disproportionately negative reaction to the package — namely the campaign by Rebecca Herzfeld (a Council Central Staff land use supervisor and Capitol Hill property owner) to “alert” the community about its negative impacts. Although she recused herself from working on the issue (as did another Central Staffer and Capitol Hill property owner, Michael Jenkins), she used her access to the details of the package long before it was introduced to rile up the community — before most organizations (the Chamber, the Community Council) had even heard about it. She exaggerated (invented?) the potential negative impacts (uncontrolled noise! odors! etc.), wrote a form letter for residents to use to lobby Councilmember Richard Conlin, and then used her unique access to lobby at least two Councilmembers herself — supposedly using vacation time, supposedly only because the CMs asked her for info.

    It’s conceivable that Capitol Hill residents could have mounted their opposition without the activism of Central Staff — but I doubt it would have been as virulent because, let’s face it, Capitol Hill is the most change-embracing, policy-forward community in town.

    But back to my question: are you ignoring this background (surely you knew) to err on the side of the “organic, grassroots activism” narrative or do you think it’s inconsequential?

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