Other legislation that became law today… quietly

With little fanfare — and in some cases less attention than they deserved — four other notable bills (besides the Uptown MHA upzone) were passed into law by the City Council today.

  • The Council passed a land-use ordinance put forth by Council member Juarez that places a moratorium on new commercial development in the Aurora-Licton Springs Urban Village. On the merits, the bill makes a lot of sense: through the HALA city-wide process, the area is expected to be rezoned next year with commercial zones being switched to “neighborhood commercial” to move away from car dealers and warehouses toward more housing and pedestrian-friendly retail businesses, so it makes little sense to allow commercial development projects to start now that wouldn’t be allowed a year from now. What was eyebrow-raising about this ordinance is that it invoked the Council’s emergency powers to make land use code changes and thereby bypass an EIS review under the state SEPA law. It also allowed the Council to schedule the required public hearing for after the bill passed into law, rather than before. To invoke the “public emergency” powers, the bill must be “necessary for the protection of the public health, safety and welfare.” None of the Council members addressed the unusual nature of the bill before voting to approve it. We should all be concerned when our elected officials take an “ends justify the means” approach to justify bypassing public process.
  • The Council also approved a one-year lease extension for a warehouse owned by the Army that the city makes available for the St. Martin De Porres shelter for older single men. What is unusual here is that the lease agreement specifically restricts the shelter to overnight-only. For the past year and a half the city government (both the Council and the Human Services Department) have recognized that overnight-only shelters are bad policy, and that many homeless people would rather live on the street fulltime than be kicked out on the street at 6am every morning. It’s unclear why the city would agree to a lease that requires them to continue that practice. It’s certainly understandable that some (perhaps many) service providers may not be able to shift from overnight-only to 24-hour, but it makes no sense for the city to sign a lease agreement that explicitly precludes that possibility upfront.
  • The Council approved its annual slate of updates to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The handful of changes were minor and technical, not a surprise given the major overhaul of the comprehensive plan that was approved last year. The Council is only allowed to update the Comprehensive Plan, and has already approved a docket of potential changes to be researched for next year’s update.
  • The Council approved a set of changes to the city’s Design Review process, intended to streamline review processes. This turned out to be a complicated process, with pressures on the Council from some stakeholdersĀ  to extend review to more projects, and pressure from others to exempt more projects. In the end, they did a bit of both. They also modified the criteria for when projects are required to go through a full design review in front of a Design Review Board, versus an administrative review handed just by city staff. And they added additional criteria to force design review for larger projects on sites that are adjacent to single-family zones and have recently been upzoned, so as to put additional attention on ensuring that those transitional areas of zoning receive greater attention.