Today the City of Seattle published the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for its proposed redevelopment of the Fort Lawton property in Magnolia.
Here’s my original writeup of the controversy over the Ft. Lawton parcel. In short: the Army wants to give it to the city for free, but the city needs to have a plan for redeveloping it. City officials and some community activists want to build affordable housing, while other community activists (mostly Magnolia residents) want to expand Discovery Park instead. The plan moving forward, which was the subject of the EIS, does some of both, though devotes more of the land to affordable housing projects with a goal of building 238 units.
In December the city published its draft EIS, and in January it held a public hearing to gather feedback. An appendix of the final EIS contains all of the comments from the public hearing, as well as all of the written comments the city received. The FEIS incorporates feedback in additional analysis as well as some changes to the proposal.
Largely the Final EIS is unchanged from the draft. Here are the handful of pertinent changes:
- The area of the property that will be used for affordable housing would be rezoned from single-family to “Lowrise 2” with the MHA requirements attached. The draft EIS specified that it would rezoned to “Lowrise 3.” The two zones are very similar, both intended for multi-family residential development in or near urban villages, though Lowrise 2 allows slightly less density.
- The FEIS walks through the land use code’s rules for evaluating appropriateness of a rezone, and discusses how this particular proposal compares.
- The FEIS has an updated and expanded evaluation of transportation impacts, including more detail on specific intersections in Magnolia, vehicle parking, and transit capacity. Generally it finds the proposal to have minimal additional effect in the 2030 timeframe, mainly because the additional Fort Lawton traffic is a tiny fraction of existing traffic, but traffic and parking are expected to get much worse in Magnolia even if the Fort Lawton project isn’t undertaken.
- It has updated projections from Seattle Public Schools for local school capacity, and how many additional students the new development would add. Again, even without the Fort Lawton project the neighborhood public schools are going to get crowded. The good news, however, is that the school district is already working on new elementary and high schools that should generate the necessary capacity in the right timeframe. And the city has agreed to work with Seattle Public Schools to try to use some of the Ft. Lawton property for school purposes.
With the FEIS done, the city can start to move forward with planning the redevelopment in earnest. The Office of Housing will develop a redevelopment plan, which it will then presents to the City Council for approval. the Office of Housing has committed to taking public comment during its process, and since the plan will involve rezoning part of the property, the City Council will also need to hold a public hearing.
But that assumes legal challenges don’t get in the way. There is little doubt that the Magnolia residents who prefer to see the property used to expand Discovery Park will appeal the FEIS to the City Hearing Examiner — and further up the line if they don’t get their way. It’s unclear how long that appeal process will take, but it creates a danger that the city may lose the property altogether: the U. S. Army, the current owner of the property, is running out of patience with the city. By the terms of the agreement between the Army and the City of Seattle, the final EIS needed to be released by March 31; the City squeaked in just under the deadline. Now the city must approve a redevelopment plan by January 1, 2020, or the Army can sell the property to a private buyer — and the most likely outcome of that would be no park expansion, no affordable housing, just more McMansions on Magnolia Hill.
Here is the city’s web page with full information on the Fort Lawton project.
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