MHA legislation kicks into gear again

This morning, Council member Rob Johnson and his colleagues took the citywide MHA legislation off the shelf, dusted it off, and restarted its journey to the finish line.

The legislation has been in limbo while challenges to the final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the legislation have been working their way through the Hearing Examiner’s office. But with a final ruling from the Hearing Examiner last November, there is final clarity on how to move forward.

First, the city must address the one area that the Hearing Examiner found insufficient: the FEIS’s discussion of impacts on historic resources. To address that deficiency, the city will be issuing an addendum to the FEIS by the end of January that includes several additional sources and analysis, including:

  • the official register of City of Seattle landmarks (now mapped with MHA zone information);
  • the National Register of Historic Places (NHRP) eligible sites (also mapped with MHA zone info);
  • the incomplete Seattle Historic Resources Survey database, with a detailed description of the database contents and its purpose;
  • the NHRP historic districts, including two recently-designated ones in Ravenna-Cowen and Mount Baker Park;
  • information about where the threshold is for project-level SEPA reviews such that smaller projects that may impact historic resources may bypass scrutiny.

The addendum is also expected to contain a discussion of additional mitigation measures that the city could take to address the impact of MHA on historic resources, including:

  • reducing urban village expansions in NRHP districts;
  •  fund a complete Seattle Historic Resources survey;
  • modify SEPA exemption thresholds for older buildings; so that fewer potential historic sites slip through the cracks.

The city also said that to-date as they have worked through the additional analysis, they have not found any new adverse impacts.

The second part of the meeting was the beginning of a review of potential issues with the draft MHA legislation as transmitted from the Mayor’s Office in 2017 that the Council might choose to address through amendments. Today’s part looked at cross-cutting issues; next Monday and Wednesday Johnson’s committee will be going district-by-district to review location-specific issues.

Following a memo provided by the Council’s central staff, today’s issues discussion looked at:

  • development standards in the new “Residential Small Lot” (RSL) zone designation;
  • development standards in multifamily zones;
  • development standards in commercial and mixed zones;
  • other development standards;
  • the MHA program itself;
  •  two Comperehensive Plan amendments to the Wallingford-Fremont area and Morgan Junction.

The issues discussed included:

  • the current plan for the RSL zone caps the size of dwelling units at 2200 square feet, to discourage single-family homes, but that might discourage owners of existing single-family homes that get rezoned to RSL from doing small additions.
  • Garage design standards: RSL currently uses the garage standards for multifamily zoning, which allows for garages to face the street, but that might lead to rowhouse developments with an entire wall of garages facing a street.
  • The effect of pitched roofs on lowrise development standards.
  • How to mix-and-match the current Incentive Zoning program with the new MHA program in highrise zones.
  • How to ensure that spaces for small businesses are created in commercial and mixed zones.
  • how much surface parking should be allowed in lots around the Rainier Beach light rail station.
  •  How much protection to give to owners of “nonconforming” structures (after a lot is rezoned) such that in the event of a fire or other disaster an owner can rebuild as before.
  • Whether the benefits granted to projects that include preschools should be extended to those that include childcare centers.
  •  The performance and payment amounts in the MHA program were calculated in 2016, and probably need to be updated. Also, the rent increases that have occurred across the city may change which properties are deemed to be low-, medium-, and high- MHA implementation areas. Finally, the MHA legislation currently specifies that CPI should be used for periodic adjustments to performance and payment amounts, but the Council may want to adopt a different metric.
  • Whether MHA payments could be amortized over time, and potentially passed on to the purchaser of a property.
  • How to facilitate and incent the developers of projects that have already vested in the existing zoning and development standards to opt into the MHA program.

Council members were reminded that the only amendments that can be considered are those that keep the MHA legislation within the boundaries of the options studied in the FEIS — otherwise the EIS would need to be redone to study the impacts before the legislation can be adopted.

The conversation will continue next Monday.