On Monday, the City Council started walking through proposed amendments to zoning in the city-wide MHA ordinance, starting with those in Council districts 4, 6 and 7. This morning, they covered the other four districts. As with Monday’s session, it was mostly a stress-free discussion that rarely bogged down in details. There were a few interesting moments, however, that exposed some recurring themes — and caused a couple of the Council members to show their cards.
- There continued to be cases where residential communities asked the City Council to either delay or forego upzoning/expanding their urban village. In West Seattle, Council member Herbold spoke up for an effort to delay upzoning until the Sound Transit 3 light-rail alignment through the neighborhood has been finalized so that neighborhood planning can be aligned with it. In contrast, Council President Harrell spoke sharply against a request from the Beacon Hill Community Council not to upzone or expand their urban village. Saying, “This gets to the heart of what we’re trying to do,” he noted that the city must do something to mandate affordable housing, because in his view a “do nothing” approach is why the city is in its current situation.
- The Council members continued to be generally favorable to requests to reduce or remove height increases to properties adjacent to parks (or proposed parks, in some instances) in order to avoid shadowing the parks.
- Herbold raised concerns that the MHA plan is grossly underestimating displacement impacts because it doesn’t require replacement of demolished housing units in low-income communities. She said that she is working on a SEPA-style housing-mitigation approach and hopes to bring a proposal forward soon. Council member Sawant echoed Herbold’s concerns, saying that MHA will not be a panacea for the affordability crisis and the city needs a “no net loss” policy for existing housing.
- Council member Juarez reflected back on Monday’s two committee meetings: on homelessness and affordable housing in the morning, and on MHA in the afternoon. She observed that in the morning the presenters hammered on the message of “build housing.” But in the afternoon, speakers repeatedly said “Do not build” in the public comment session. “So it’s a bit schizophrenic,” Juarez remarked.
- In District 5, Sawant proposed removing the upzone for two properties currently housing mobile home parks. One of them, Halcyon, is a community of age 55+ residents who are now facing eviction because the property is about to be sold to a developer. Sawant is devoting her committee meeting on Friday to rally efforts to stop the Halcyon sale, attempting to apply learnings from her “Save the Showbox” effort last fall. However, the properties are already zoned “commercial,” and the proposed MHA upzone would simply increase the height limit from 40 feet to 55. Further, as Council member Johnson pointed out, not upzoning it might be counter-productive, since it would be a rare property in an urban village where the MHA mandatory affordable-housing contributions would not apply; that would likely make it even more attractive for redevelopment.
- Proposals to increase the upzone on several properties, across all seven districts, have been floated. While the Council members were fond of several that were attached to affordable housing projects, because the additional increase is beyond the scope of what was studied in the Environmental Impact Statement, they can’t be included in the MHA legislation. They can, however, be submitted to the city as individual rezone petitions; they would be evaluated by SDCI and might eventually end up in front of the Council for approval. The fact that so many aren’t making it into the MHA legislation suggests that SDCI will be very busy in the second half of 2019 dealing with individual petitions.
Johnson announced that the next MHA committee meeting will be on Friday, February 8th. At that meeting the Council will walk through formally proposed amendments, but not vote on them (a public hearing in late February needs to happen first). Those amendments will include cross-cutting issues (like changes to the development standards), as well as some of the individual zoning changes discussed this week.