City to do another EIS for U District MHA upzone

This morning Geoff Wentlandt of the Office of Planning and Community Development let the Council know that it would be a while before it could implement the MHA program across the rest of the University District because it needed to complete a new environmental impact statement (EIS).

The U District was the first area of the city to be rezoned to implement MHA, back in 2017. At the time, however, businesses along “The Ave” objected, arguing that redevelopment would force them out, so The Ave and a handful of other blocks were carved out of the rezone area — with the intent to include them in the city-wide MHA legislation. However, earlier this year when the city-wide MHA came up for deliberations and vote, at the 11th hour the Ave was once again removed from the rezone area. At the time, it was explained that this was done to allow for the area merchants to complete their “small business vulnerability survey.”

Wentlandt gave a different explanation this morning. Apparently the current MHA proposal for that area is now different from what was originally evaluated in the 2015 EIS for the U District MHA implementation. In order to ensure that it survives a legal challenge, the city intends to issue a Supplemental EIS for those areas.

A Scoping Notice will be issued by OPCD on Thursday, and the public comment period will extend until June 21st with a meeting on Wednesday, June 12. The city expects to issue the draft EIS in late summer, followed by another public comment period, and then the issuance of a final EIS (FEIS) in the fall.

Alternatives expected to be considered in the supplemental EIS:

  • the changes proposed during the city-wide MHA legislation discussions;
  • a version with more intensive height and and floor area increasesl
  • a “no action” alternative.

The supplemental EIS will also benefit from the EIS written for the recently-completed UW Campus Master Plan update, which has updated information on traffic/trip generation, demand for services, and growth projections.

Once the final EIS is published and any legal appeals are dealt with, the city can finally move forward with legislation. It’s very likely, however, that the final EIS will be challenged and result in another Hearing Examiner case running for several months. In this morning’s Council meeting public comment session, the usual suspects showed up once again to renew their objections to the MHA program in general, and were joined by a representative of the merchants along the Ave who complained that the city has not sufficiently worked with local businesses to address their displacement concerns, as laid out in a resolution passed along with the 2017 U District MHA upzone ordinance. In that resolution, the city committed to:

A. Work with businesses along the Ave to identify ways that the zoning, development standards, and other regulations for properties along the Ave can support the small businesses along the Ave, provide incentives to preserve landmarks and unreinforced masonry buildings, and support other community goals including housing for a mix of incomes including low-income tenants;

B. Bring the Community Affordability Consulting Team to work with businesses in the U District on issues such as the design of tenant spaces, feasibility analysis for building renovations and business plan development;

C. In consultation with local businesses, revise the U District Neighborhood Design Guidelines to support the creation of spaces on the Ave that are attractive to and functional for small locally-owned businesses;

D. Provide financial support for qualifying and interested businesses that have five or fewer employees through Individual Development Accounts and zero percent interest loans;

E. Collaborate with the local businesses to explore additional programs to support small locally-owned businesses such as a commercial affordability tax abatement program, adjustments to property taxes based on income streams, or a commercial affordability fund;

F. Review the historic resources surveys for the U District and the analysis contained in the Final U District Urban Design Environmental Impact Statement, to determine whether to nominate an area as a historic district; and

G. Continue efforts with the Office of Economic Development to establish a Legacy Business preservation program for historically or culturally significant businesses.

When pressed by Council member Herbold this morning on whether the city had made progress on those commitments, Wentlandt admitted that “there is still work to be done,” but expressed his hope that part of the work could be done through the Supplemental EIS, and other parts in parallel with the EIS work. For her part, Herbold pushed for a written response from OPCD on exactly what work had been done to meet the commitments in the resolution.

Council members Pacheco and Mosqueda expressed their impatience with the delay in enacting MHA in the remaining areas of the Ave, and in the lack of a crisp timeline for the supplemental EIS. Wentlandt explained that he couldn’t give an exact date because technical issues might complicate the analysis, and because he doesn’t know how many public comments the city will receive on the draft EIS (the city is required to respond to all of them). Pacheco pushed for an accounting of exactly how many affordable housing units have been “lost” because of development projects moving ahead without MHA requirements attached.

Look for OPCD’s EIS Supplemental Scoping Period announcement on Thursday.


  1. The City’s reasoning for pulling the U.District from the city wide CB 119444 is a black box. However, the word that reached us in SCALE was that the City Attorney did tell the Council that the EIS was vulnerable to challenge because it did not address U.District alternatives or impacts.

    Regarding alternatives, why are the alternatives always no change and “more,” and “more more,” with no consideration of other alternatives to meet the stated objectives* or how about a plain and simple “less more.”

    *Increase funding to build social housing being a primary one.

    1. I think the simple answer to your question is because the policy-makers want a definitive projection for the impacts of their preferred alternative, and they know that if they also explore an extreme alternative then they have headroom to tweak the preferred alternative up if necessary.

Comments are closed.