Last Thursday’s North Rainier Zoning meeting (background here) drew a couple of hundred people and perhaps 60 commenters in spite of the unseasonably warm weather. There was a short presentation by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) followed by over 90 minutes of public comment. DPD envisions the Lowe’s site, with the tallest proposed heights and the source of much angst, as not just housing, but hopefully a corporate or educational campus.
Perhaps someone will have the fortitude to go through and count the comments, but my impression was the pro and anti speakers were roughly evenly split, with the clearest division between longtime residents (mostly opposed, and speaking early) and people who have been there less than 10 years (mostly in favor, and speaking late). It’s a good example of how fixed transit investment builds its ridership through a natural process of sorting: people for whom rail is an important amenity are disproportionately likely to settle near stations.
The most common theme in the comments — whether “yes but” or “hell no” — was the thirst for an economic development strategy for the Rainier Valley. With the gruesome economic history of the Southeast, many fear that without a conscious plan the storefronts will be empty and what jobs do exist in this neighborhood won’t be replaced. It’s an understandable desire, but some of the people calling for “quality jobs” at a headquarters like Amazon’s might be careful what they wish for. After all, a global employer won’t simply hire the Franklin High School class of 2015: they’ll recruit globally, and many of their employees will choose to bid up rents in the Southeast. I take a relaxed view of gentrification, as opposed to displacement, but others do not.
Beyond that, the criticisms were so varied that the Council will have trouble finding ways to improve the plan in the eyes of the community. There were complaints that there wasn’t enough affordable housing, or that the Rainier Valley already had enough of it. Some thought the war on cars had gone too far, and others that high speeds still made our streets unsafe. Developers are simultaneously losing their shirts on empty TOD and making obscene profits at the expense of residents. And lastly, some argued that the retail and service jobs from storefronts weren’t good enough, while others passionately argued to preserve the retail jobs at Lowe’s.
The other opposition thread was complaint about outreach. Of course, project opponents never think it’s time to move on until (absurdly) every last citizen is well-informed. Nevertheless, Rainier Valley Post editor Amber Campbell (who didn’t take a position on the upzone itself) pointed out that her very-plugged-in publication has had only intermittent notification, suggesting DPD is missing some low-hanging fruit. But there is a cost to delay: the time lost is time where more people who seek housing in Seattle have to go elsewhere, people don’t have jobs, and the temporary advantage that the Rainier Valley has in transit quality slips away.
Thanks to the people who came out on a nice night to participate in the process.