Seattle Pvblic Library 3
Columbia City Library, by flickr user SlightlyNorth

According to the Rainier Valley Post, the Columbia City Community Council meets tonight at 6 pm in the Columbia Library. Today’s meeting is a briefing about the process of updating that area’s Neighborhood Plan, which the city uses to inform development and density goals, and will also have a discussion of the Futurewise/TCC “Transit Oriented Communities” bill we’ve been following (also here, here and here). From this quote, I don’t think the folks at the meeting are in favor of HB 1490:

If approved, this legislation will mandate high density housing development at station-areas that would make southeast Seattle the densest community north of San Francisco. This legislation is highly controversial.

That’s a pretty dramatic exaggeration, the bill isn’t prescribing even the sort of densities that are currently in place on Capitol Hill, much less First Hill or Belltown’s highrises.

If you live in that neighborhood and that’s your sort of fun, according to the RVP, the CCCC is looking for volunteers to work on the neighborhood plan. The long-term effectiveness of our light rail system is going to hinge quite a bit on the amount of development it’s able to spur. It’d be a shame if these meetings were attended only by NIMBYs and our whole region loses out because of it.

39 Replies to “Rainier Valley Meeting on TOD”

  1. Not a good idea to lump Columbia Citizens. Ray will be Ray, and he’ll be vocal, even if he doesn’t speak for everyone. I think many of us are simply wondering what this is all about. I can’t make it. If you go, would you post some notes?

    1. I can’t go. Yeah I don’t mean to lump every one in that neighborhood together, but my experience going to these sort of meetings is that they tend to be dominated by NIMBYs.

  2. Anyone know what the net density of Columbia City around the station is already? Or what the net density of Rainier Vista is? Rainier Vista’s gross density is 15.65 (1000 units / 64 acres), but I know I know, that’s not net.

    1. Rainier Vista couldn’t be more than twice 15.65 (it’s not half roads and sidewalks), so we could guess 31 as an upper limit. I’m not sure about CC, but it’s significantly less than Rainier Vista, which itself is less than 50 units/acre.

  3. Wait, isn’t Seattle (the metro area, not just the city) also the BIGGEST city to the north of SF? Why is this a terrible thing?

    1. He’s not saying that Seattle will be the densest, but that Southeast Seattle will be the most dense neighborhood.

      I think Seattle is also the biggest city.

      1. It is a major stretch to claim SE Seattle will become more densely populated than First Hill or Capitol Hill or even Belltown. The opposition to this smells of NIMBYism.

      2. It is the same cranks and NIMBY types who squeal any time change is proposed for SE Seattle, see “Save Our Valley”.

        I’m tempted to suggest the city condemn the entire 1/2 mile station circle around the Othello and Columbia City stations and build Hong Kong style high rises just to spite them.

      3. jcdk,
        Don’t mind me. It’s just that Ray and his supporting cast really piss me off.

      4. I actually think it would be a good idea to allow 15-20 story buildings around each station, provided that there were appropriate setbacks the higher the building went (e.g., taller and thinner, occupying less than a whole block). Similar to what Vancouver BC has done on the West End.

      5. It is always easy to cop out to nimbyism and criticize Ray for the hard work he has done so that you new comers have a safe place to live that is affordable. When multiple issues like public safety, infrastructure, youth programs are left out of the equation, who will cry the loudest when you are
        all reassessed to upgrade the infrastructure that is 50 yrs. old and not up to the
        additional load of so much density. One additional insult is all the folks that lived through light rail construction now have to pay to park their cars on the street in front of their house. It is time to agree to disagree on the issue, not make
        personal slanderous comments about people, it achieves nothing, it just splits the community.
        You have it good due to hard work of the folks you continually criticize.

      6. Precisely. Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne and even Belltown have large areas with gross densities in the 30,000 ppl/sqmi, which represent gross unit densities of 50/acre. That’s without counting any roads, parking, parks, etc. Net unit densities would certainly be much higher.

        And those areas are certainly larger than just a 1/4 mile radius.

  4. Does this essentially mean that we’d start to see high rise construction sprouting up in these neighborhoods? I mean, that seems like the development they describe.

    1. 50 units net density isn’t that much. 50 units/acre is about equivalent to two or three stories of apartments.

      This three-story apartment building proposed in Queen Anne is about 60 units/acre:

      This six story building proposed in the U-Distict is more than 255 units/acre:

      This four-story mixed use building proposed in the valley on Rainer and Rose is 123 units/per acre and features a floor of retail, and a half of the units are two-bedrooms, and the other half are one-bedrooms. So it’s not a bunch of crammed-in studios:

  5. I think one method of talking to communities about the importance of creating higher density around the light rail stations is the economic inevitability of it. With or without the new Transit Oriented Communities law, the built environment around the transit centers will change. As people start gathering at the stations each morning and evening, those who own adjacent properties will quickly realize that the highest and best use of their land isn’t single family construction, and will redevelop to accommodate. This in turn will drive property values and taxes up in the vicinity. This will further the trend away from single family. The question to ask the community is do they want this inevitable change to take place ad-hoc, come-what-may? Or do they want to take the initiative and help their neighborhood grow in a meaningful way?

    For those of us that espouse the TOD/TOC concept the answer is easy. In trying to get people out of their cars and into transit, one of the difficulties is that people who drive to work tend to combine their commute with necessary errands – stopping at the store, dropping off/picking up dry cleaning, going to the post office, etc. The beauty of the potential that awaits the Rainier Valley is that all of that can be near the station/near your home. This makes the benefit to your community all the greater, because those businesses are there, not just on your morning commute, but all the time – on weekends and holidays too. Creating a rich community and giving character to your neighborhood in the process.

  6. Question is, is this proper for the Legislature to mandate this? Whatever happened to local control? Why a half-mile radius, when previous neighborhood planning assumed a much smaller walk radius? Why an arbitrary circle, rather than other more creative solutions? Another exercise in Top-Down planning, methinks.

    1. I kind of agree with you. I don’t think a one-size-fits-all solution is necessarily the right one for zoning. For one, this would stop park-and-rides from getting built, which I think is a mistake.

      1. I don’t think we’ll see park-and rides along MLK regardless of the TOC bill. Seattle DOT has a policy of no park-and-rides in the city limits – Northgate notwithstanding.

      2. Right, but why not a park-and-ride at the last station in Star Lake? Or in Lynnwood? Or in Redmond some day?

      3. Good point. I wonder if the bill could be ammended to make a park-and-ride that specifically serves the fixed rail transit, exempt. That is, it would be part of the gross area, but not count into the net. I realize that’s not how it’s currently written, but bills often go through several ammendments before the final vote. This might be worth debating and sending on to the bill sponsors.

      4. The zoning restrictions only apply to residential housing. So it’s hard to build new single-family housing, but the law would have little to no effect on commercial and parking, should ST choose to build it.

        As far as I know.

  7. One thing about upzoning near the stations is that effectively it will mean less change to areas just outside the zoned areas. Without this change, the same number of people will show up in the area, it’s just that they’ll be felt as a milder change over a much greater area. I think it’s possible to sell this to NIMBYs by pointing out that if they live more than 1/4 mile away from this, they’re likely to see fewer changes.

  8. I’m generally supportive of the overall idea behind the bill, but Futurewise has done a very poor job of explaining it or gaining support from the communities it effects most. Yes, there will be NIMBYs any time any change is floated, but I think a whole lot of the concern is because there is no real explanation of what the results of this will be. And if the backers of this bill don’t step up it means some moron screaming about eminent domain with his tinfoil hat is going to be the voice that’s heard.

    1. Apparently there will be a meeting on Feb 18th at Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center‎ at 6 or 7pm. Futurewise will be in attendance to field concerns about this bill. Anyone know more about this meeting?

  9. All these arguments were also advanced at the Mount Baker Community Council meeting tonight, as part of a 3-way meeting that also focused on adjusting the 14/38 reroutes to better serve south Mt. Baker, and on the residential parking zone being implemented around Mount Baker Station for $45 a year.

    Futurewise reps stood up to some real grilling on HB 1490 but held their ground and passed out informative handouts. Quite a few people fear the density around Mt Baker station could exceed Capitol Hill.

    It’s always good for people to turn out and hear one another.

  10. Yes, a lot of the concerns I’ve heard have been from folks concerned with three things:

    1) Frustration with Futurewise and their top-down approach to the issue; folks take their neighborhoods seriously and appreciate being consulted, as opposed to preached to, regarding changes. Many of the arguments above are rational and logical when presented, but Futurewise blew it and handed an opening to NIMBY folks.
    2) Concerns about the planning that will go along with increased density. So much of what has been built in Seattle over the last ten years has been low-quality junk – and yes, I know that’s subjective, but really, four or six or eight townhomes with dysfunctional garages and zero street presence? The more progressive folks at DPD recognize this is a valid concern; I don’t know how we address it in this context, but it’s feeding some of the opposition.
    3) Lack of positive examples we can point to of family-friendly denser developments. Most people know what they’ve seen – and they’re familiar with, and protective of, “traditional” single-family neighborhoods. I haven’t heard Futurewise speak on this or seen their materials, but part of the challenge here is showing people pictures, as silly as that may sound, of what could be – and joking about 100-story towers may be funny to you, but it’s not going to get you anywhere with people like the ones who will show up at these meetings.

  11. More concerns you may have missed:

    4) Fixed net densities. Out of step with most current TOD thinking. See for example “The New Transit Town” by Dittmar and Ohland. Or look here: (the chart on page 15 shows Transit Town data). So urban neighborhoods like Columbia City should only have a net density of 20. Downtown core densities at 60+ ala Belltown.

    5) a fixed half mile. we aren’t flat everywhere, we have freeways and other inhibitors to access the station. Consider the capture via a pedestrian walking sheds. So the area is bounded by what can be walked to versus a compass line on a map.

    I don’t think Futurewise handled it too well (“stood up”) at Mt Baker. More like deer in the headlights…

  12. From the American Heritage New Dictionary: “eminent domain”

    “The right of a government to take private property for a public purpose, usually with just compensation of the owner.”
    (The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
    Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.)

    From the Futurewise bill, HB 1490: Section 1, sub-section 6:

    “Property rights. Private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation having been made.”
    (From the text of the Futurewise bill, HB 1490, page 2, 2nd draft)

    The proponents of HB 1490 have repeatedly claimed the Futurewise bill has nothing to do with eminent domain and there is no mention of “eminent domain” in the draft bill. By definition, eminent domain IS spelled-out in the text of HB 1490. No further explanation should be required.

    Mayor Nickels secretly ordered a “Blight Study” in March 2006. The ultimate goal was to implement Community Renewal in order to gain access to the power of eminent domain.

    Now that the Futurewise bill has been amended and density goals relaxed, it’s clear that density is no longer the focus. The focus is the state mandate for increased density within a 1/2 mile zone. The mandate is what Seattle will use as the key to unlock eminent domain. All manner of mischief will result in the transfer of control to the state that the Futurewise bill proposes. This isn’t democracy, folks. It’s how business is done in an oligarchy. Should suit Greg Nickels just fine.

  13. The context? Its in Section I of the bill which states
    page 1, line 1. An ACT………………….this refers to the Growth Management Act (GMA)

    line 9-10. Sec. 1 RCW 36.70A.020 and 2002 c 154 s 1 are each amended to read as follows:

    line 11. The following goals are adopted to guide the development and adoption of comprehensive plans and development regulations of those counties and cities that are required or choose to plan under RCW 36.70A.040. The following goals are not listed in order of priority and shall be used exclusively for the purpose of guiding the development of comprehensive plans and development regulations:

    page 2, lines 19-22. (6) Property rights. Private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation having been made. The property rights of landowners shall be protected from arbitrary and discriminatory actions.

  14. I would be very careful with the casual characterization of NIMBY’s. I know many of them and they are progressive environmentalists who are also pro-density and are accepting of much more intense development in the light rail corridor. They also want jobs and retail opportunities here.

    The fact that pro-density and pro-environmentalists came out against this bill is the bill draftee’s on damn fault. Nanny-state legislation like this threatens a core value system for existing residents who do not see the sense in wiping out the slate clean and willy nilly targeting their property. This is a loser approach.

    Everyone I talk to is pro transit-oriented development; so why is this bill failing to gain community support? Because it does threaten property rights, it does echo of nanny-state liberalism (we know what is good for all of you and we’ll make you do it) and it is redundant BS for neighborhoods that are already on the trajectory towards TOD.

    John and Bill made very good points up there. And it is frustrating to see a set of behavior from that is very top-down and non-transparent. Did we all vote for Obama or what? We should demand the same from our side of the aisle and hold them accountable as well.

    1. How is this bill wiping the slate clean or targeting anyone’s property? How will changing the zoning cause anyone to lose their homes? It won’t. It’s all scare tactics.

      If there is a plot of land and a developer can afford to build a tall building on it, then this bill would allow it to be built.

  15. Having grown up in Seattle, specifically Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood, I grew up playing under trees and feeling at peace with mother nature. Before moving to Madrona I lived in a housing project. I remember how hard it was to be poor, but; I also remember the green spaces, the woods and the fruits and berries that grew there. The woods brought a peace to me that I didn’t feel anywhere else. One of my fondest memories it of sitting in a plum tree eating plums at twilight. Today, I see the beauty and livability of our city being destroyed by self aggrandizing and greedy people. (The city just enacted a “Green” philosophy, but; this only pertains to downtown development.)
    It’s sad to see that some people are so greedy that they want to destroy all that’s livable about our city to make a profit. As the old quote goes, “For what does it profit a man to gain the world and loose his soul?” My version, “For what does it profit the human condition to destroy the earth to make a buck?.

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