UPDATE 4:31 – The Slog has an interview with Jim O’Halloran, chair of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association’s land use committee. In the piece Jim says “We’ll take the density but we expect to have considerable influence on how and where it’s accommodated.”

In response to the letter we added our signatures to (and 60+ of you did as well), asking for more leadership on the Roosevelt station area rezone, the Mayor has sent a letter to Diane Sugimura, Director of the DPD asking for her department to revisit the proposed zoning changes. The letter is below.


This is to follow up on our earlier discussion on Roosevelt zoning issues. Since before taking office, I have been listening to community input on potential heights and up zones. I have also had time to reflect on the briefing you provided.

At this time, I believe the city needs to take towers “off the table”. Towers do not appear consistent with expectations for this neighborhood. At the same time, I believe that given the significant investment in light rail, and the potential for good neighborhood-scale development, the city needs to take a closer look at heights above 40 feet, such as 65 and 85 feet.

I look forward to DPD coming forward with new proposals to reflect this direction, and give the council a broader range of choices. The decisions we make now will be in place for a while. It is important to set the stage for good transit-oriented development.

I appreciate all of the thoughtful work you and your staff have done on this issue.

Mike McGinn


Tim Burgess also sent his own letter.

The only thing I would add is that I would urge the city to truly “bookend” the range of proposed rezone alternative in any future studies. The rezone currently proposed would likely reflect a minimum action alternative (and not even really, this rezone was based on the 2006 neighborhood plan which should have already been implemented), with at least two additional alternatives, each more dense than the last. The additional alternatives needs to be bold and visionary, not token gestures. Future proposals should focus on the entire neighborhood, not just on the the Roosevelt Development Group (RDG) properties. A well distributed range of alternatives will give everyone the information necessary to make informed decisions.

29 Replies to “Mayor: DPD Revisit Roosevelt Rezone”

  1. It’s unfortunate that so much emphasis is placed on the height of buildings.

    What makes or breaks a neighborhood is what happens at the sidewalk level.

    1. Roosevelt already is a pretty cool neighborhood — that’s not what this is about. This is about allowing more people to live in the immediate vicinity of the station in a way that detract from the character of the neighborhood that people like. What happens at the sidewalk level isn’t going to allow more people to live there (unless you count homeless people).

      1. I still can’t believe I have to make this argument, but a term such as “neighborhood character” should not trump the rights of property owners. And honestly, I think you agree with me.

      2. We agree there needs to be more dwelling units around this station — no doubt. We may disagree over how much control the planning process should exercise over property rights and we do disagree to at least some extent over how much influence current landowners and residents should be able to exercise over the city planning process.

        For instance, DPD’s requirement for commercial and entertainment space at street level in pedestrian zones is an encroachment of private property rights that’s being used for a for a legitimate public purpose that’s primarily aesthetic — to activate the street and make the neighborhood more vibrant and livable.

        Similarly, people care about the way their neighborhoods look and feel, and the landmarks and sense of place that characterize them, and I don’t think this is illegitimate. That doesn’t mean (at all) that they get to freeze the neighborhood in amber, but it means they have some influence over what DPD allows.

        Even if you completely reject all of that, it is a huge mistake to go into these discussions with the attitude that what the local residents think is uninteresting, invalid or irrelevant. That guarantees failure. What might work is going there, talking to people and finding out what they’re afraid of, and what they like about living in Roosevelt, and assuaging or countering those fears and finding ways to accommodate the things they want to keep while giving more people the opportunity to live there, and explaining the advantages of doing so.

    2. Part of the neighborhood core is already zoned NC3P-65. The “P” stands for pedestrian designated zone, which puts special design requirement on street facing facades, reduces parking requirements, controls surface parking, and parking access/egress. See details of zoning here http://1.usa.gov/kMpkYu and the proposed zoning here http://bit.ly/iE57JH .

    3. And the amount that happens at the sidewalk level is directly proportionate to the number of people who live within walking distance.

  2. Ben, any phrase like “neighborhood character” can be misused. But isn’t the ideal result to have a neighborhood where property owners feel that the character of their neighborhood adds value to their property, and reinforces their personal rights?

    Mark Dublin

    1. No, I think the ideal result is to have a neighborhood where residents feel like property owners are building to preserve and enhance the character of their neighborhood, and thus reinforce their community.

  3. Roosevelt says: You tell us the number of new residents (within reason*) and let us decide where to put them. Sounds like a good compromise to me.

    * A set up for the next fight?

    1. I don’t know the RNA people but assuming what they say is in good faith, this response is pretty much what I was hoping to see.

    2. This would be a great compromise. I actually don’t even see it as a compromise. What could be more ideal than getting a neighborhood to sign off on density within walking distance of a station, with all the attendant benefits to the city and region as a whole, while also letting the neighborhood decide what that looks like? I just think that if this is the final way out that the city should hold out for as many units of housing total as possible. In the blocks immediately adjacent to the station, this should result in 65 foot heights as a minimum.

  4. It might also be more persuasive to go easy on the term “density”. To many people, it carries a mental picture of people being packed together to the prejudice of privacy and dignity.

    Linear physical space is only part of the story of what makes a nice neighborhood. One of my main problems with so much modern suburban development is that even though a subdivision may occupy a huge amount of space, there’s often something simultaneously both empty and weirdly totalitarian about the whole scene. It’s like you’re all alone, but also don’t dare step out of line.

    Also, if you’re caught out on foot, you’ll be sent to a rehabilitation facility for Persons With Regressive Tendencies- like in the Ray Bradbury story.

    Much of the new town-house development in Seattle seems a lot uglier than it should be- as if the developers told the architect to just box the space and sell it. However, others are very attractive. I think everybody interested in transit-oriented development must get very emphatic about the difference.

    Mark Dublin

  5. “At this time, I believe the city needs to take towers “off the table”. Towers do not appear consistent with expectations for this neighborhood. At the same time, I believe that given the significant investment in light rail, and the potential for good neighborhood-scale development, the city needs to take a closer look at heights above 40 feet, such as 65 and 85 feet.”

    Perfect. This guy’s got good judgement.

  6. hello–

    I used to live right in the heart of the Roosevelt Neighborhood, and was involved with some of the neighborhood and station-area planning while I was there. with some continuing interest in Sound Transit (specifically light rail) and this area I’ve been attending the NorthLink station design open houses (northgate & roosevelt) over the last few weeks, and hope to be at the Brooklyn Station presentation tomorrow (9 june 2011).


    it was at these meetings that I heard of some of these blogs and what-not criticizing the roosevelt neighborhood’s plans….. so I have caught up with some of what’s being said online, and I have a couple thoughts and observations.

    first off, within this blog, on April 26th Andrew Smith wrote:

    “I personally feel this proposed zoning to be woefully inadequate. With substantially more aggressive zoning, the Northgate station area has already accommodated that much housing and commercial space on a single block long before the station opens.
    The rezone is a substantial increase from what current is currently zoned, but is quite far from what the increased transportation options can bear. The DPD estimates “the proposed rezones would increase total development capacity by 348 residential units and 215,209 commercial square feet” from 269 units and 10,604 feet of commercial space with current zoning…..”

    ummmm….. just as a general thing, a lot of the criticism I’ve found seems to follow this line: you say “….the proposed rezone is a substantial increase…”, but then you go on to say its not enough….


    consider the numbers you cite:

    “it is proposed that the current zoned capacity of 269 units and 10,604 feet of commercial space be increased by an ADDITIONAL 348 residential units and 215,209 commercial square feet….. ”

    More than doubling the zoned-for residential unit capacity, and increasing the available commercial space twenty-fold — in a relatively small community — is “Woefully inadequate”?????

    and then in this current blog post you say that the current upzone plan (again, more than x2 the housing, x20 the comm space….) is a “token gesture”???

    yep, I realize that there’s going to be a transit station RIGHT THERE…. the neighborhood lobbied for it! and this IS the perfect place for density — just steps from mass transit…. but some of these critics need to take a step back, and ratchet down the rhetoric.

    the roosevelt neighborhood is, by and large, on the side of development, higher density, and “smart growth”. They’ve worked hard for it, and spent a long time working on creating a plan approved by the consensus of the residents.

    Please remember that while there maybe could(?) and should(??) be even bigger upzones and higher density — some of this harsh criticism is just going to alienate people and create a fight which is unnecessary.

    some background, and comments:

    please appreciate that this neighborhood has been very proactive all along
    -–with little or no help from the city or sound transit-–
    and worked up their own station-area-planning effort because they didn’t want to see it happen in a piecemeal, contract-rezone, unplanned, haphazard, last-minute manner. why Sound Transit spends billions on light rail, but doesn’t facilitate station area planning efforts well in advance of station/light rail developments is mystifying (but subject for a separate discussion).

    thorough “smart-growth” planning efforts YEARS ahead of time (like at least 10) are needed if Sound Transit and the region wants to be successful in the near-term future of the next few decades……

    Roosevelt recognized this 6-7 years back….. and begun doing something about it.

    online you can find several re-caps of the neighborhood-lead efforts to get out in front of the light rail development.

    for instance, see:


    –or, from 2005:


    with a number of people howling that the neighborhood-endorsed plan of upzones aren’t big enough, I think its worth considering how many areas of Seattle fight all developments…..

    yet here is a neighborhood that fought for the light rail alignment to be moved INTO the center of their community; and then took it upon themselves to organize the public process and created a consensus plan of upzoning the center of their neighborhood. Neither DPD, nor the mayor’s office, nor the city council, nor sound transit was thinking this far ahead and even considering this 5 years ago, and the community –-on their own-– started pushing for growth.

    consider how (unfortunately) rare this is…… its a bloody shame that some of the folks who’ve now come late to the issue are labling the neighborhood as “NIMBY”.

    this is a neighborhood that not only NEVER said “Not In My Backyard” — but actually ran a campaign which stated “YIMFY” — “Yes In My Front Yard”!

    Roosevelt WANTS growth, but recognized early the importance of Smart Growth — not just blindly demanding that everything within a certain distance of the station be zoned up out of scale for an “urban village” or arbitrarily to some the maximum amount……

    The biggest current issue which everyone should rally behind is demanding that the Roosevelt Station be designed by Sound Transit for a complete and integrated over-build. Much of the discussion bouncing around online and in discussions concern whether certain city blocks should be upzoned to 40 vs. 65 feet — not that big an impact.

    A much bigger difference –-many more units of potential housing, creating much greater density–- could be realized if the station were designed with a full build-out of housing above.

    Apparently the Brooklyn Station is being designed to incorporate developement above.

    The Roosevelt Station’s current design, as presented by Sound Transit at the recent Roosevelt Open House shows a footprint of some 60,000 sq feet (aprox 100′ x 600′) — in an area zoned for 65′ mixed-use developement — and there is no attempt at developement at all!

    Just a huge, over-tall, one story lobby with nothing but empty (density-wasting) air space above it! (yep, there are some air ducts and machinery spaces — but the tunnel is 75 – 90 feet underground and these services can be incorporated there.) Basically (as one blog has pointed out), Sound Transit is heading towards creating the eqivallent of an airport concourse in a spot that simply needs to do nothing more than get people on and off a train platform.

    All supporters of smart-growth and higher-density planning should take as a top priority calling for Sound Transit to design the Roosevelt and Northgate stations to be constructed with full-height, max-density “overbuild”. these stations should just be something which is incorporated UNDER a well-designed, site appropriate, mixed-use high-rise…… just like the stations downtown!

    The design of these NorthLink stations is currently still in the early, conceptual stages. Now is the time to change these plans, because once these stations are constructed it will be nearly impossible to build anything above them in the future.

    there is a real win-win across the political spectrum on this….

    a strategic alliance on this issue could be made between the progressive/environmental “density hawks” and the conservative/business “financial-hawks”:

    an overbuild of the Northlink Stations would allow for greater density right at the transit stations –AND– an station overbuild’s commercial development would provide Sound Transit a good source of financial return to help defray the cost of the transit system, open the project to commercial interests, and provide a strong boost to ridership



    1. The additional housing and commercial space is only over the parcels that actually see a *change* in zoning, not over the entire neighborhood. Same with commercial. The 215K of sqft of retail is only for parcels that change, not the neighborhood total. The QFC on it’s own is probably around 50K, with roughly the same of Whole foods. So between those two you add up to half of the total additional square footage. I think that helps to put this in a bit of perspective. The full increase in units or square footage will not materialize because all properties are not developed to their maximum.

    2. I think it’s worth taking the time to commend those like Andy and the Roosevelt community. It really does sound like they’re trying to do the right thing. The only issue left (as I see it): if they can take the step to welcome the amount of density reasonable for a light rail station, I’m sure the transit community can support leaving the details of designing the specifics to the local neighbors.

      Oh, and you’re preaching to the choir about building over the station. That’s a waste of space.

      1. ———-
        Matt the Engineer said:

        Oh, and you’re preaching to the choir about building over the station. That’s a waste of space.

        it makes sense, its a win-win……. but where’s the leadership?

        I don’t get why this isn’t an aspect of this issue which the mayor, the council, etc. aren’t all clamoriong for…..

        it will be interesting to see the design of the Brooklyn (university district) Station tonight (6/9) at the open house. Apparently that one is being built to accomodate surface developement above?

        open house info:


      2. @Andy Because it is out of their control and ST simply doesn’t want to do it. They won’t gain from it in any real way and it will only complicate and increase risk of the project. For example at the openhouse someone brought this up and before they could even finish their question a woman who lives in the condo next to the station started yelling at him very angrily. ST just don’t want to deal with issues like that.

      3. “…if they can take the step to welcome the amount of density reasonable for a light rail station, I’m sure the transit community can support leaving the details of designing the specifics to the local neighbors.”



    3. this neighborhood has been very proactive all along…
      and worked up their own station-area-planning effort because they didn’t want to see it happen in a piecemeal, contract-rezone, unplanned, haphazard, last-minute manner.

      Is contract rezone really a bad thing? It has to go through a lot more scrutiny than projects that just meet the blanket requirements of NC-65 or NCP-65. There’s currently a proposal to allow a 12-story mixed use development (283 residential units and 40,000 sq. ft. of retail at grade) on the corner of 15th Ave NE. I don’t know if this is a good, bad or ugly project but it requires an EIS as part of it’s scoping report whereas two buildings that have about the same impact can be build under NC-65 with not much more than paying the City to rubber stamp a building permit.

      1. is a contract re-zone a bad thing?

        I’m certain they can be fine for allowing for slight differences or allowances needed/wanted by a developer to best design/create a project.

        but your example of the 12 story building proposed for 65th & 15th provides a good example of how they can be “bad” — especially compared to development which occurs according to an area-wide, community-approved up-zoning plan.

        on the one hand you have a developer proposing a 120 foot tower in a residential area of houses and low-rise (40′) buildings. This is way out of scale, and may simply represent a negotiating strategy of “asking for the stars/settling for the moon”, who knows? but it does mean that the residents are forced by this commercial project to get involved and engaged for fear of this one out-of-place building. The contract re-zone process creates this situation of developers suggesting anything/everything, and forcing the community to be negative and oppose it….

        compare that to the process that Roosevelt has undertaken: a community-lead examination of neighborhood and station-area planning which produced –by public consensus– and area-wide up-zoning and growth plan. The neighborhood has whole sections zoned for 65′, and has asked for some of thos areas to be enlarged — and yep, within those areas someone can build up to 65′ with minimal review (though I don’t think anything at DPD gets a “rubber stamp”…..).

        that’s what zoning is for: to allow a community to plan and define where they want and will allow growth and developement. The city, neighborhood, and commercial interests all go through the process of creating a zoning plan.

        a “contract rezone” just seems like someone who doesn’t want to play by the (publicly) established rules — and the request for a contract re-zone forces the community to have to respond.

        very unfair, very inefficient, very disruptive.

        sticking to the community-wide zoning plan (and establishing a ‘tradition’ of discouraging contract re-zones) will produce steadier growth and a more stable, successful urban neighborhood.

      2. Perhaps this developer is asking for a 12-story building in order to get a 6-story one! This type of scenario was pretty common in the California city I lived in once upon a time.

      3. “This developer” just happens to be Sisley:

        Sisley Proposes 160-Foot Towers in Roosevelt

        I didn’t realized that until I looked at the comments attached to the scoping work. What seems really stupid was to ask for this on a property directly adjacent to SF5000 when he has other properties that will be in the NC-65 zoning and closer to the Link station.

      4. Bernie,
        I think Sisley’s proposal for a 160 ft tower at 15th & 65th is a way of giving a big middle finger to the neighborhood. Indeed if Sisley had sold his property to someone else (especially a developer with a reputation of being sensitive to neighborhood concerns) I doubt any of the re-zone brouhaha in Roosevelt would be nearly so contentious. Now the company Sisley has selected as a partner has a history of doing good work, but they are somewhat trapped by the desires (mad vision?) of the property owner.

  7. This is all good. Great letter from the Mayor. So why are we OK with no real high-rise zoning near Brooklyn and Northgate stations, in areas that are already slated for higher density development? Why the 65′, 85′ timidity there? The vast sea of parking near Brooklyn Station is zoned for the same kind of mid-rise development you see on Lake City Way, while the station is across the street from a tower that’s 325 feet high, built in 1975, and there’s another one just across 45th that was built in the 1930’s. Other cities around the world seem to be doing OK with high-rise districts around their urban rail stations. Does anyone believe there will be no market for high rise apartments in those areas in 2020, when this line is open? The current zoning seems absurd to me, and some of the best properties will soon be developed.

    And the view from the top of that UW Plaza building is astounding. The base of the building is on a substantial hill. You can see everything, all the mountains. It’s like the Space Needle without downtown in the way. Maybe the UW administration doesn’t want to lose their view!

    1. I have a feeling McGinn was trying to calm down the neighbors and felt declaring “no towers” would be a concession. I think it should be left on the table. Tell Roosevelt how much density we want them to have, and if they zone a few tall towers to keep their low buildings, that would be fine.

  8. Sound transit points out that with 66th St between the station entrances they don’t have the opportunity to have a continuous TOD structure with street level access like the Brooklyn station.

    Given that 66th St will be half a block long during the six years of construction, why not close it permanently by putting the station across the east end of the street?

    That would allow Brooklyn-station style TOD development.

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