As many of you are doubtless aware, there was a zoning hearing last night, regarding the upzone of the station area surrounding the future Roosevelt Station. I’m not terribly interested in rehashing the tortured history, arguments and intrigue surrounding this rezone and the (officially separate, but practically intertwined) contract rezone near Roosevelt High School. As someone who’s perhaps taken more of an in-depth interest in the matter than most on “my side”, and reached out to people on the “other side” of this debate-cum-brawl, I have some observations that I hope will be useful for the future.
- Stick a fork in it. The Mayor’s modifications to the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association’s proposed rezone are done. Whatever your opinion of the outcome, the last six months have been a tour de force in community organizing by Jim O’Halleran and the RNA. They’re well versed in the minutiae of zoning laws, politically and legally astute, incredibly motivated, well organized, and they vote. The council couldn’t ignore the opinions of this group of people if it tried. If only we could run transit campaigns a tenth as well.
- Let’s not ever do this again. The upzone sideshow has become a nightmarish headache and time sink for the agencies caught in the crossfire. In particular, I think Ron Endlich and his staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty to address the concerns of neighbors in meetings beyond those required by the formal outreach process, deftly addressing the matters that pertain to Sound Transit while not getting caught in the zoning-related crossfire, which legally has nothing to do with ST.
- This isn’t going to happen again at Northgate. There is already a real effort underway to bring together neighbors, agencies, transit advocates and other stakeholders to talk about the station area rezone at Northgate, a process that is just beginning. I hope to write about this effort more as it unfolds.
- “DIY Zoning” is perhaps an experiment we should not repeat. When the light rail upzone process started in 2006, the RNA asked DPD if they could devise the plan to meet DPD’s density targets, rather than the normal method of DPD planners crafting the proposal based on community input.
Years of successful volunteer effort (which met DPD’s density targets) created the not-unreasonable expectation that the RNA’s plan would be adopted wholesale by the city. When transit and density advocates appeared at the 11th hour to demand major changes, those people were — not unreasonably — very upset.
Can such a process be made to work in a way that balances the competing interests of present and future residents, without offending those current residents who have shouldered the hard work of planning, and who feel a legitimate pride of ownership in their own efforts?
- The legitimacy of neighborhood opinion. Just as RNA members tend to skew toward older, wealthier, property-owning people in the neighborhood, transit and density advocates tend to skew the opposite way in every respect. If we expect them to understand our concerns, we must take be willing to listen to and understand their concerns. If you’d poured $400,000 into a house, you’d be jittery about neighborhood land use changes, too; and to be idly dismissed as a NIMBY by random internet commenters for expressing those sentiments would be hard to bear.
- Most people aren’t anti-density, they’re just worried about how the change will affect them. This doesn’t make them stupid or evil, rather we need to better articulate the benefits of well-planned mixed-use density (which seem transparently obvious to us), and counter the mostly-bad arguments of the very small number of people who really are just intransigently opposed to density or change.
- Engage with people, not the internet. This is something of a cri de coeur and perhaps an odd thing for a blogger to write, but I’m absolutely convinced that if even a small number of transit or density advocates had personally gone out to the neighborhood meetings and just listened and talked to the people there, most of this uncivil mess could have been avoided. A majority of people can usually be swayed either way by someone who takes the time to address their concerns; even those who don’t fully buy your arguments will typically see your perspective and work with you to find common ground; virtually everyone will hear you out and respect you for showing up and listening to them.
That’s all I have to say about that.