This is extremely short notice, but the Seattle City Council’s land use committee is taking up the long-overdue upzone of the area around Mt. Baker Station today.

A source tells me the usual anti-density forces are trying to mobilize against this. If you can join me at the Seattle Council Chambers by 9:30am today (especially if you live near the station) to testify in favor of this upzone, it would be very helpful.

An informative presentation on the upzone is here. If anything, it isn’t nearly aggressive enough.

61 Replies to “ACTION ALERT: North Rainier Rezone”

  1. I thought most of the arguments were against the ‘bow-tie’ street reconfiguration, not upzoning a Lowe’s to 100+ feet? It seems like there should be more upzoning around the light rail station to the south, those deteriorating buildings look much more likely to be redeveloped sooner than Lowe’s or Pepsi which are perfectly happy where they are.

    1. It should be upzoned higher both north and south. I’m not sure about the “bowtie” however – this doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

  2. This is ridiculous. I live, like Mr. Duke, in Columbia City. This area of Seattle is overwhelmingly single family homes. Where do you think we go for all the home improvement and upkeep materials for our homes? Only a very small percentage of residents live in apartments. Where will we go if this land is upzoned and Lowe’s closes down? Sodo? Renton? Because those are the closest places that I can think of with home improvement stores.

    This has nothing to do with being anti-density. There’s tons of other smaller properties, many completely VACANT, all along this corridor that could and should be developed first. And Mr. Duke should be well aware of this if he lives in this area. Giving developers a giant plot of land so they can build a giant building completely out of scale with the area is a poor idea.

    1. Stewart Lumber Co., about a half mile north on Rainier.

      But to address the larger issue, seeking to preserve a specific store by blocking zoning is a fools errand. There were rumors that if the Dearborn Goodwill re-development had gone through in it’s original form that Lowes was planning on moving there. Then we’d have a big empty building with only big box retailers as options to fill it instead of the possibility of greatly increased density and variety of retail.

      1. Stewart Lumber is a fine local business and I have shopped there for lumber for my garden beds and my chicken coop among other projects. And I buy my dirt at Sayer’s fuel and my fast food taco at Taco Time. I’d love it if there was a McClendon’s where the Lowe’s is, or even where Home Depot is. Yay for local. But here’s the thing about Stewart Lumber, the store is small, and carries a limited range of items. Have you actually been to the Lowe’s on a weekend and seen how full the parking lot is? Or at 7am in the morning when the contractors are trying to get supplies so they can work? Want Garden Supplies? A lawnmower? Forget about it. Most people in this area live in houses and have yards and I would guess actually do need to go to the home improvement store more than 3 times per year. I know with my 100 year old home I certainly do. I unfortunately have way too much knowledge of the Lowe’s store, layout and location of items. Clearly there is a high demand for these services or else the Lowe’s wouldn’t be there. I don’t even know where you’d go if you lived on Capitol Hill. The downtown Target? They carry hardware too I suppose :-)

      2. Michael, restricting growth has consequences. Your convenience has consequences. The five minutes you save by not driving to SoDo, restricts prime real estate from being developed. I realize as a homeowner you personally benefit from restricting supply (forcing prices up) but do you ever consider the younger or less economically fortunate people who are priced out of the area because of it? How many current residents or future residents are willing to force out to keep the prices increasing and saving your five minutes? 100? 200? 300? 1000?

      3. How often do you actually need to go to Lowe’s? Unless you’re a professional contractor, you’re probably not looking at more than a few times a year. And it’s not like Lowe’s is going to immediately close the instant the neighborhood upzones.

        Yes, there are plenty of vacant lots. However, upzoning will encourage people to develop them sooner, rather than keep them vacant until an upzone happens anyway at some point in the future.

    2. The main problem with Lowe’s is the large space around it on the lot, to which the wide one-story building just makes it worse. People may shop at Lowe’s a few times a year, but people are walking past it all day every day, and all that space forces them to walk further, with no destinations that they might go to. Or rather, they’re probably taking the bus through the area because it’s so unpleasant to walk. And, I might add, those standalone fast-food joints around Mt Baker Station aren’t much better, but at least they’re smaller lots.

      There are better models that could incorporate a hardware store the size of Lowe’s. My favorite is Northgate North, which has several big-box stores stacked on top of each other. That’s probably too large for Rainier Valley, but here’s another: the Safeway at 23rd & Madison, with housing on top and the parking behind the building rather than in front.

      1. This is certainly an interesting concept although I wonder how well it would work for a store that sells a lot of construction products as well as home supplies. I’m curious how the Home Depot model in Chicago works around that, moving the large items from the store to the customer’s vehicles.

      2. Does parking in the back mean that everyone who arrives but foot or bus has to go around the back to get in? I’ve seen a lot of places like this. Aesthetically, looking at the back of a store when you walk down a street is rather ugly.

      3. I’ve been to that Home Depot in Lincoln Park. I think it has structured parking, and, like many stores that do (Northgate Target, Fremont PCC, etc.) it has an entrance that’s convenient to the parking as well as a decent way in off the street. I’m sure it’s easier to access in an F-150 than the Fremont PCC is, but I’ve never had to do that myself. Chicago has its share of 100 year-old homes, too.

      4. “Does parking in the back mean that everyone who arrives but foot or bus has to go around the back to get in? I’ve seen a lot of places like this. Aesthetically, looking at the back of a store when you walk down a street is rather ugly.”

        Do you mean like this?

    3. As another example, some in Ballard wondered where they would go if QFC got displaced. What ended up happening was that QFC stayed, and floors of residential housing were built on top.

      Lowe’s doesn’t have to go away in order to build more housing on top of it to reduce the pressure that is threatening to price current Rainier Valley residents out of their apartments and homes.

      1. If it is next to a passenger rail station, a grocery store, and a half-mile walk to some of the neatest parks and p-patch space in town, and is affordable, Yes!!

    4. Michael,

      My family uses that Lowe’s all the time. But I think you answered your own question: even if the upzone eventually causes Lowe’s to leave without replacement, Sodo’s Home Depot is easily accessible by car, Link, or Route 50 for only a few minutes more.

      That minor inconvenience seems like a small price to pay for many more businesses in that space, plus the opportunity for a few hundred more people to live in the city rather than be driven to the suburbs.

      1. But really there’s no requirement for Lowe’s to leave, and from what I can tell none of the large businesses in the zone (Lowe’s, Pepsi, UW Laundry, QFC) currently have expressed any indication that they would want to relocate even with the new zoning, so it does seem sort of moot. Although they all have expressed ambivalence towards the roundabout option and distaste for the bowtie. Most likely the zoning would enable smaller parcels to redevelop first. I guess even better would be a redevelopment of the light industrial and retail into better versions of themselves that could accommodate other usages. I would be disappointed to see them replaced solely with residential buildings. And the 10 story zoning limit on the Lowe’s parcel seems pretty high. That would make it easily the highest buildings south of Cap Hill.

      2. A perfect example of the blight an ‘out of scale’ building can be. Can you think of a more despised building in the city?

      3. I actually like that building. But since Amazon moved out, haven’t the owners been having real financial problems paying the mortgag?. Didn’t they try to offload it to the city a year ago or such? So as an example of a big building that’s not really a good example. Why don’t they make that into affordable housing? Great location, great views, what’s not to love?

      4. Wow Matthew, I like that building too. Most despised building? Not even close. Off the top of my head I would guess the Safeco building, but I’m sure there are worse; much worse.

      5. Have you ever driven to SODO? A few minutes more? More realistically 30 minutes more round trip and as much as 45 minutes if you get caught by a train.

        As for the tenant lined up for the pacific tower – isn’t it a government entity? And they committed to a 30 year lease? Not the smartest real estate move. As for the recession being an issue, it seems like SLU and Vulcan had no trouble filling up their buildings. As for medical jobs being family wage jobs, not all are.

      6. Yes, we go to the Costco there semi-regularly. It really is only a few minutes more than driving up to the Lowe’s.

  3. Hmm.. I don’t know, maybe the locally owned Stewart Lumber and Ace Hardware A HALF MILE DOWN RAINIER.

    The area around the Link Station is prime TOD location, a warehouse is not all the best use of the land.

    1. To Michael above who claims to live in Columbia City but doesn’t seem to know his neighborhood that well.

      1. Great minds think alike. Also, if you’re not living the full car-free STB lifestyle Columbian>Spokane>1st gets you to Home Depot in SODO about five minutes slower than Lowes in non-rush hour traffic. Seriously, check google maps if you don’t believe me.

      2. First Stewart Lumber is great but it will be upzoned and forced to move in the not too distant future. As for taking light rail to Home Depot, how do you propose bringing lumber and heavier materials home? This plan will displace the only STEM jobs in the Southeast (at the Amazon facility that is part of the Lowes property) in addition to driving out most of the other living wage jobs in the Southeast.

      3. butch:

        First off Patrick is talking about taking a car to Home Depot, not Light Rail. Via car it’s only a few minutes more to Home Depot in SoDo than Lowe’s. For most people 95% of their hardware needs can be met at the nearby and locally owned Stewart Lumber and Ace Hardware. For the handful of times when a big box home improvement trip is needed the 5 extra minutes to go to the SoDo Home Depot isn’t that big of a deal.

        Secondly, just b/c something is upzoned doesn’t mean a new building will necessarily be built OR that a current tenant will move out. Considering Stewart Lumber is at the northern end of area, is family owned, and has empty parcels between it and the station, it will likely either not be touched or at least not touched for a while. The lot just isn’t that big. As to the Amazon site, I think it’s just as likely that they EXPAND their footprint in the RV with this upzone (as it’ll only be a 16 train ride to their new HQ going up near Westlake), especially since the city is talking about offering incentives for STEM jobs in the SouthEast.

      4. If you’re purchasing lumber without a vehicle, have it delivered. Still cheaper than owning, parking, licensing, insuring, maintaining a car.

    2. There’s a bigger point to be made here, though: just because the lot gets upzoned doesn’t mean that Lowe’s has to move.

      1. … and doesn’t Lowe’s *own* the property? There is no “has to” involved in zoning, only “may”. If you are looking for Lowe’s to oppose upzoning their own property, you don’t know anything about zoning law.

        Okay, the “has to” could come in as a minimum height or minimum floorspace law, but that is not what is on the table.

      2. You are correct, William, insofar as the City couldn’t just require existing structures to be torn down because they got upzoned. However, new zoning and construction laws would apply to new construction, even if the ownership doesn’t change hands, so long as there isn’t a devolopment plan already in the pipeline. Indeed, changing the ownership of a plot of land usually doesn’t cause a development application process to forcibly start over.

        Moreover, what the land is actually *used* for, without regard to the structures on it, is not necessarily grandfathered. For example, the City could say Lowe’s (or any other retail business within the city), can no longer employ anyone for less than $15 an hour, on property within the City Limits.

      3. But then, I forget, UW may insist that it is above city laws since it is a state agency, so they may insist on paying people working at the UW laundry facility much less than $15 an hour. I suspect they’d lose that battle in court. And then they’d run the math and decide to move the laundry facility somewhere outside the City. Wouldn’t that be a terrible shame?

  4. Do they only schedule these things when people who are not independently wealthy are working? Who could they possibly hope to hear from at 9:30 the day before Thanksgiving other than the retired or rich?

      1. A tradesman. I couldn’t make the meeting. Glad I have a friendly forum here to share ideas. I’m not sure where folks live by when I use Google Maps its calculates 11 minutes travel time from the Mt Baker station. It’d be interesting to see what time it would calculate at 9am or 3pm on a typical weekday. Oh, and it show it takes 16 minutes via mass transit.

        I do think it would be interesting if the other folks here would be willing to share what they do for a living and if they benefit from an upzone. I just saw the online video and I believe Martin Duke is in the audience.

  5. Not to pick on Lowe’s (especially since I expect they would be happy to have their property upzoned), but for those worrying about family-wage jobs leaving Seattle, I’m not sure most Lowe’s jobs fit the bill. I suspect a lot of the employees at the store are quietly looking forward to Councilmember-elect Sawant’s $15/hour minimum wage proposal.

  6. In fact that Lowe’s parcel isn’t owned by Lowe’s itself but a commercial land owner and landlord to Lowe’s–Lowe’s leases that parcel. That landowner would likely sell the land and Lowe’s lease to a developer, if they were to sell. That only happens when there is a market for the rents that would be paid by tenants to make a return on the investment of redeveloping the site. That market for rents that would make a return on that development investment is a ways off from reality, but not out of the question.

    125 feet isn’t bad, but 240 or even 400 feet within a few hundred feet of the Mt Baker station would be ideal. Cue the vitriol. We should be putting as much height next to rail stations as possible.

    1. Hell, lets build the biggest building in the country next to it :) That way we could all live one block radius of everyone.

      1. They don’t have to be the biggest in the country, they just have to be as big as the ones in Vancouver and New Westminster.

    2. I like it. Just imagine all the houses and condos and apartments even far outside the TOD that would be able to put ‘views of downtown Mt. Baker’ on their listings.

  7. I’d love to know about the STEM incentives the city is offering for the South End. First I heard them mentioned.

  8. Did anyone actually go to this meeting and have anything to report? Access to cheap imported hand tools in five minutes instead of ten is a basic human right as recognized by the city of Seattle, or Mt. Baker has been rezoned to 125000000 feet and space elevator operations are to commence in early 2016?

  9. I have a real issue just giving away higher densities without getting some of the investment back. What’s the density upzone in percentage terms? 300%? 600%? Man what a developer windfall!

    For example, if Lowes gets redeveloped as a high-rise, then the developer at the very least needs to be on the hook for helping to fix the circulation problems with the Mt. Baker Transit Center and Mt. Baker Station and how it connects to the site. Fixing geometries on Rainier is also needed so that riders and bicyclists and pedestrians don’t have to negotiate those blind spots that drivers have. I see riders having to take risks all the time and almost get run over.

    Let’s stop just giving profit over to developers without holding them responsible for updated or better circulation systems for all modes.

    1. I reread the zoning and see it’s not that dramatic of an upzone as 600%! Anyway, I do see that the property owners will get quite a boost in land value from this so if the sites develop, they should pony up to fix the pedestrian circulation problems.

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