Wednesday’s Seattle Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee meeting agenda contained one appointment to the design commission and an initial briefing on two zoning issues, one apparently minor and the other controversial. The North Rainier Rezone dominated the other items during public comment. Chair Conlin and members Burgess and O’Brien were there; Clark was not.

For those of you not familiar with the area, the crossroads in the shadow of Mt. Baker station is officially known as “North Rainier.” The actual Mt. Baker neighborhood, heavily represented at this meeting, is an affluent single family area immediately east of North Rainier. This upzone, in progress since 2008, concerns North Rainier. The public comments came first, a lively mix of proponents and opponents of the upzone.

The pro comments, which included most of the institutional representation, focused on arguments for density well-known to readers here. Beyond the general case, North Rainier is one of the major public transportation hubs in the region, with not only Link but three frequent bus lines (7, 8, 48) and three minor ones (7X, 9X, 14).

The negative comments, which I’ll try to state in as value-neutral a way as I can, were as follows:

  • there has been insufficient notification and opportunity for public comment, so the process should slow down;
  • growth will make it much harder for residents to park their cars; and
  • an influx of renters and low-income housing would harm the close-knit, publicly involved character of the adjacent single-family Mt. Baker neighborhood.

I’m unmoved by the process argument. Officials should comply with the law in public processes, but no one ever complains that something they like is moving too fast. I’m more interested to hear what actual concerns are driving them to complain about process. For a response to those substantive concerns, see Councilmember Burgess’s exceptional opening statement just after public comment. His monologue begins at the 49:15 mark:

[UPDATE: The meeting has been delayed until 2014, location to be determined.] The next opportunity to comment on the North Rainier rezone will be Friday, December 20th, at 9:30am in the Council Chambers. If you care about the fate of this neighborhood, and more people and jobs there, I advise you to make the time to show up.

The briefing itself (fast forward to about 81:00) was not as passionate. The upzone proposal – which the committee won’t pass to the full council until sometime next year – mostly consists of certain 65′ zones changing to 85′ or 125′. Beyond height, many commercial zones would become “Seattle Mixed.” (See an explanation of zoning codes here).

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Part of the discussion was about height and outreach concerns raised in the comments, but the emphasis was on street-level issues, especially the pedestrian environment, upper-level setbacks, and the potential of MLK as a bike corridor. The presenter, planner Lyle Bicknell, mentioned their awareness of the jobs at the 13-acre Lowe’s site (the 125′ parcels above). He expressed the policy intent for Lowe’s to remain as a tenant (but “in a more urban format”) or be replaced by a like number of jobs.

The Committee also discussed adding an additional public meeting in the evening sometime next year, considering the high interest in this subject, but did not settle on a date.

Previous coverage of the city’s plans for this neighborhood here and here.

14 Replies to “North Rainier Zoning Meeting Report”

  1. The “jobs” argument still doesn’t move me. We’re talking about a staff of which many will get a raise if Councilmember-elect Sawant gets the $15 wage passed. Keeping large-floor-space anchor tenants is old hat and has been done several other places around town successfully. The interim construction jobs will be much higher wages, and should be music to the ears of tradesfolk who will find themselves driving a couple more minutes to other hardware/home-supply stores for a couple years.

    For the sake of the affordability of the housing that will end up being built above Lowe’s, the proposed height limit should be maximimized, and there should be no parking mimimum. The parking that gets built should end up being a decision of the landowner, to fit the needs of the anchor tenant. There are plenty of us waiting to live there without a car. Don’t worry Mt. Bakerites: We’ll be a boon for high-end retail and restaurants in your neighborhood that will continue to be single-family and beautiful.

  2. Not a huge fan of Burgess, but man is it refreshing to hear someone admit that the failure to rezone when the stations were built was a massive and idiotic mistake.

    1. Nothing interesting. One commenter mentioned it in her general attack on “dictatorship.” The committee expressed the sentiment that this plan should be more closely coordinated with SDOT, but there was nothing concrete.

  3. I’m curious where exactly residents want to park their cars that they’re concerned about losing. Are they afraid they won’t be able to find a parking space at Lowe’s or Wendy’s? Or are they afraid of losing hide-n-ride street parking when they take the train? But that part of Rainier doesn’t have much street parking to begin with; most of the businesses have off-street parking lots. Going down toward Genessee street parking becomes more of an issue due to 1920s buildings without parking, but not in North Rainier. And as for how the upzones might affect future business parking, it’s too early to say until we know exactly what businesses are coming to which parcels. Presumably the businesses themselves will ensure they have enough parking for their non-walk-in customers.

    1. The design materials suggest adding street parking on MLK/Rainier, but the zoning will discourage big out-front surface parking for new retail and won’t require as much residential parking per-unit as before. The concern is, therefore, like that in Fremont, Ballard, or Cap Hill any time a new building goes up. In the most value-neutral wording I can think of: “Will these new residents park along the curb on my block where I park today?”

      1. Not In My Parking Spot… bring out the NIMPS. Wouldn’t it be solved trivially with parking permits specific to the Mt. Baker neighborhood and excluding residents west of MLK?

        What I don’t understand about the parking issue is that most of the potential street parking in front of single family units is well up a hill either to the west, north, or east- in some cases more than 100 vertical feet. It’s not like they are going to install a zipline from the roof of the 125 foot buildings to prime Mt. Baker curb parking. Though that would be pretty cool.

  4. You forgot to mention that the meeting was scheduled 24 hours in advance and that Conlin’s office sent out an email to a select few stating that they would have to get this legislation passed before he left office. That’s not process, its cronyism – at best.

    1. Your statement is factually incorrect, as the bill will not even leave committee before Conlin does. Which you’d know if you’d watched any of the video before spouting off about it.

      And in any case, whining about process is the last refuge of those with no speakable substantive objections.

      1. The reason that its not leaving committee is that Conlin’s email was brought up. It was originally scheduled to be voted on Dec 20th for enactment into law. Sorry you find democracy and transparency to be difficult to work with.

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