Seattle DPD

[UPDATE: The rezone passed 8-1. Only Bruce Harrell voted against.]

After a process stretching back to at least 2008, and arguably 1999, the Seattle City Council is set to vote on the North Rainier Rezone. The agenda, which begins at 2pm at City Hall, is here. The Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee voted 4-1 to approve this bill, so if one of Councilmembers Sawant, Godden, Rasmussen, or Bagshaw vote for this, and no one flips, this desperately needed upzone of a car-oriented strip-mall district next to a light rail station will finally become law.

As always, it helps to email councilmembers or show up to comment.

30 Replies to “North Rainier Rezone Vote Today”

  1. What’s the desperate need to pass this legislation given the vacancy rate in the Rainier Valley – particularly Othello Station?

      1. Just a few reasons to get started with:
        1) The fact that Othello Station is asking for a variance to convert some retail space to residential.
        2) The fact that the old Chubby and Tubby development’s retail space has pretty much been empty.
        3) The fact that a developer believes that the current highest and best use for land next to the Mt. Baker Safeway is a storage facility.

    1. I just love how people think of the whole Rainier Valley as one neighborhood (and often include Beacon Hill, too). And by “love” I actually mean “am really annoyed by.”

      The Valley is five miles long! As is Beacon Hill. Othello and Rainier Beach are very different from the Rainier/McClellan area. And then there is Columbia City…

      But maybe I am wrong and we should apply this to the rest of the city too. The U District is five miles away from North Beacon Hill. Obviously vacancy rates in the U District are relevant to decisions on North Beacon. Hmm, I think I’m being sarcastic again.

      1. That annoys me too, and the council districts aren’t going to help- every neighborhood will get swept up into broad generalizations over the whole of Southeast Seattle even more than they already are. But on the other hand the voting pattern here might reveal a Yes-In-Your-Backyard-But-Not-In-My-Backyard voting dynamic, I’m curious to see what happens with the U-District upzone.

      2. I think the better word for Rainier Valley is a “district”. For example, I live in Ballard, which is a district of neighborhoods, of which I live in the Adams neighborhood.

        I think Seattle more or less officially refers to Rainier Valley, Ballard and the like as “neighborhood areas”.

      3. When I was growing up in the 80s we always used the larger district names: U-District, Capitol Hill, Central District, Industrial District, Rainier Valley, Ballard (to 145th & 1st NW), Greenwood (to 145th), etc. Now people have pulled out smaller census-tract names and forgotten towns: Bryant, Squire Park, Hillman City, Brighton, Tangletown, Pigeon Point; or carved out areas with new names: SODO, Madison Valley. But not everybody uses those names and some use a mixture.

      4. The smaller census tract names are marketing BS used by overzealous Realtors. They might be legally or technically correct, but in everyday use they might as well be made up.

      5. I consider the Rainier Valley to be the greater SE Seattle area (including Mt. Baker and Beacon Hill), and Columbia City to be my neighborhood.

      6. There is of course no one official list of Seattle neighborhoods. The closest you’ll come to that is the Seattle City Clerk’s map, which is where I first found out there was such a thing as “Adams,” but they expressly say it’s only official in the sense that it’s how they index their legislation. If people want to start using them in real life, that’s fine. It is true that some neighborhoods (e.g., West Seattle, Rainier Valley, Ballard) are really large enough to require names for some of their components. There are some others (e.g., Magnolia) that could use such a thing (there’s a world of difference between the east side, where I live, and the west side, where Martin Selig lives) but don’t have any in popular use.

        But to get back to litlnemo’s point, it isn’t a good idea to think of the Rainier Valley as one single neighborhood in the sense that, say, Wallingford or Fremont are. (Even those have lower and upper sections.)

      7. Matthew, I don’t think of Beacon Hill as part of Rainier Valley because of the basic fact that, well, a hill is not a valley. ;) Of course, the two areas butt up against each other, so there’s a bit of overlap at the edges. I call the wider district “Southeast Seattle.”

        The smaller names are useful because neighborhoods in the traditional sense really are that small. A neighborhood is a walkable area with, usually, a quarter mile to half mile radius. Small enough that people can easily walk to the neighborhood business district, or the neighborhood school, etc.

        Mike, my recollection of the 70s and 80s is that, yes we did use larger district names, but we often had to use names of local schools and landmarks to differentiate where we were within those districts. For example, I would tell people I lived in Lake City, but then I’d have to say “near Nathan Hale” or “near John Rogers.” (And then in my case specifically, I often said “I live near Meadowbrook, but not in Meadowbrook.” As a named housing development, Meadowbrook was set apart from the rest of the area.)

        The widespread use of smaller neighborhood names these days seems to be filling a need. There’s no denying that the differences between the various parts of Southeast Seattle are pretty profound, as you would expect from an area that’s 5 miles long, and this was just masked in previous years by the fact that a lot of white people never set foot in Southeast Seattle. So you had a large demographic of people who just had an amorphous idea of what South Seattle was and really didn’t know of the smaller areas within it. Hence the reaction from my friends when I said I was moving to Beacon Hill 18 years ago: “Aren’t you afraid to live there?”

        Fremont and Wallingford are different neighborhoods with different characteristics and different local business districts. And for the most part, they are walkable in size — a fundamental necessity for any true neighborhood. When I lived in Wallingford, I could walk to the Food Giant or any local restaurant because they were all within the eminently walkable Wallingford neighborhood. And, living in the middle of Wallingford on Meridian as I did, I could also walk to the neighborhood on each side of my neighborhood if I wanted to. I could walk to the U District for classes, or to Fremont. These were a bit longer walks but they were certainly achievable if needed, without any major stress.

        These neighborhoods are defined that way because they date back to the streetcar days when people got around by foot far, far more frequently than they do now. Newer, suburban neighborhoods are often defined more broadly because the radius people use to get around in those neighborhoods is defined by the automobile. If people living there never use their feet to get around the neighborhood, they are going to think of their neighborhood as the space defined by how they usually get around. (Ballard is a special circumstance, because Ballard was originally a separate city with a very clear identity of its own, and it’s separated by geographic features from the rest of the city. West Seattle is a similar case. But both of those do have smaller neighborhoods within the wider district.)

        It is definitely useful to be able to define the spaces in which you live and do business. In no way is it marketing BS to be able to say what neighborhood you live or work in with more precision. I think it’s really just more of a throwback to the days before the auto was king.

      8. A follow-up thought on rereading Benjamin’s post: I don’t think of Magnolia as having multiple neighborhoods for one simple reason – I don’t live there or ever go there, really. So I never really need to think of it as anything more than “Magnolia.” (And like Ballard and West Seattle, it too is separated somewhat from the rest of the city.) But if I did live there, I probably have a lot more names for the places within it. I’d have more need to be able to define those areas. From the few visits I’ve made to the place, I know that it definitely has differences between, say, the west side and the east side.

        In the case of Southeast Seattle, it’s a similar thing. A lot of people don’t ever go there, so to them it’s just a big area — they have no need to think of the various neighborhoods inside it. But then they start writing about it in the media, and that’s when they really need to start making those distinctions. If I were writing an article about Magnolia, I would want to be as precise as I can.

      1. I think the problem everyone is talking about is that the apartments are doing well, but the street-level retail is not. There was a cafe there, but it went out of business.

        The Claremont, only two blocks from Mt. Baker Station, has only one of it’s four or five retail slots filled.

        When people worry about how well these projects are doing, it seems that it is the empty storefronts under the apartment complexes that give people pause.

      2. The Claremont’s ‘only two blocks’ distance to the Mt. Baker station aren’t filled with much else anyone would want to walk past, and it isn’t big enough in itself or next to big enough other apartment buildings to provide sufficient customers for the retail space. The Artspace Mt. Baker Lofts are really worth paying attention to (and are open now?), mainly because they are directly adjacent to the Mt. Baker station and so are highly visible, and there is lots of foot traffic across Rainier.

        I think it really helps if there are at least two blocks of solid retail on both sides of the street and there aren’t major interruptions in the form of parking lots or driveways, or even inactive ‘public space’, and the street is crossable in multiple places. Columbia City has that between Edmunds and Hudson, and Hillman City needs another Rainier crosswalk and light or two.

        The retail units at the Claremont are all over 1000 square feet, which seems on the big (and therefore expensive) side for the sorts of business that might be able to thrive there (or at Othello). In any case the Othello building is converting some retail to live-work which seems fine, and the North Rainier rezone I believe also backed off of requiring street level retail everywhere- though it would be great if they did push hard for a continuous strip of it on Rainier between MLK and McClellan, and let it grow organically beyond that.

      3. And one of the reasons for empty storefronts could be that people from outside the area who might otherwise open businesses here think that all of the “Rainier Valley” or “South Seattle” is unsafe. Specifically because of reporting and references to the area that lump the whole place into one name. That’s one of the reasons that it’s so annoying.

      4. When ArtSpace was first pitched to the neighborhood, they said that the ground floor spaces would all be set aside for non-profit use, and I have heard rumors at the Mount Baker Community Club board meetings that they are, in fact, all pre-leased. The only one I know for sure is a bilingual Vietnamese-English preschool.

        I realize that the area around the Claremont is not very inviting, but just proposing an upzone doesn’t fix that. What really needs fixing is the road where people drive 35-45 mph and the awful sidewalks.

      5. I think the street reconfiguration comes next, the rezone was the first step.

        Street parking on Rainier taken out of the SIX travel lanes near the MLK and McClellan intersections would be a great start to reducing vehicle speeds and also critical to sustain retail, the side streets ought to have street parking also (Columbia City is again a good example). I don’t think the bow-tie is necessary for that, but the volume of traffic around I-90 is going to make it difficult. MLK doesn’t have the traffic volume to justify 4+1 lanes so street parking and/or wider sidewalks ought to be easier there. It would be great if all of Rainier could have a rechannelization like the one about to commence on 23rd, but maybe that is only likely further south where there is less traffic.

        This page http://www.artspace.org/our-places/artspace-mt-baker-lofts makes it clear the residential units are as good as taken, but only the pre-school is called out for the commercial. It mentions wanting to get a cafe, which will be great if they do. (There is a special event there this Saturday that will preview the commercial spaces, and has a parade of sorts that leads to the Claremont: http://southseattleemerald.com/2014/06/02/connect-the-dotes-art-event-walk-ride-make-eat-on-rainier-avenue-south/)

      6. Lucas –

        I’d love to see a cafe there, but I wonder if one could really do well there with the walkscape the way it is.

      7. We also don’t know how much is section 8 so I don’t agree with your assessment. Coupled with what the turnover rate is, I’m not necessarily sure its a success. Yes, another building is getting funded by USAA but it is unclear if they sold off the current building to others.

  2. Butch you are talking about ONE over priced apartment building TWO miles away in a different neighborhood and not nearly the same amount of transit in the area. Also the vacancy rates in the RV are pretty low

      1. Hi Stephen,
        Nice map – is there a legend or links to permits that this map is created from? I’m guessing its driven by permits but its not clear.
        Thanks,
        Butch

  3. Many people in Seattle and Pugetopolis want to live on rapid transit lines in walkable neighborhoods. Currently only the U-District and Capitol Hill have a large number of units within a 10-minute walk circle of stations, and that’s only a fraction of what’s needed. Roosevelt and Beacon Hill got anemic upzones, which means they won’t be able to take their share of housing. If this rezone and similar ones at Othello and Rainier Beach underperform too, then people won’t be able to live in Rainier Valley either. Ballard and West Seattle don’t help because we don’t know if their proposed lines will be approved. We should have a goal of having enough units near fast/frequent transit in walkable neighborhoods that everyone who wants one have find it without being upper-income. It should be the normal way to live, not a privilege for the 1%. I haven’t even mentioned the coming population growth, or making it easy for people to have fewer cars. That all is why we need to upzone North Rainier to the maximum possible level.

    1. We should probably also revisit the station locations with anemic rezones. If you get a light rail station, ypu should be prepaired to take some density.

      1. When I testified in favor of the North Beacon Hill Rezone last year, I specifically mentioned that all light rail overlay zones should come with an automatic upzone. Tom Rasmussen raised his eyebrows.

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