Mayor Murray seemed pleased to announce ($) that a lot formerly zoned for six stories, and adjacent to a subway station, will become a park instead. As Josh Feit succintly put it, the height limit here has dropped from 65 feet to zero.
Of course cities need parks. But no one has even begun to make the case that the neighborhood, or the city as a whole, doesn’t have enough, or that existing ones are near capacity.
Meanwhile, wherever there is change in this city the media expect readers to feel compassion for those displaced to less trendy neighborhoods, or (gasp) to the suburbs, by rising rents. And decent people will sympathize with the victims of change, even in the context of good news overall. But while replacing a poor household with a rich one has some moral valence, at least somebody gets to live here; I feel greater anguish when no one gets the chance.
If this park plan succeeds, there will be several dozen more households that won’t be able to live in Seattle near high-quality transit. Perhaps the people that would have lived here will banish themselves to the suburbs, or maybe they’ll simply outbid somebody on Capitol Hill and displace them instead.
Seattle could offset this fiasco by reopening the Roosevelt rezone and adding back the development capacity through greater height somewhere equally near the station. But of course that would unleash endless insincere complaints about process.
This is the dead giveaway about process objections: since the Mayor proposed a density-diluting measure, none of the anti-density forces care at all about public outreach, the past body of neighborhood planning, need for more study, and all the other excuses to slow down growth already well below what this city needs to thrive. I come here not to recycle these complaints, but to bury them. Support or criticize this project on its merits, not because less than 100% of residents received quality contact, or whether the study correctly hurdled every bureaucratic gate.
This proposal does have to go through the Council, which provides the opportunity for public comment. DPD wasn’t able to tell me if the park would require an environmental impact study, because it depends on whether its buildings and areas “improved for active recreational uses” exceed 4,000 square feet. This threshold, of course, is perverse: active uses at least bring people into the purported refuge from urbanity, while non-active space merely replaces a vibrant city with emptiness that taxpayers pay to maintain.
Whether or not there’s a study, don’t doubt that there will be impacts: on housing costs, transit modeshare, and displacement. Let’s hope that the Council and DPD consider these, whether in a formal process or not.