If you have ever attended a neighborhood or city zoning meeting you probably noticed four main arguments of those opposed to new residents:
- Arguments from poverty, usually spoken in terms of gentrification and displacement.
- Arguments from wealth, usually coded in comments about renters not “putting down roots” or about the preservation of a neighborhood’s culture.
- Arguments for the status quo, usually expressing general support for upzones elsewhere, but with concerns about context and scale in their own area.
- Parking, usually anger over the prospect of losing their hitherto exclusive access to public spacein the form of on-street parking.
In Monday’s Seattle Times there was a letter from condo owners in the Escala ($) building, upset that a new tower similar to their own will be built across from them. They like their views and seem to believe that their property deed entitles them to said views in perpetuity, even though they obviously did not also purchase air rights. They want the city to step in and give them the air rights they didn’t pay for by taking it from the people who did pay for them (the owner of the lot). Knowing that this argument will likely not get much play, they looked in the neighborhood exclusionist handbook and latched on to argument number 3:
We support growth and density, but it must be responsible and in proper context to the neighborhood.
That is traditional NIMBY thinking applied to downtown Seattle, or NIMBA-ism (Not in My Back Alley). If 500′ towers aren’t ‘in context’ in downtown Seattle two blocks from Westlake Center, where are they in context?
Though FAR regulations, podium heights, and tower setbacks are all legitimate policy questions, the city cannot legislate by the qualitative aesthetic desires of millionaire condo owners. Appeals to “emotional breathing space”, “loss of privacy and neighborliness”, and “Seattle’s soul” are no substitute for good code and property rights, but are instead the recycled rhetoric coming from the Craftsmans of Crown Heights, this time spoken from the 30th floor of the Escala.
Thanks to the Escala owners for pointing out that no matter the neighborhood, for those with a vested interest in the status quo, growth is always ‘out of context’. Hopefully our city leaders are aware of this and give ‘context’ appeals all the consideration they deserve.