The City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) committee meets Tuesday morning at 9:30 am. Towards the end of the agenda will be the first committee briefing on the big UDistrict Rezone announced last week after more than 5 years of planning. With the Comprehensive Plan entering its final stages, the meeting being held on a mid-week morning, and the neighborhood in question being home to the Seattle Displacement Coalition, it’s safe to say that public comment is likely to be highly oppositional to new housing and development in the UDistrict.

But this proposal deserves support from anyone who supports more housing near transit. The proposed plan isn’t just about height, but even more about urban form. It permits tall and skinny residential towers up to 320′ while capping office uses at 160′, a sensible framework for a neighborhood long on jobs (20,000+ at UW) and short on housing. The rezone design includes generous pedestrian amenities and bike lanes, 3 parks, preserves much of the Ave, incentivizes community retail uses such as daycare, breaks up long facades, requires ground-level parking to be “fully wrapped in other uses”, places stricter limits on commercial parking, and supports Vision Zero with raised crossings and other traffic calming measures. As an opening volley before the Council, this is pretty good work.

The PLUZ Committee is composed of Chair Rob Johnson (who also represents the UDistrict via District 4), Mike O’Brien, and Lisa Herbold. The latter two have already signaled their intent to push for additional regulations on development “because this upzone increases zoning capacity beyond what was anticipated” and to require one-to-one replacement of any affordable units at risk of demolition. It should be noted that existing zoning doesn’t protect any of these units currently, and adding additional restrictions immediately after passing the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation could be seen as a bait-and-switch for HALA-supportive developers. The most important thing is for the additional units to be constructed, and for that to happen the projects have to pencil out. Even if the units are built but the developer passes the costs of mandatory subsidy onto the market-rate units, this would only exacerbate economic inequality. But we’ll have to see the substance of these amendments before making a final judgment.

But a common refrain in opposing development is that we shouldn’t grow until we build the infrastructure to support it. Well, a high-capacity subway station to serve our state’s largest institution is just the ticket, isn’t it? If you have the privilege of taking a Tuesday morning off, please attend the meeting and speak in support of housing near transit. If not, please email Councilmembers Johnson, Herbold, O’Brien, and (alternate) Gonzalez with your thoughts.

16 Replies to “Action Alert: Support the UDistrict Rezone Tuesday Morning”

  1. The rezone does not develop three parks as you note. The three parks listed in the PDF are funded by the parks levy and by state funds from 520. It does however allow for fee payments to open space or constructing public realm amenities. The rezone also doesn’t necessarily “preserve” The Ave since the properties could easily redevelop in their entirety now, just with lower heights than other zones in the rezone proposal. The only “preservation” if you want to call it that is outside of the rezone area on The Ave. And even then, the existing zoning could hardly be called “preservation.” Breaking up long facades is also a subjective thing. While the rezone would require smaller building widths than currently allowed (there is no maximum), it still allows buildings that are more than a block in length. These aren’t criticisms of the zoning policies, but your simplification of the issues shows a serious lack of understanding about what’s actually in the rezone plans. Instead of telling people to outright support something, you should be telling them to learn about the details and decide what aspects they think are valuable or worth changing. Maybe it’s all great. Maybe there are still issues.

    1. It will be a depressing sight to see the Ave transform into glass blocks of the same soulless retail. CVS, Chase Bank, Starbucks, Subway, Walgreens, Wells Fargo, repeat… I am by no means anti-growth but the vast majority of development seems to be stuffing everything that is lifeless about the suburbs into a more
      “urbane” package.

      1. There’s a lot of developer money to be made turning the U district into another Ballard. Once completed, housing will be no more affordable than it is now. Alas.

      2. So, what’s so pleasant and delightful about the Ave right now? Not much that I saw walking up and down there last week. Compared to 20 or 40 years ago it is a pit.

      3. @Lloyd — You must not like Asian food.

        I mean, sure, there are a handful of big chain stores (Big 5, Subway, Chipotle) but in general it is made up of independent shops. It is probably the most interesting section in the city in that regard. barman is right, it would be bad to lose that. It would be nice to preserve that, but I don’t think there is anything in the regulations that does that. That being said, I don’t think there is anything that does the opposite. If you tear down a building, you might not split it up into a dozen store fronts. Right now the store fronts exist, and will likely continue that way because it is unlikely anyone will tear it down if they can’t build up higher.

        In other words, I don’t see anything wrong with the zoning changes as far as preservation of independent shops is concerned. If we want to add something that would encourage that, then I think that is whole different matter.

      4. “If you tear down a building, you might not split it up into a dozen store fronts. Right now the store fronts exist”

        … and are narrow. Contemporary developers, building codes, and on-site parking accommodations have great difficulty reproducing this usability feature. Narrow, deep storefronts allow for more businesses and a wider variety of businesses per block. This gives people more choice, allows them to visit multiple businesses with minimal effort, and makes the block less boring to walk through. Having narrow storefronts is probably as valuable as another story on the building..

      5. Yeah, that’s my point Mike. Most of the Ave won’t be replaced, because there is no value in replacing it (you can’t make the buildings higher). Without new buildings, the narrow deep storefronts (which give the Ave the character that exists) will be retained.

        That being said, I don’t know if narrow storefronts are really in opposition to the code in that neighborhood. I assume they don’t require parking, so that helps. My guess a lot depends on how they want to design it.

  2. I’m confused – doesn’t the UW stop already serve our state’s largest institution? Isn’t it actually named – UW station? Your final paragraph is misleading. Don’t put this on the UW, but the need to ruin another neighborhood with irresponsible and unreasonable development. I’ve emailed the council to have my voice be heard against this unbridled rezone. I hope the opposition comes out in force against the density zealots that don’t even live in the neighborhood and believe ‘more one bedroom boxes = affordable housing.’

    1. U-District Station serves the northern part of campus. What makes you think the density zealots don’t live in the neighborhood. I lived in the U-District for 18 years and would gladly live in one of those bedroom boxes. A lot of people want to live within walking distance of a Link station in a neighborhood as large as the U-Disatrict. they should have that opportunity. It’s not just about affordability, it’s about the physical number of units so that people can live there at all. What’s your plan for more-affordable housing? If it’s like John Fox’s “Just don’t tear down the old buildings”, it’s not going to work. They’re going up in price even without the new buildings.

      1. What makes you think the density zealots don’t live in the neighborhood.

        Indeed, the best electoral evidence suggests it’s the most pro-density region of the city. They had an anti-density incumbent, and they dispensed with her in the primary, so they could choose between two pro-density, pro-growth candidates in the general election.

      1. There are a couple dozen boardings on just four runs of the 75. When the 71/72/73X used to transfer to it at Campus Parkway every run had a few people going to U-Village. It was surprising to me how big a transit market it had become because when I was growing up nobody went to U-Village unless it was their closest supermarket (as it was for me living in the north campus dorms) and I still don’t go there much. But a lot of other people do go there now.

        As for the Ave, it’s definitely worse than it was. In the 80s it had four used record shops, four used bookstores, the Last Exit cafe, and a video game burger hangout which were all very popular. Pagliacci’s and Nanook and Magus are about the only of those things left. But things will keep changing and perhaps they’ll get better someday, and in any case it’s more walkable than most of the city.

      2. Today I checked the boardings of a westbound 31 at 6:30pm, which is not a peak time. Six people got on among the three stops. It’s like that every fifteen minutes.

  3. >> It should be noted that existing zoning doesn’t protect any of these units currently,

    Nor is there anything preventing landlords from jacking up the rent. It sucks when you are forced to move, but if rent is doubled or tripled, that sucks too. Unless we add enough units, that is essentially what will happen. If apartments are being replaced by office buildings, then displacement compensation makes sense; but if you are replacing a ten unit apartment with a thirty unit one, then overall, tenants come out ahead. This is why the compensation should only apply if you are actually reducing the number of units. Of course, it is also possible to be displaced simply as apartments get renovated (ten regular apartments replaced by ten luxury apartments). I would be OK with having a fee, but only applying it if the new number of units failed to reach a certain threshold (say, less than double the number of units). So if you replace a ten unit apartment, you better replace it with at least twenty new units, or you pay a fee. My guess is most developers would be OK with this as well.

    Better yet, establish a sliding compensation scale that works both ways; the more density you add, the more the developer gets paid, the less density the developer adds, the more they pay.

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