Concerns that the City of Seattle is using the transit oriented development process around the Capitol Hill light rail station as the first step to increasing zoning heights across the rest of the Hill have prompted two community groups to target a vote at Thursday’s Capitol Hill Community Council to make a stand against the process.
The vote on the confirmation of two representatives from the council to the Capitol Hill Champion group formed to jointly represent the council and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce in the transit oriented development process with Sound Transit is scheduled to be part of the regular February meeting of the CHCC. You can view the agenda and meeting details here. It begins at 6:30 PM inside the rather snug Cal Anderson Shelterhouse.
“Please come and bring friends to vote in favor of our neighborhoods!,” an email sent out to community members by Reasonable Density Seattle member Carl Winter and forwarded to CHS directs Hill residents. “A NO Vote for the nominees is essentially a vote of no confidence in the ability of these nominees to act on the behalf of, and in the interest of, neighborhoods and residents.”
The appointees up for approval in Thursday’s vote are architect John Akamatsu, and writer Lisa Kothari. Both have been active with the community council. The group’s voting requirements are exceedingly liberal: “If you live within the boundaries of Capitol Hill; own property or own or operate a business or nonprofit organization within the boundaries of Capitol Hill; are employed within the boundaries of Capitol Hill; or volunteer for an agency which serves Capitol Hill, you are a member of the Capitol Hill Community Council.”
Catherine Hillenbrand, who chairs the Champion group’s steering committee that made the appointments, says the planned actions by the groups are part of months of tensions as members began to try to get involved with the Champion’s actions and question its motives. “It’s easy to conflate everything into one big puddle,” Hillenbrand said of the escalating concerns of the groups pushing back on Capitol Hill development.
Winter’s group and members of the Capitol Hill Coalition are planning to make a stand Thursday to delegitimize the council and chamber’s efforts to represent the community in the development process with Sound Transit and the City of Seattle. Late last year, CHS reported on the push for 85-foot height limits and affordable housing planned at the Broadway sites open for development around the light rail station project. The “coordinated development plan” for more than 100,000 square-feet of Broadway property includes a framework that will require bidders to develop nearly 40% of the apartments around the site as affordable housing.
Winter writes that the process is the first step in an effort to “upzone” most of Capitol HIll:
There is a committee called the Champion, which has been set up to be the voice of the community on all of the city’s transit related development plans for Capitol Hill indefinitely into the future. Specifically, they are charged with input regarding the city’s desire to “upzone” all areas of the city within 10 minutes of a transit center in the future. Since Capitol Hill has 3 transit centers by the city’s definition that would mean that all of Capitol Hill would be subject to upzoning. They are starting with the light rail station area, which will soon be upzoned to 85 feet (from 65 feet), but their plans in the future will affect everyone in Capitol Hill.
CHS has asked Winter for more details about what height limits his group would like to see around Capitol Hill Station development and how Reasonable Density Seattle would address affordable housing goals and lower height limits but we have not yet heard back from him.
The debate over Broadway zoning comes as rents on the Hill and apartment demand jumped significantly in 2012 and have shown no signs, yet, of slowing down despite new projects coming into the market. The battle also has some historical precedent — only the last time, the names were Steinbrueck and Nickels (OK, the name might be Steinbrueck again this time.)
Capitol Hill’s Station Area Overlay District was formed in the early 2000s “to take advantage of public investment in the area and enhance the “south anchor” of Broadway’s business district.” It set the stage for a partly curtailed upzoning of the Hill brining 65-foot height limits to Broadway which had been limited to 40-foot, four-story development prior to the push from City Hall. Later in 2009, the creation of the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay lopped off a big chunk of the station overlay territory and brought preservation incentives for the developers into play within its section of the Hill. All this to show that, yes, Capitol Hill zoning can and will change over the years. And, in general, the direction has been up.
CHS reported on the new energy on Capitol Hill from groups like Reasonable Density Seattle and the Capitol Hill Coalition last fall. We called them a little bit NIMBY. We also noted their ability to make members heard and have an impact on the city’s growth. The successful fight to limit the city’s Regulatory Reform changes last summer was an early harbinger of things to come.
Now participants in the groups are being asked to show up Thursday night and vote against the appointments to push back on the Broadway upzone process and put a stop to “local developers” that will “benefit greatly” from increased heights in the neighborhood.
We need as many people as possible to come to this meeting and vote against these two nominees. This is especially important because we have gotten the news that local developers, who stand to benefit greatly from upzoning Capitol Hill, are organizing to bring out their troops to vote at this meeting! We are also putting together a letter to City Council and the Dept. of Neighborhoods protesting the flagrant violations of the Champion and their non-democratic organization, since the city is going to view the Champion recommendations as being evidence of the community’s approval.
If the effort to vote against the appointees is successful, Hillenbrand says the process will be sidetracked. “I don’t really know what it means,” she said.
With or without Champion representation, Sound Transit will need to move forward with the station development process as it seeks bids on the projects from developers willing to meet the community framework already approved by the city. The goal is to have those multi-million dollar deals locked up by 2014. On that timeline, whatever gets built — no matter how high or not high it is — will have chance to be completed not too long after the first light rail trains run beneath Capitol Hill in 2016.