Capitol Hill flyer and petition effort takes on buildings ‘way too tall for your lowrise neighborhood’

IMG_8221Last fall, CHS documented a new spirit of activism on the Hill as groups emerged to shape the ongoing pressures of development in the neighborhood.

Recently, a new flyering and petition effort has hit the Hill seeking not only to protest tall, multifamily development in areas of Capitol Hill outside the Broadway and Pike/Pine cores but literally roll back zoning changes that have opened up those areas to taller, bigger projects.

Nobody has yet answered our inquiries to Seattle Speaks Up about who is behind their effort but the seattlespeaksup site documents informed — if not at times, incendiary — arguments with plenty of insider-worthy commentary about members of the Seattle Planning Commission.

The flyers distributed around the 15th Ave area of Capitol Hill warn of “way too tall” buildings for your “lowrise neighborhood” and warn not to let developers “convert lowrise to midrise.” The effort’s petition says the fix is to legislate the elimination of the city’s “growth area” — urban centers, urban villages, and light rail station areas — height and density allowances and put the areas under the same zoning rules as the rest of the city:

The proposed fix would reduce maximum building heights and floor area ratios inside designated growth areas to levels outside growth areas, and would thereby alleviate the majority of the detrimental effects of the 2010 changes.

In 2010 along with other significant changes to the city’s zoning, Seattle implemented rules allowing developers to build to 40-foot heights in lowrise zones within the designated growth areas of the city, 10 feet higher than outside the areas.

In the years since, Capitol Hill has seen a massive wave of continued development as rents rise and the demand for housing in the central, most walkable areas of Seattle continues to increase. A majority of this development have been in zones allowing projects up to seven stories tall.

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56 thoughts on “Capitol Hill flyer and petition effort takes on buildings ‘way too tall for your lowrise neighborhood’

  1. I’ve seen the same guy distributing these fliers around my neighborhood on multiple occasions. Next time I see him, maybe I’ll have the guts to ask him who he works for.

    • Is that relevant? I’m not handing out flyers for anything. It does, however, seem relevant to ask a flyer-poster on whose behalf they are posting those flyers. As a homeowner, I think I have a right to ask “who told you to put that on my door?” Am I wrong?

  2. I met the guy who posted the signs two weekends ago and know where he lives. He is quite forthcoming and candid with information – happy to speak to anyone who will listen. I really like his proactive stance in trying to make change. Many here seem to complain after the fact.

    I actually do not mind (some) taller buildings as long as they’re set back and allow for some breathing room. We already have 11 and 7 story buildings in the area these signs are posted. What do not like are developers who are able to circumvent loopholes in the design/review process (via aPodments). Every project needs to be treated with the same set of guidelines and an approval process.

  3. Paris looks pretty good, and functions very well, with 6-7 story apartment buildings. I’d love to see that sort of living space in Seattle.

    • I love Paris too but I don’t think they have many single family house neighborhoods in that city. One challenge Seattle will have in the next twenty years will be accommodating our projected growth while protecting affordability and the character of different types of neighborhoods. Certain neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, downtown and South Lake Union are ideal places for urban growth because many people are attracted to the urban vitality and density of those neighborhoods, they have great transportation infrastructure, and they are walking distance to downtown and other amenities.

      For those reasons, I envision Seattle building higher in those neighborhoods while limiting density in most of North, South, and West Seattle. Seattle will continue to have very urban neighborhoods and very suburban neighborhoods and I bet the differences will become greater and greater as the century progresses. Seattle will probably never be like Paris, or many other major cities, that have quality mass transit, infrastructure and density spread out throughout the entire city. I am happy to live in Capitol Hill – one of the more urban Seattle neighborhoods – and I understand if the buildings need to be a little taller so that more people like me can find an affordable place to live.

    • Of course Paris doesn’t have as many single family residences. It’s an old city where density became necessary hundreds of years ago. We’re just approaching that need now in our relatively young city, and smart density beats the hell out of sprawl in my book.

    • I agree. But it is much cheaper and easier to concentrate density in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, SLU, First Hill and downtown Seattle because those neighborhoods are better suited for growth and also happen to be the neighborhoods where most of the new people moving to Seattle actually want to live. People should be allowed to build in those areas in a way that better reflects the demand.

    • If this is the reaction of people in the most dense neighborhood in Seattle imagine how the people of Magnolia, Wallingford, etc etc would react. If not Capitol Hill and SLU, then where?

    • How about downtown? Totally underpopulated currently. And unlike Capitol Hill, nobody is going to complain about tall buildings downtown. Not even apodments.

    • Except there is the question of there not being a whole lot of improvements one can make downtown in regards to height or density except by possibly rezoning entire blocks and making them residential first and foremost. Then comes the interior changes that’d have to be made so they are up to code, etc etc.

      Naw, it really is easier to demolish 3 story buildings and build 6 story ones when the biggest cost is grumpy reactionary residents.

    • Trudi – One of the reasons that downtown is currently so underpopulated is because back in 1989 people DID complain about tall buildings downtown. They passed the CAP Initiative that cut building heights for downtown residential towers to 85 feet (yes, 85 feet). I’d hate to see us make the same mistake again.

    • Paris does *look* pretty good, but it doesn’t work very well. Paris is increasingly becoming a city only for the wealthy (or tourists willing to splurge) with a marginalized and physically distant lower SES population. It’s a simple law – restrict supply and prices go up. So we can stop building taller buildings, as long as we also realize that comes with a very real price. Maybe we’re willing to pay that price, I don’t know.

  4. Cities have things like buildings in them. They aren’t an impediment to a view, they *are* the view. If you don’t like this view you can move outside of the city and into the suburbs where the only thing blocking your view are SUVs.

    • To be fair, the flyers and petition aren’t seeking to roll back zoning below the 30-foot thresholds… yet :)

    • If you really wanted “to be fair” Justin, you would have pointed out the blatant dishonesties throughout the flyer. For instance, the 2010 changes adjusted the building heights by 10 feet only (not 18 as the flyer suggests). It used to be that a developer could build 3 stories above grade plus a basement, now they can build 4 stories above grade plus a basement. The former limit was 30 feet plus an allowance for pitched roof, etc. The 2010 zoning increases the base to 40 feet with the same allowances. The zoning change was literally only 10 feet.

      The flyers are nothing more than dog whistle politics. If you really wanted to be fair you might take the time to investigate the claims of some anonymous guy polluting our neighborhood with this trash.

    • I agree that urban landscapes are beautiful but I am happy that there are guidelines and restrictions for what can be built and where.

      One of the more interesting things about Seattle is that depending on where you want to move to in the city you can live in a log cabin in the woods (Cheasty Boulevard), on a chicken farm (Columbia City), in a suburban single family neighborhood (most of Seattle), in a denser, more urban neighborhood (Capitol Hill, Ballard), or in a major metropolitan zone (South Lake Union/downtown). This diversity of neighborhoods and lifestyle options within the city limits is one of the perks to living here. That said, it makes sense for people who really want to live in the Seattle version of Manhattan or Brooklyn to be able to find similar lifestyle/housing options in the downtown core or on Capitol Hill.

  5. I’d rather have density here in Seattle than to see single family tract homes climbing up our mountains. Transit makes density desirable for more people.

    • Have you driven along I-90 lately? While I wouldn’t want to do it, there seems to be those that want to live in the suburbs and those areas have been and are continuing to develop quite rapidly. This growth will likely continue despite what the advocates of taller buildings suggest. Why? I’ll suggest that it’s an entirely different demographic; not all want to live in the city. Thank goodness for the geographic constraints here in Seattle which help to mitigate this effect. The Growth Management Act plays a huge part of this as well and this must be strengthened and maintained. Is is what reduces sprawl. If it was tall buildings and density that prevented sprawl why are Chicago, New York and Los Angeles (Yes, Los Angeles) some of the most dense and yet most spread out (sprawl) cities in our country?

    • But also when a city was founded and the resources and technology available to them factor in. The thing that is madness is that people DO want to live in the Seattle city limits in hot neighborhoods and only the well heeled are able to do so.

  6. I just noticed one of these flyers posted today (on a street much lower than 15th) and although I haven’t had a moment to access the site yet, I appreciate the fact that someone is taking the time to do this.

  7. I don’t think this activism campaign is very well thought out. More density = more housing availability = lower rents. Look at D.C. as an example where height limits have led to unnecessarily high rents.

    • actually the development of apodments etc will mean the increase of rents for those who do not want to live in worker dormitories especially for families that need a little more space. The square foot cost of pods is very high. Not to mention that in the future, will contribute to the sprawl the city says it doesn’t want…

  8. I like the neighborhood character of Capitol Hill, too. But if I remember correctly, it was the Growth Management Act, passed years back, that mandated all cities and counties in WA to designate growth areas in which to concentrate growth rather than foster urban sprawl. We don’t get to have it both ways. If not up, then outward is the direction growth will take. Maybe the council could have acted differently in particular areas, but I think they had to enact these growth areas for . . . .growth.

  9. So this group (or individual) is advocating that the property directly across the street from the new Link Light Rail Station be subjected to the same building height limit as single family homes. Brilliant.

    • Really Cynthia? Where does it suggest that on their website? I think you are mistaken. What I read indicates they are concerned with the height increases in LR3 Zones only. I’m pretty sure the property directly across the street from the new Link Light Rail Station is zoned either NC (Neighborhood Commercial), or MR (Mid-Rise) and is therefore subject to different building restrictions. Nice attempt at an insult but I am not going to sit idle and let you spout what is clearly misinformation, please get your facts straight. I’m glad this group is countering these land-use changes, likely written and being driven by developers and their lawyers, which have clearly upset many Seattle residents.

    • Kelly, it sounds like you’re the one who needs to get your facts straight. The east side of 11th Ave East (directly across the street from the Light Rail Station) is zoned LR3. It’s quite obvious that your group is the one that is spreading the misinformation.

    • My group? No, I speak for myself only but I applaud this group’s effort. BTW… I think you would benefit from a new map. On mine it clearly shows that the east side of 11th Ave E is directly across the street from Cal Anderson Park, not the Light Rail Station.

    • I think Cynthia was referring to 10th Ave E, not 11th, but the point still stands — the East side of 10th ave E is directly across from the light rail station and is zoned LR3. Most definitely not commercial there, it’s all houses. Maybe you should consider getting a map.

    • Mistyped 11th instead of 10th. My point still remains, this person (or people) want the property directly across the street from the Light Rail Station to share the same building height limits as our single family zones. Do you dispute this fact? And more importantly, do you really think that it’s a good idea to artificially limit density within mere feet of where we are spending billions of dollars in transportation infrastructure?

  10. I would really love to see a rational articulated alternative vision of the future of Capitol Hill from these folks. Should we simply freeze everything on the Hill and try and prevent any change or development? Will that really make the demand to live on Capitol Hill disappear and render our neighborhood affordable? (I doubt it). Perhaps we have gone too far? Should we turn back the clock and demolish all buildings above 3 stories because they ruin the character of our neighborhood?

    I’m really not sure why 5 stories is suddenly apocalyptic while 3 stories is some sort of ideal. It seems like a discussion of the WAY we encourage new development would be much more valuable than yelling “5 stories bad, 3 stories good!”

    I’d love to hear from an array of voices about how we can have a neighborhood that can accomodate growth AND be affordable; preserve historic landmarks; incorporate greenery and parks; create attractive buildings that are pleasant to be next to on the street; maximize the minimal amount of NW sunlight we get; build a transportation system that works for all-ages-and-abilities; and create an overall awesome neighborhood that can serve as a model for others.

    Much of this good work of creating a livable Capitol Hill is being done by numerous entities (whether you agree with all their work or not) including the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, the EcoDistrict, Capitol Hill Housing, friends of parks groups, Central Seattle Greenways, PPUNC, the Capitol Hill Community Council, parts of City Government, progressive developers, etc.

    Productive discussion and subsequent work to encourage “good” development, could have a meaningful positive impact on our neighborhood and the City.

    • Historic preservation!? In Seattle? What a laugh! Look at the “historic preservation” of one wall at the project on 14th and Pine – what perks did the developer get for that? Seattle could care less about preserving the “neighborhood character”. Once Capitol Hill has gone the way of Belltown, which neighborhood will become the new target?

    • I don’t think we need to “freeze everything.” However I also think it’s worth acknowledging that a change from 5 to 3 stories would alter the character of our historic neighborhood forever and could have a very negative impact on livability depending on how it is carried out. People are drawn to Capitol Hill because of its human scale and livability. If we sell it off to the highest bidder and allow every older home to be turned into cookie-cutter apartments we risk ruining what made this a desirable place to live in the first place. No one benefits from this long-term except for a few developers.

      Case in point: many of the plans I’ve seen from EcoDistrict, Capitol Hill Housing, etc. advocate eliminating street parking, doing away with parking requirements for new developments etc. Yet on the subject of increasing actual transit capacity they are strangely silent. Not having to build parking (or pay into any kind of mass transit fund) increases developer’s profits significantly. Coincidence? I think not. I’m sure the people involved in these groups are very knowledgeable, but I’m willing to bet few of them will have to live with the consequences of the changes they are promoting.

      Meanwhile Metro continues to cut routes and transit capacity is going DOWN not up. Lightrail is great but the New York subway system it is not… and you can bet Metro will further cut routes to the U District and downtown once it opens up, just like they did with the now-extinct bus route to the airport.

      If the goal is truly to increase density in Seattle (and not just line the pockets of developers) why don’t we focus on those neighborhoods where the greatest gains stand to be made? Capitol Hill is probably the densest neighborhood in the city already – even denser than downtown, I’d bet. I know we’re really proud of ourselves for finally building lightrail, but we shouldn’t allow developers to use this one station as an excuse to re-invent our entire neighborhood for their own private interests.

      And by the way if you think increased density automatically translates to affordability, look no further than San Francisco. Apodments there rent for about $1000 per month (or more).

    • San Francisco and the Bay Area in general have some of the strictest building limitations in the country. Their prices aren’t high because of density, they’re high because more density isn’t allowed despite demand being extraordinarily high. Preventing growth in a high demand neighborhood is guaranteed to increase rents drastically; increased density is the only chance of fighting that.

    • can you cite the claim that SF and the Bay Area have strict building limitations – and which city has the lack of limitations you seek?

      the only way the substantive growth can occur in densely developed areas is by demolition and replacement. do you think leveling parts of neighborhoods to produce new neighborhoods is a good idea? how exactly does that work in a built out city such as San Francisco is? Or as Capitol Hill is?

      what about the displacement of the residents? what about the fact that new construction ALWAYS costs more than existing homes?

      San Francisco continues to grow btw, There has been incredible housing growth in SF, adding 100K people in the 80’s and 90’s alone when I lived there.

      But many think that continued growth is unsustainable.
      http://sfpublicpress.org/news/2012-06/can-san-francisco-add-150000-more-people.

      San Francisco is the second densest city in the US with something like 17K people per sq mile. Making it more dense will make not make it more affordable.

  11. On one side, we have the “got better things to do with their time than post hyperbolic flyers on lamposts” majority that understands Seattle is THE metropolitan area & economic engine of the Pacific Northwest and embraces a future where Seattle is the cosmopolitan leader of the region, attracting the country’s (and world’s) best and brightest to a dense, urban, literate, diverse city along the Pacific Rim. And that includes Capitol Hill.

    On the other side, we have a belligerent, vocal, parochial minority (with nothing better to do with their time) who want to preserve the city in amber circa 1970 when Seattle was a regional backwater wondering who would be the last to turn out the lights. This vocal and pinch-faced minority want all the benefits of urban living (like good paying jobs and convenient access to shops, restaurants, and parks) without actually having anyone live near them so that they can also have free on-street parking. Well boo hoo hoo. I’m crying a river over here. There are plenty of housing options for you. In Kent.

    And seriously, someone needs to slap these folks upside with a one way ticket to Manhattan. So they can see what Manhattan actually looks like because apparently they have no clue. Regardless of how many 6 story apartments get built on Capitol Hill, Seattle is about 1,000 years – and several talking Apes – away from looking anything like Manhattan. As someone noted above, the whole “3 story good, 6 story bad” is the kind of mantra only an Animal Farm or someone completely certifiable could comprehend.

    • Clever words . . .very clever. Reminds me of popping a zit.
      Do you really not care about the kind of development you see going on? Little . . shoddily built . . .cubicles . . for you and me. Here comes another one just like the other one . . . with a nice little Jamba Juice below. What Progress . . . so lacking in provincialism . . .no offense but you sound like you’re from some northwest suburb of Chicago . . you know . . where I’m from where everywhere you go it looks the same. What happened to innovation? What happened to a little individualism? This sounds like my parents generation – – where they didn’t care they were being sold the same floor plan, the same house as everything on the street. Seattle’s claim to fame was being the best of a small town and a large city. Progress does not equal buildings that warehouse people like laying hens. Progress does not equal scenarios where developers make astronomical profits while delivering nothing. They deliver nothing in the design phase, they spend less per square foot to build, charge more per square foot than most areas in town and get breaks on EPA standards to boot. Is our city council really so inept they can’t attract developers that can accomplish something?
      Local government does provide words “affordable living”.
      You’ve been spoon fed their PR. There are ways to develop without looking like some Gulag – the simpleton response “people want it to be some backwater from the 1970’s”. Stupid, stupid, stupid. You gobble up their mantra “progress” and talk big. Developers counted on you, dude . . . . they knew if they chanted long enough . . . . they’d find a good little dog to carry the torch.
      hail bro . . no more provincialism yeah yeah

    • Well said! Those who favor rampant development/density with unfettered regulation try to put those of us who oppose them into a box of “keep it like the 1970s.” That is a total mischaracterization. We do not oppose demolition and replacement per se…we just want it to be done right, so that at least some residential character of our neighborhood is preserved. And apodments and their ilk are certainly not the right way to do it…..all they do is make developers rich as they cunningly entice people into renting in their ugly, cheap-ass buildings.

  12. This needs to be put on the ballot and it will pass. The city council has been bought and paid for by developers and instead of being the “city council” they should be renamed the “shill council”. It’s time voters take direct action.

  13. I appreciate the effort this group is making to prevent the proliferation of taller buildings in low rise zones. The taller buildings are appropriate for the more commercial areas on Capitol Hill (mainly Broadway, 15th, and Pike-Pine), but not for the purely residential areas like north Capitol Hill, the blocks east of 15th, etc. In my view, it is possible to provide for growth and increased density, and at the same time preserve the single-family home parts of our neighborhood.

  14. Capitol Hill is growing like crazy. As long as they’re not tearing down any buildings that are important to the neighborhood, or shutting any businesses that are important to the neighborhood, I guess I don’t have a problem with tall buildings. More housing is ok. Its not like I would ever be able to afford a place around 15th.

  15. We aren’t a big city. We are an overgrown fishing village with all the prejudice and provincialism present, just on a larger scale.

  16. The flyer is an April fool’s joke! It had me fooled for a moment that some hicks on Capitol Hill want to turn it into Snoqualmie.

  17. Density is essential for a green future that is affordable for the people who live in our city. Fighting for exclusive lowrise in Seattle is conservative, anti-environmental, anti-sustainable and therefore stupid.

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