An impassioned forum to discuss lowering building heights in large swaths of Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the city drew a packed crowd, and frequent outbursts, in the Lowell Elementary auditorium Monday night. More than 200 people attended the city’s forum on lowering building heights in Lowrise 3 zones.
Amid an explosion of development in Capitol Hill, the forum surfaced long-brewing frustrations of homeowners who “feel like the deck is stacked against us,” as one Capitol Hill homeowner said.
Still, there was some notable push-back on the slow-growth crowd, spurring an honest debate over the character of the neighborhood.
Owen Pickford, representing Housing for Seattle, said that the cost of housing is the most important issue facing the city and that preserving character should not come at the cost of raising rent. By the way, Pickford posted his thoughts on the night’s proceedings here.
A more recent Capitol Hill transplant urged attendees to think about why young people want to move to the city in droves. “What I think it boils down to is the spirit of inclusiveness. I came from my small town and I wouldn’t dare be caught holding hands with another man,” he said. “We’re telling people you can only move here unless you can afford a mortgage on a single family home… we should be welcoming growth not pushing it away.”
The meeting comes following a petition and flyer campaign by neighborhood activists to get the city to reconsider building heights in areas zoned for lowrise housing after a 2010 overhaul to encourage more townhouses and apartments. Seattle City Council member Sally Clark called for the city to reconsider building heights in these areas intended for four story structures. Several developers have used various incentives and “loopholes” to get an additional floor on buildings inside these zones.
In Geoff Wendlandt’s opening presentation, the Department of Planning and Development representative said microhousing would not be up for discussion, which drew loud jeers.
“We’re not supposed to talk about aPodments, but can we talk about the height of aPodments,” shouted one attendee. Heights on microhousing structures, like the one at 1720 E Olive St., have served as the poster-buildings for code correction for the city and many residents.
- One Woman said that she had been to Warsaw, Poland and saw the devastating effects of historical buildings being destroyed. “There are homes in this part of the city that are build with wood that’s no longer grown”
- A home owner in Queen Anne spoke in support of allowing increasing density and new developments that house people with less environmental impact. “A city is made of people in addition to houses,” he said.
- Capitol Hill resident who lives near in 18th and John.. “What I hope the city can do is add something back, that we can get something in return for taking away character” of older buildings, she said. “My real beef is those are affordable units … we’re mowing those down for a net loss of affordable housing.”
- A Man who moved to Seattle in 1996 said he’s never been more excited about new housing in the neighborhood. “I want Capitol Hill lot say a place where people like me can move in a find a place,” he said. “Town houses before 2010 are terrible … lets continue the experiment.”
- One Capitol Hill resident complained about small houses with old sewers that are strained because of new density. “Everybody’s sewer is popping.”
- Capitol Hill resident Dennis Saxman rebuffed comments about density being more inclusive. “When all these people talk about all the inclusion, it doesn’t include the people who live here. Seattle has never been governed by a more elitist group.”
- Bill Parsons from Ballard feared overbearing buildings would mean the “end of privacy.”
- One attendee suggested putting a moratorium on the 40 foot allowance while we review them, which drew a loud round of applause.
- A Beacon Hill man, who rents a house, said “when I look at this meeting it’s predominantly white, older, and homeowners.” He urged DPD to reach out to renters as they are the people that will be most directly impacted.
- “B plus four equals five” was one man’s take on basemen floor calculations:
- One woman suggested developers should be putting money in a fund for mass transit because of the strain on buses, adding that “communities need to lead this density … This should not be a gold rush land grab.”
DPD planners will use feedback from the forum — and sent in directly via email — as they form recommended zoning changes. The City Council is expected to vote on the changes by March. You can learn more on the city’s Lowrise Multifamily Code Corrections page.