While the young urbanists of Capitol Hill might be disappointed the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda zoning change proposals for Broadway probably won’t create three-hundred-foot apartment towers, Seattle officials are ready to face opposition in other parts of the neighborhood where even relatively modest height boosts are planned,
Generally speaking, Jesseca Brand with the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods said, residents in already dense areas, especially on Capitol Hill and First Hill are more accepting and see the proposed changes being pounded out through 2017 as a good thing. Areas on Eastern Capitol Hill, to the south, and in the Central District where single-family streets are more common are more apprehensive and are concerned about “cultural and economic displacement.”
“Our hope is that the community feels they can shape this program neighborhood by neighborhood,” Brand said at last week’s HALA open house organized by city planners in a more fun than you would expect for this kind of session venue — Capitol Hill’s Optimism Brewing. Sometimes a drink is required when discussing the future of Seattle’s central neighborhoods.
Most of the affected zones in urban centers and villages across the city would get the standard “HALA bump” — a one story increase in allowable building height along with new “mandatory housing affordability” requirements for all new residential construction. As part of Seattle’s “Grand Bargain,” MHA will link the creation of affordable housing with market-rate development by requiring new multifamily buildings to make 7 to 11% of units affordable — below 60% of the area median income — or require developers to pay into an affordable housing fund.
For the Capitol Hill core around Broadway and Pike/Pine where redevelopment has already been heavy, the proposed changes are actually a little boring. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the plan would bring changes to both sides of Broadway between Howell and E Roy where an up-zone that would allow for seven story buildings with commercial use throughout the entire building. Currently, commercial uses are only allowed in the first four stories. That could bring a large office project or (another?) hotel to a part of Capitol Hill many say is in desperate need of daytime activity. Capitol Hill’s proposals include plenty of 7% and 10% affordability areas, but no 11% requirements as the current plans lack any up-zones dramatic enough to trigger the highest level of affordability requirements (one 11% requirement, for example, will be placed in an area transitioning from a single family home zone to a neighborhood commercial zone).
Zoning along Madison between 14th and 23rd is proposed to be pushed to 75-feet for mixed use with 7% affordability. Starting near 23rd and E Pine, there are several blocks of single family zones that are slated to become new low-rise zones, allowing for medium-sized apartment projects.The map also proposes the mixed use area of 15th Ave be zoned to 55 feet and 7% affordability. The area surrounding TT Minor Playground and the Seattle World School is proposed to get a max height of 40 feet with 7% affordability.
Chief among the HALA principles is that denser housing should be built around major transit centers. Several low-rise zoned blocks east of the Capitol Hill Station would go to midrise zones and be required to have a second-tier (M1) level of affordability. But Madison’s isn’t slated for a similar up-zone even with plans for a new Madison Bus Rapid Transit line. Currently, the low-rise zones just off Madison are only slated for the standard HALA bump instead of an M1 level of affordability. “Please upzone as many places as possible, (especially) near transit,” one written comment posted at the HALA open house read.
HALA principles also call for more housing options around parks and other neighborhood assets. The area around the Miller Community Center is slated for a boost to mostly 40-feet for townhouses, row houses or apartments with 7 to 10% affordability. Near the southeast corner of the Miller Playfield a 50-foot zone and 11% affordability is proposed.
Jay Cliffe, a Central District resident who attended the HALA session, told CHS he found it interesting that the city’s zoning plans covered buildings’ heights but not their square-footage. He pointed to a 30,000 square-foot grocery store currently planned for the proposed development at 23rd and Union and said that seemed like a destination store and not a neighborhood shop. “30,000 (square feet) seems freaking huge,” he said.
“The city should let historic neighborhoods be historic,” another commenter wrote in the open house’s post-it notes about the Central District, adding that everything is going to end up a “generic development.” Another person told CHS that tearing up single-family homes for apartments in the Central District is a “travesty.”
Meanwhile, not ever Capitol Hill resident in attendance was ready to bang the pro-development drum. “I’d like to see the neighborhood preserved,” Dennis Saxman, Capitol Hill resident and open and frequent opposer of dense development told CHS. He believes the density should be pushed downtown.
Some might argue that the HALA proposals are doing what Saxman is asking for — kind of. One person’s written feedback at the open house asked why “rich neighborhoods” were being preserved.
For her part, the city’s Brand says she has been “pleasantly surprised” that comments and discussions at HALA.consider.it have been balanced. She says she’s also pleased that there has been a good cross-section from most neighborhoods. One of the main interests people have, according to Brand, is, “What will this growth mean?”
More meetings on HALA are planned for February and online comments will continue to be collected at HALA.consider.it through April or May. Officials hope the final proposal for the rezoning will be finished in June.