City Hall coming to Washington Hall to talk Mandatory Housing Affordability zoning on Hill, in CD

This week, Central Seattle residents will get a chance for an up-close look at how proposed zoning changes will affect this part of the city.

As part of a citywide effort to address housing affordability, the city has embarked on a wide-ranging plan that would allow developers to build extra density in exchange for including affordable housing in their projects or making a payment toward an affordable housing fund. It’s an outgrowth of the HALA program began under then-Mayor Ed Murray, and this portion of it is continuing under a different acronym: MHA, or mandatory housing affordability.

Citywide Open House featuring Districts 3+7 MHA Maps

A City Council committee is digging into the issue and as a part of the process, they’re engaging in a series of open house meetings across the city. Next on the list is a joint meeting for council District 3 (Capitol Hill, the Central District and environs) and District 7 (Queen Anne, Magnolia, Downtown, South Lake Union and the International District).

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The Department of Neighborhoods, which is running the evening, has also invited other city departments, such as SDOT, parks and others, to attend and explain any projects they have planned in the district. Those other department projects, however, are independent from the affordable housing plan.

Thursday’s meeting will be in an open house format, said Jesseca Brand, of the Department of Neighborhoods. With the changes proposed concerning only the area’s designated Urban Villages, there will be descriptions of each area in different parts of the room, Brand said.

In District 3, the villages include 23rd and Union-Jackson, First Hill-Capitol Hill, Madison-Miller and North Rainier-Mt. Baker. Brand said they expect to have maps of each area on the wall. There will be no formal presentations, but city staff members will be stationed at each one to answer questions.

Those staff members will be armed with information to be able to explain decisions behind why proposed changes have been made for given parcels of land.

The idea, Brand said, is to allow people to drop in and out as they pleased, and also allow them to focus on areas of concern, rather than the city as a whole.

“You can get your questions answered and go about your day,” Brand said.

The proposed zoning changes for Capitol Hill and the Central District inclue transitioning Broadway from around Cal Anderson Park all the way north to beyond Roy to 75-foot height limits and “neighborhood commercial” zoning that would allow seven-story buildings with commercial use throughout. Some of the bigger changes would also come around the Miller Community Center where planners are now proposing a less aggressive upzone than one potential alternative had originally proposed. Moving toward the Central District, most proposed changes are focused on the area around Madison and 23rd with notable exceptions around 23rd and Union and 23rd and Jackson where surgical upzoning has already been approved.

Under the MHA framework, affordability requirements chained to the upzoning vary by “scale” and developers can choose to pay fees instead of including the rent-restricted units.

There has been considerable opposition to the planned changes in some corners of the city though Capitol Hill’s community groups have mostly been supportive of the changes. Others have been critical of Seattle’s reluctance to find solutions that include allowing more multi-family housing in areas of the city now dominated by hugely expensive single-family housing.

While there will not be a formal public comment period at the open house, residents will have the opportunity to fill out comment cards, Brand said. Those cards will then be forwarded to city council members. Additionally, some members of the City Council should be present. Council member Rob Johnson (District 4) is planning to attend, Brand said. Johnson is chair of the committee of the whole studying the proposals.

Brand said she has not yet heard whether or not Council members Kshama Sawant (District 3) or Sally Bagshaw (District 7) will attend. All of the council members have been invited, Brand said.

District 7 has only one urban village (Upper Queen Anne) under consideration for changes – its other areas, such as Downtown and the ID have their own plans that have already gone through the process. Brand said that since they only have one area, logistically, it was easiest to combine it with District 3.

This will be the third open house in the series. Brand said the previous two, District 4, and Districts 5 and 6 combined, have been well attended, with 150 and 250 people, respectively.

Running concurrently with the open houses is a series of formal public hearings about each of the areas, with the hearing coming a few weeks after the open house. After that, there will be a final, citywide public hearing. After that, the council will begin its deliberations.

District 3’s hearing comes April 16 at the Broadway Performance Hall.

Legislation could be finalized and adopted in the August-September time frame, though there’s a big caveat. The proposal is currently under litigation from a coalition of 26 groups from across the city. The group says that the environmental impact statement surrounding the proposed changes is inadequate. If they prevail, the timeline would likely be pushed back.

For people interested in commenting on the proposed changes, all of that creates a timeline that looks like this:

  • District 3 & 7 Open House, 6-8 p.m. March 29 at Washington Hall, 153 14th Avenue.
  • District 3 & 7 Public Hearing, 6 p.m. April 16 at Seattle Central College Broadway Performance Hall
  • Citywide Public Hearing, June 25 at City Hall. UPDATE: A representative from Johnson’s office tells CHS that the official citywide public hearing has not been scheduled. We’ve heard the 25th but treat the date as tentative.

For more information, visit the websites about the Districts 3 and 7 public hearing, the City Council’s MHA Committee, and the interactive map that gives details about proposed changes to each area.

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6 thoughts on “City Hall coming to Washington Hall to talk Mandatory Housing Affordability zoning on Hill, in CD

  1. “developers can choose to pay fees instead of including the rent-restricted units.” As long as developers can buy their way out of the affordable mandate by paying a pittance in fees, they will and thus this will not mean affordable housing except in a tiny fraction of the city where space is in less demand. This creates economic ghettos. So why does Seattle allow it? Why give wealthy developers a pass while hurting our citizens?

    • Right-on! I recently heard someone mention that HALA should really be called “Ha-Ha”. Why? Because it’s a laughable give-away to developers.

  2. These fees, the pittance you refer to, would be hundreds of thousands of dollars, even for a relatively small project. That would be a large line item in any development project. I don ‘t think most people have any idea how large the proposed fees are.

    • Developers take a tax hit by paying the fees vs. providing the affordable housing units. Why do they do this? Because the fees are a pittance compared to the profit they make from NOT providing affordable housing.

  3. Apparently making a profit taking large risks to build housing is not a good thing. Better to do it without making profit. Oh, right. Then noone would do it.

  4. Seems good that other city departments will be there. It would be nice to see mandatory infrastructure (crosswalks, green space, etc.) as part of the grand bargain. Perhaps development impact fees to mitigate the costs of these livability add-ons? And this may be asking too much but it sure would be nice for there to be some planning and restriction with regards to location and timing of new construction. Some of us have been breathing construction dust and truck exhaust for a while. It’s great to build a dense, walkable city but walkabiltiy takes a hit when constantly needing to navigate new construction.