Sprouted from a grant from Capitol Hill’s super-green Bullitt Center and backed by one of the neighborhood’s most quietly powerful organizations in Capitol Hill Housing, the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict is apparently ready to blossom into a major player in the neighborhood’s growth.
The district took a turn in the spotlight in front of City Council Tuesday afternoon to highlight its environmental accomplishments since its rainy April 2013 start and what green initiatives director Joel Sisolak has planned next for the organization beyond the intriguing E Pike pedestrian zone test. But it was the discussion with Council members about a different kind of green on Capitol Hill following the presentation that might be the most important harbinger of EcoDistrict things to come.
A Capitol Hill 2020 initiative spearheaded by director Michael Wells and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce has laid the groundwork for a major expansion of the Broadway BIA that currently funds cleaning, and marketing along the street into a much wider-ranging entity — with a much more significant budget that could put more than $2 million in funding annually into motion around the Hill.
Many of the initiatives Seattle City Hall would like to see to win its needed approval of the expansion — especially from the planning and land use perspective — line up with the EcoDistrict’s direction presented Tuesday.
“I wouldn’t want to be dealing with the BIA and the EcoDistrict separately,” Burgess said at Tuesday’s hearing with EcoDistrict director Sisolak.
“We want to bring renters together,” Sisolak said about the district’s non-homeowner majority adding that the EcoDistrict is “ready to go deeper” and take on larger initiatives.
The EcoDistrict’s presentation from the Tuesday session is below.
Two initiatives on the horizon for the EcoDistrict that center around Mayor Ed Murray’s affordability committee recommendations could prove a good test of the district’s resolve for a “deeper” dive and ability to coalesce consensus on Capitol Hill.
First, the EcoDistrict plans to push forward “parking reform” around Capitol Hill including district shared parking that would create parking garages to be utilized across multiple housing developments:
District shared parking is the idea that many parking garages in a growing, walkable district should work together and share users almost as if they were one garage. The concept combines the benefits of many types of sharing – people in buildings without enough parking can lease spaces from buildings that have too much parking, new buildings can lease spaces from existing buildings that have excess supply, and daytime users and nighttime users can share a pool of spaces to reduce overall demand – with the scale, flexibility, and redundancy of a distributed district system.
Tuesday, the EcoDistrict’s Alex Brennan said the plan could also include working with the University of Washington to develop a cheaper sensor so smaller garages could afford to participate in district shared parking. Brennan said the EcoDistrict could also work with the city to extend nighttime paid parking beyond its current 8 PM cutoff in a new program that also sent a portion of collected meter fees back to the neighborhood to fund community programs.
Second, Sisolak and Brennan said the EcoDistrict plans to study
and work to remove “recently created barriers to the creation of congregate micro-housing.” CORRECTION: Brennan clarified that the EcoDistrict’s initial goal is to perform a “data driven” analysis of microhousing in response to the HALA committee’s recommendations to remove “recently created barriers to the creation of congregate micro-housing.” Brennan said the results of the study may support the recent regulation or could present a case for making changes to the rules. Last fall, the City Council approved legislation to more strictly regulate aPodment-style housing — though in many areas of Capitol Hill and the Central District, the highest density form of microhousing continues to be developed.
A bigger target in a bigger BIA
Alluding to the discussions going on beyond the scenes at City Hall and inside Capitol Hill’s largest institutions, businesses, and organizations, Burgess said Tuesday he hoped the EcoDistrict was ready to collaborate as it grows.
“Your long-term success with either one of these is going to require a lot of close collaboration of some level of shared interest or relationship,” Burgess said.
Expanding a BIA is an even bigger deal.
In addition to the City Council’s blessing, businesses and organizations within the expanded BIA’s borders must also sign off. Any major changes to the BIA, including expanding its budget or boundaries, require approval. Membership fees and an assessment based on gross income — $2 for every $1,000 generated — currently provide the bulk of the program’s budget.
Under the current agreement, the Broadway BIA is limited to changes in its assessment rates and borders that come in under a 10% increase in assessment revenue. 60% of all potential members in the existing and newly proposed area would need vote to approve any agreement to create new borders under the city’s Office of Economic Development program. Then the agreement must be approved by the City Council.
Currently, the chamber administrates the BIA managing trash pick-up and graffiti removal around that business area. Last spring, that BIA slightly expanded its borders — but bigger changes are ahead.
The Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce is funded by a combination of grants and member fees from its 300 or so strong base and not affiliated with the national U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an expanded chamber could also mean an expanded assessment zone to fund its initiatives.
A BIA’s presence also extends beyond trash and graffiti. The organizations have become conduits for solving neighborhood issues and opportunities with city programs. SPD and other departments check in with the boards and program leaders for buy-in, sign-off and community representation. At a civic level, the groups have clout.
Sisolak joined Capitol Hill housing from the Cascadia Green Building Council after a 2012 recruiting effort to find a director for the new initiative. The occasional CHS contributor has pushed forward a range of environmental projects including aiding City Light’s community solar effort, a new Hill-area Pollinator Pathway, and even an initiative to help alleviate Pike/Pine’s overflowing dumpster problems.
The EcoDistrict’s steering committee now represents a mix of representatives from some of the neighborhood’s largest institutions and developers as well as a few of its smaller, grassroots community groups and organizations:
Under the Capitol Hill 2020 plan, the chamber’s charter would grow beyond BIA type responsibilities to also include more formal structure — and funding — to deal with issues like representing Capitol Hill in projects like the Convention Center expansion, public safety concerns around gay and trans bashing, or mitigation for businesses and residents from the impacts of development and construction. It could also position the BIA to more effectively help power and fund groups like the Capitol Hill Community Council to tackle neighborhood issues. And there is the upcoming structure of the newly partitioned City Council and District 3 administration to consider, too, in how the future BIA sets itself up.
According to the chamber’s plan, the effort to begin a petition process to kick off the BIA expansion was hoped to begin in September after an August of “vetting with the city” leading up to a start of the legislative process with City Council in January 2016. It’s unclear at this point how far forward the expansion plan has moved. But a bulked-up, “deeper” EcoDistrict will also play a big part in what comes next.