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Capitol Hill’s turn for upzoning: HALA process to begin next month

Earlier this month, Mayor Tim Burgess signed off on the Uptown neighborhood’s rezoning but that was only one part of a 30-year plan. Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), which sits under the larger Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) program, puts Capitol Hill and Central District up next in the Seattle City Council process.

The mayor’s office will hand Capitol Hill, Madison, Ballard, and the Central District over to City Hall next month for the start of the rezoning process. This is when the Council will work out the upzoning details and timeline. The majority of zoning slated for Capitol Hill will change to Low Rise 3 and Neighborhood Commercial 3 and 2 zones (or NC3 and NC2, at 75 feet or 55 feet height maximum). They mostly permit one more story. These categories have square footage limits codified in them as well.

The City Council will likely vote on Capitol Hill zoning changes in 2018, but Jesseca Brand with the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods said we’ll see housing built under the framework before 2021.

One flashpoint area in the process will be around the Miller Community Center. That neighborhood is slated for a boost to mostly 40-feet for townhouses, row houses, or apartments with seven to 10 percent affordability. Near the southeast corner of the Miller Playfield, a 50-foot zone and 11 percent affordability is proposed.

Explore the live MHA Draft Zoning Changes Here

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 East Roy Street where an up-zone would allow for seven story buildings with commercial use throughout. 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 that many say is in desperate need of daytime activity.

UPDATE: There are two alternative rezoning scenarios under consideration. We’ll dive more deeply into both as the process kicks back into motion but these maps show the options described above and an alternative with a more significant set of changes also under consideration:

Meanwhile, rezoning creeps across Seattle because each area has environmental impact statements that finish at different times. As each one is done, the council can begin its legislative process.

The pace of things, however, is key.

“We think it’s very important,” Brand said. “There are new developments applying every day and if we delay, it means new buildings not making affordable housing.”

Still, Spencer Williams, a legislative assistant to council member Rob Johnson — who heads the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee — said the process won’t be rushed.

Plans for a number of projects in the CD and on the Hill are already adding affordable housing units (like Africatown Plaza). These areas have undergone zoning changes before MHA could be implemented. Additional rezoning already dots 23rd Avenue.

Jason Kelly of the Office of Planning and Community Development said, while there may not be a rush, time is of the essence.

“Most of the current development we see across Seattle outside of these areas continues to proceed without making any contribution to affordable housing,” Kelly said. “That’s why it’s important to implement MHA in the remaining urban villages, like Capitol Hill. Every project that goes to permit before the zoning changes necessary to implement MHA is a missed opportunity to generate additional affordable housing for lower-income people.”

The MHA component of HALA will involve approximately 6,000 of the 20,000 units the program is expected to create.

For new buildings, the options will be either five to seven percent of homes at affordable rents for low-income people or have developers contribute $7 to $21 per square foot. Previously, city planners called for seven to 11 percent affordable housing requirements.

Seattle gives more height and bulk to developers in exchange for affordable housing requirements. MHA impacts all Seattle “urban villages” except for the ones already completed (like the ones Downtown, in South Lake Union, the International District, University District, Uptown, and the nose of 23rd Avenue).



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19 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s turn for upzoning: HALA process to begin next month

  1. I can’t help but think that City planners are rushing headlong into more and more development, without having really listened to the public and without considering the negative consequences. I think that, someday, this developer-friendly approach will be regretted. Seattle is turning into a city that I (a native and lifelong resident) don’t recognize, and don’t really love any more.

    • The status quo is failing Bob. Single family homes are $750k+, apartments that are being built now do not have affordable housing. This is pushing the middle class out of Seattle, which is the soul of the city – not craftsman homes. The time to act is now.

    • “never really listened to the public”

      = common euphemism for “the public really was listened to, but the outcome doesn’t line up with my elite projection.”

    • After 32 years of living on Capitol Hill I moved to an undisclosed location north of the City (sorry techies and developers I don’t want you ruining this place too) quite honestly it was the best decision ever. I drive everywhere (no public transportation) but get to go to farm stands for food and be part of an amazing small community. I feel welcomed here. And safe.

      32 years ago Seattle (which I loved back then) had the same sense of community and was what I would have described as the perfect mix of small town and big city. It was clean. The air was fresh and didn’t stink of piss everywhere you went. People were friendly and looked you in the eye and actually said hello. There weren’t heaps of garbage everywhere. I used to joke that it was San Francisco at half the price.

      I guess the message I got from techie young people and developers was to get the fuck out. Seattle is no place for 52 year olds like me or people who expect to spend their lives there. I was no longer welcome which is fine. I did get out and while I miss Capitol Hill it will never be the same for me. After 4 months away I was back last week and like Bob it just isn’t the same. I felt like a total stranger in my old neighborhood. So much of the new construction is butt ugly and cheap looking. Seattle has been changing for the whole time I lived there but now the change is more tiresome than anything else. Change isn’t necessarily an improvement.

      I was lucky to own a house there which I sold. To developers. Fortunately they aren’t going to tear down the 1905 house that I loved and worked on for so many years. They are going to build townhouses in the backyard. I feel good about my decision to choose a developer that was going to keep part of the historic fabric of Capitol Hill but for the most part all I saw was the destruction of affordable housing for unaffordable housing all around me. Neither the townhouses or my old house will ever be affordable except to a certain group of people. Upzoning an entire neighborhood isn’t going to stop that trend. So many of the developers aren’t from the neighborhood and many are from different states. They will never live in what they create. So why should they care? It is all about money in their pockets.

      Like San Francisco Seattle has become just a very expensive place to make money in tech and then move on to something more affordable. Temporary not permanent. And older people like Bob and myself should be looking elsewhere for a place to live. Places that are affordable and safe.

    • Did you go to any of the community meetings Eli – I actually live on one of these neighborhoods that is being proposed for up zoning and I did – I certainly didn’t hear from anyone who actually lives here now who wanted it…

      What I see are entitled young people who don’t want to have to put in their dues and think I should give up my house so they can have this neighborhood now – move over old folks we want it and think you owe it to us… and yes – light, space and character are *important* to a neighborhood- my wonderful vintage house is one of the big reasons I wanted to live where I do. That I’m not surrounded by towering apartment blocks a-la Ballard is another.

      This area may be up and coming now, but I’ll tell you what – it wasn’t when I moved in. It was drug dealers and prostitutes, dumb people accidentally firing guns and crazy ones attempting to break in the neighbors door with a porch chair…. but now that it’s not like that you think I should have to give up my already small house on it’s tiny lot so someone can put up 3 bachelor sized apartments and lower your rent. Meh….

      I say suck it up buttercup – Do what all the generations had to do before you – go find your own neighborhood you can afford and don’t try to turn my street into the Up ladies house – because I’m not moving and I will fight to keep you from screwing everything up.

    • Just one example of the travesty that is happening to our neighborhoods: 400 block of 10th Ave E, east side, a quiet residential street one block east of Broadway). Four modest older homes, in excellent condition, are being demolished (2 already, 2 more pending), to be replaced by the usual, e.g. ugly, cheap “townhomes” crammed into the lots. One of these homes, the northernmost one, was recently beautifully remodeled.

      Although disappointing, I don’t blame the homeowners for selling. Developers are waving alot of money in front of them, way more than their properties are worth (I can personally attest to this), and they are just taking advantage of the hot market.

    • disgruntled but not going anywhere —

      Actually, why, yes, I do!

      I actually moved out of Seattle this summer after a decade+, because I got tired of waiting for modern urban amenities (in particular, rapid transit & high quality bike lanes) and dense urban development. But I still own property there.

      I’ve spoken to a number of my neighbors about the densification. In general, the answer I hear back is: “it’s a shame they’re tearing down our charming old homes to build crap buildings that are maybe 1 story higher — why aren’t they building 20 story buildings on Broadway where the density belongs and leaving our homes alone?”

      I feel the same way.

    • What I have little empathy for is the elite projection that:
      – new residents should be forced to pay 30% extra for parking they don’t necessary want (because you want parking)

      – new residents should be forced to rent huge, expensive apartments they don’t want to pay for (because you don’t think small apartments should exist).

      – new residents shouldn’t have housing built for their needs as singles or childless people, because some new residents have kids, so all apartments need to be built for kids.

      The people moving into Capitol Hill are equally important voters and important taxpayers than the older residents.

      There is no ‘union tenure’ system to privilege your opinion or vote as (I presume) older white people over the equivalent younger residents.

      Of course, I mean ‘you’ generically.

    • Eli,
      Everything you say seems reasonable and sounds good, but it doesn’t match reality. All these much-denser buildings (especially good example—the Apodments) were supposed to make “affordable” housing. That was the excuse for allowing them so densely crammed in, and without parking. They talked about tiny apts and $600-700 rents, but what we now have is hamster-sized cells and rents that still cost $1300-1400 anyway, that are ruining neighborhoods and still don’t have parking anyway. If we allow 20-story buildings on arterials, and we probably should, they’ll STILL immediately fill up with highly-paid residents who can afford cars (and many will), and rents will rise to meet that supply/demand curve. I’m not saying don’t allow density, I’m saying let’s not pretend all these gimmicks that promise more affordable rents will really work. Letting developers off the hook for parking won’t improve affordability. There will still be a shit-ton of people paid enough to afford stupid-high rents anyway, whether they choose to have cars or not. Might as well make them build the parking. It will only screw up the neighborhoods worse if they don’t, and the buildings will all fully rent out anyway, and they won’t be “affordable” either. We already see it.

    • Eli – I have no problem with density being put where it belongs, but the plans for the area that I live in have 45 ft apartment buildings with 5 feet of set back being OK’d as infill next to tiny one story bungalows on a one lane street. I’m not OK with that. If you went to enough HALA meetings you had to have heard them say time and time again that they are against putting bigger buildings on the bigger streets – that it’s not fair – it’s not in line with their goals. They are pushing hard for the type of development that destroys streets like the one I live on – intentionally.

      And it’s not that we (the collective we) don’t want *any* small sized apartments, it’s that from what any of us could glean there are no requirements for the sizes of units that are built – and no reason to believe that builders, left to their own devices, will not maximize their profits by putting in as many smaller units as possible rather than a mix of small and large ones – why do we think this – because it’s exactly what we’ve already seen happening. Developers cram as many units onto a lot as possible with little thought to form and function.

      As far as parking goes it’s downright delusional to think that people will cease to bring in new vehicles in the future any more than they haven’t at this point in time. We went from always having parking on my street to needing zone permits just over the last few years – and that is because no new development, even with parking requirements has as many spots as most people actually have cars… If we allow new development with 0 parking we’re going to have to go to a Tokyo style system where in you cannot get a license for your vehicle until you prove you have a place to park it..

  2. Hi Bob – honestly curious – what do you hear the “public” saying?

    What are you afraid of losing?

    What would a Seattle resident born in 1905 have thought of the Seattle of 1965?

    Personally, I hear established single-family homeowners lamenting the different character of newcomers and the negative effects of increased density (parking, shadows, ??). And I hear a lot of other people struggling to afford a place to live. It’s hard to satisfy both at the same time!

    • Hi David….very thoughtful comment. I agree that it’s impossible to satisfy both sides. The problem is that what’s happening is not going to improve affordability. The vast majority of new buildings are very expensive for renters, and the HALA requirement of around 5% affordable units (or pay into a fund) is not going to help much, not only because 5% is laughable but because “affordable” does not mean “inexpensive.”

      I don’t have a problem with the “tech newcomers”….they are people, after all….but I do have a beef with rapacious developers, who are in it for a quick profit and then on to something else, and to City policies which are complicit with the developers.

      I am afraid of losing a Seattle with quiet neighborhoods, streets lined with modest older bungalows, and attractive architecture. Instead, our streetscapes are being replaced with ugly, cheap boxes with as many units as possible crammed into a small lot. And some call that progress? Bloody hell!

  3. Our city needs homes and developers (boo!) need to build them. If developers (boo!) don’t build enough homes, newcomers (boo!) will just bid up the price of existing homes even further. The attitude of “let’s be as passive-aggressive as possible so newcomers stop moving here” hasn’t worked for Seattle, so let’s give it up and let developers (boo!) build some housing for our newcomers (boo!).

  4. I’m a long-time Seattle home owner. I understand that change can be uncomfortable but affordable housing is the #1 or #2 issue facing our city. I’m all for doing as much as we can quickly. It takes time to permit and build new housing it can’t wait longer. I hope things pass quickly and we continue to push for more new housing.

  5. It is absolutely ludicrous that we are not building 15 – 20 floor buildings along arterials in Capitol Hill to ease pressure. Heck, build them to 25 floors and require 10 floors to be truly affordable.

    People who want to “preserve character” of Capitol Hill are failing to realizing that all these 4/5 floor boutique lifestyle themed apartments do nothing to ease demand so we have single family homes in side streets being mowed down for more small boutique apartment developments. This mode of thinking is actually more conducive to developers! At our current pace, in 20 years Capitol Hill will be nothing but a sea of 5 floor pressboard apartments.

    Build tall on arterials and leave quiet side streets alone!

    • Timmy, you will be shocked to hear that for once I agree with you! I’m still not for the skyscrapers you want, but it does make alot of sense to concentrate the new apartment buildings on arterials and leave the quiet, residential streets alone.

    • Thanks, Bob. Yes, I am shocked lol. Perhaps if the city required those new apartments on Pike/Pine to be much taller those 4 homes on a quite side street you referenced in your other comment would be left in tact. That is my real desire. I treasure out quite side streets.

  6. I find this confusing (cut and pasted from article): “We think it’s very important,” Brand said. “There are new developments applying every day and if we delay, it means new building not making affordable housing.”
    Can the city not demand developers include affordable housing if it’s not legislated? Not being sarcastic, honestly wondering.
    I’m also wondering how much displacement is factored in and accommodated for. For instance: if an old building with 12 affordable units is replaced with a 6 story building do previous residents get first dibs? Do the developers assist with some type of temporary relocation plan? Affordable housing is needed, newcomers are welcome….but if people who have lived here for years continue losing currently affordable housing to development I fear resentment will grow. Anecdotally, I’m not seeing boutique buildings being replaced by affordable housing. I’m seeing older buildings with cheaper rent being razed and replaced by larger buildings with units at higher price points.

  7. Only real solution here is to ban the private ownership of housing and to redistribute it based on how long you have lived in the community and how much you contribute to the neighborhood, inverse to the money you make and if you work for a large soul crushing business. The idea that we can solve our affordability crisis by letting these outsiders move is is absurd. Never in the history of this city has capitalism destroyed the image and quality of a community that we all cherished.

    I mean, this statement is most certainly a based on facts and not hyperbole and emotion.