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Capitol Hill’s upzoning on track to stay intact as Mandatory Housing Affordability enters final stretch

The Miller Park neighborhood could see more projects like the Julia Place Apartments (Image: CHS)

Upzoning plans around Capitol HIll’s Miller Park neighborhood will not be removed from the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability effort as the legislative process to shape the program enters a final phase with a public hearing this week.

Proposed amendments to the still-pending MHA legislation had been identified by council members, city staff, citizens and others. After the first set of proposals was released in January, each district council member had been left to decide what changes they’d like to see move forward within their own district boundaries.

Among the January proposals had been plans to remove some blocks near Miller Park from the program, but those didn’t make the cut. In District 3, which covers Capitol Hill and the Central District, council member Kshama Sawant’s office only advanced four proposed changes to areas in the Central District –- all of which add density.

Keeping all of Madison Miller area in the program is just what affordable housing advocates were hoping for.

“We are hopeful that Council will honor the existing plan for MHA without amendments to the Madison Miller Urban Village,” wrote Erin Fried of Capitol Hill Housing.

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The deal is far from done, however. Any member of the council can propose changes to any part of the city. So someone from another district still could, theoretically, suggest removing those blocks from the program. If anyone were to do so, it would most likely be at the council’s February 21st public hearing to discuss the program and the proposed amendments (PDF).

The MHA program, which began its legislative odyssey under then-Mayor Ed Murray, is a plan to allow developers to put extra density on newly constructed buildings. In exchange, they would either have to set aside a percentage of the units as affordable housing, or pay into a fund that the city will use to build affordable housing.

The city expects the program will generate $380 million in revenue from the payment option and 1,325 units over 20 years. That $380 million could build another 4,300 affordable units, according to the city’s analysis.

The upzones under the MHA are confined to the Urban Villages dotted across Seattle – areas of generally higher density that surround commercial development and transit hubs.

The most significant changes to Capitol Hill zoning will come along Broadway from around Cal Anderson Park all the way north to Roy with plans to implement 75-foot height limits and “neighborhood commercial” zoning to allow seven-story buildings with commercial use throughout. The list of potential amendments seems to mostly leave the important changes in the neighborhood’s core intact.

For the past few years, the plan has been batted around in City Council committee meetings, and taken through the legal process by a coalition of neighborhood groups. At this point, the legal challenges have been exhausted. After it is finally passed, there is the possibility of more legal challenges.

It has been going on for so long that some have largely stopped following the nitty-gritty.

“The process was just dragging out,” said John Feit of the Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Council.

Feit’s group had successfully fought to make sure that the affordable housing requirements didn’t interfere with the generally successful program to preserve street-level facades of old buildings in the Pike/Pine corridor. A change in the building code last year means developers could be permitted to preserve character, add affordable units and be profitable.

In general, Feit is supportive of the goals of the MHA.

“The more it adds the better,” he said.

The legislation is now entering the home stretch, and the City Council looks ready to discuss a stack of amendments to the MHA (the report on them runs 179 pages) at its February 21st meeting. In addition to the block-by-block changes scattered across town, there are some are citywide changes which get into the nuts and bolts of the program.

For example, one proposed amendment would change the inflation rate used to calculate the fees charged to developers. The current plan uses the overall rate of inflation (CPI-U), while the proposal would change that to use the inflation rate of rents (CPI-Shlter). Another would increase the amount of tree cover required when developing small-lot residential houses. Still another would exempt from the program unreinforced masonry buildings (which are vulnerable during earthquakes) which are retrofitted to add new units as part shoring up the building.

The final three meetings scheduled to discuss the MHA are coming in the next few weeks. The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the program at 5:30 p.m. February 21; then on February 25th there will be a discussion and committee vote. The MHA would then go to the full council for a final vote the afternoon of March 18th. All three meetings are to take place in the council chambers at City Hall.

The MHA would then need to go to Mayor Jenny Durkan for a signature, and would go into effect 30 days after she OK’s the bill.

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2 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s upzoning on track to stay intact as Mandatory Housing Affordability enters final stretch

  1. Ironically , as interesting as it looks and as well kept she maintains the pictured Julia’s Place Apartments, which does include below market rate rents, curiously,the owner/builder has doorbelled against upgrades in her own neighborhood a block away . These are types of units that would fit so well in this locale.