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Final decision near in Roosevelt rezones


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As we get closer to what will likely be final committee-level action Dec. 14 (there’ll be no Roosevelt action at the December 8 Committee on the Built Environment), the Roosevelt rezone work is shaping up to set a template for thoughtful zoning and development standards review in other transit-connected urban villages in Seattle. I say this with some caution because the work has taken far longer than hoped (a consistent theme in zoning work) and will result in new height caps that will please some and infuriate some (also a consistent theme in zoning work).

I’ve watched and supported the neighborhood’s update on the Roosevelt neighborhood plan since joining City Council almost six years ago. Councilmember Jean Godden and I went to bat for Roosevelt almost four years ago when it looked like the effort might sputter and die for lack of attention from Department of Planning & Development staff. We convinced the City Council to earmark money to pay for the detailed zoning analysis, and DPD staff went to work with the neighborhood’s sharp citizen planners. They’d already moved heaven and earth by getting Sound Transit to shift the location of the light rail station further into the center of the ‘hood. How hard could a zoning scheme be?

Throw in a concurrent effort by private developers to rezone the hotly debated “Sisley high school blocks” along with an eleventh-hour change-up by a new mayor, and, OK, an agreed-upon zoning scheme becomes hard, really hard.  The Roosevelt Neighborhood Alliance (RNA) had an initial proposal. Then DPD presented that proposal with a tweak or two. Then my colleague, Councilmember Tim Burgess, publicly urged going bigger. Then Mayor McGinn made a proposal. Then RNA presented the Sustainable Livable Roosevelt Plan (SLRP). Then a few hundred people showed up at the Roosevelt High School Auditorium for a public hearing to cheer for the SLRP (and boo the urbanistas). In the wings, the Roosevelt Development Group continues their alliance with long-time community antagonist Hugh Sisley.  To the east, defenders of the Ravenna neighborhood pushed back against allowing higher on the high school blocks for fear that six story buildings will spread like a contagion east.

There’s a blockbuster movie in all this, or at least a really great urban development policy case study.

While the Roosevelt rezone package contains much more than the changes on the high school blocks, most of the heated debate revolves around these three blocks in the eastern half of the circle around the station. In public testimony, via email and in conversation, advocates have mentioned all or some of the following desires for the high school blocks (thanks to Councilmember Burgess for compiling this list):

  1. Maintaining the central impact of the Roosevelt High School building by protecting views to and from the building.
  2. Creating a streetscape that is active and pedestrian-friendly, including “green street” designation for N.E. 66th St.
  3. Creating effective transitions from the core of Roosevelt out to the single-family zoning.
  4. Making new open and green space possible.
  5. Keeping a clean, safe environment for everyone, including Roosevelt High School students.
  6. Increasing the number of housing units in the area.
  7. Ensuring that a portion of new housing units rent or sell at affordable levels.
  8. Honoring the planning process and involvement by neighbors.

After reviewing the various plans and basic sketches of what different development scenarios might look like, I believe carefully constrained 65-foot zoning (versus the more bulky 40 feet currently allowed) on the high school blocks yields our best chance at achieving the goals above in this sub-area of the neighborhood. These blocks are between one and three blocks from the slated light rail station entrances. They are bordered by busy N.E. 65th St.  In making a decision that’s right for now and 40 years from now, 65 feet provides more setbacks “buying” more sidewalk space, more housing, more affordable housing and wider view corridors to and from the high school.

Proponents of 40 feet argue you can gain the same wider view corridors to and from the high school if you require developers to set the building back from the property line. While this is true, it’s also true that this would mean a decrease in development capacity from what you could build on a majority of the blocks now. In other words, a downzone. To my mind, a downzone would not lead to winning enough of the goals cited above (or any if the downzone precluded any new development at all) and is hard to justify in a light rail station area.

The cry of many 40-foot proponents is “Protect the high school!” Roosevelt and the greater North End of the city have the gift of an iconic building constructed before school architecture was stripped down due to changing tastes and diminished budgets. The building is a landmark, but, contrary to some assumptions, the viewsheds to and from the school are not protected in city code. Neither are the south or east sides of the building buffered from the world by wide publicly-owned expanses of green space setting off the building from the surrounding neighborhood. It’s a high school in an urban village across the street from a future light rail station. It is an urban place. I think we do current and future students a favor by building more (and more affordable) housing on the high school blocks. The development standards will require that housing face the high school (except at the corner with 15th) as way to guard against off-campus attractions setting up shop across N.E. 66th St.  Additionally, we will define 66th as a “green street” requiring extra landscaping and trees, making it more than the linear parking lot it is now.

The Roosevelt neighborhood plan update and these rezones have always been about more than just the high school blocks. Despite the anger some feel about the difference of 25 feet in three blocks of the entire station area, I still believe Roosevelt has set the standard for communities undertaking a plan update and carrying out a technically and philosophically challenging conversation about current conditions and how communities we love may change over time. The results will be better buildings, better streets, better public spaces – better building blocks with which people build lives.

Comments

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Comment from Glenn Roberts
Time December 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm

The current zoning of these blocks is a mix of NC1 40, NC2 40, and LR2. All of the Roosevelt Neighborhood plans have called for up-zoning to NC2 40 for all parcels -so to say that NC2 40 with restrictions is down-zoning is just inaccurate.
Councilmember Burgess’ revision of the neighborhood values is also inaccurate and does an injustice to Roosevelt’s appropriate design for a Seattle Urban Village. Who has said that six stories makes apartments more affordable? Usually, just the opposite is true. Hopefully other neighborhoods in Seattle will work as hard to make their neighborhoods affordable, livable and enjoyable with greater City Council Support then what we are now seeing here (after the elections are over).

Comment from Perry Falcone
Time December 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm

As a community member, it seems that most of the Council did not fully understand the various reasons there was objection to 65 foot building heights on the high school blocks. I feel that the high school view corridor is important to preserve. We protected the view corridor at Rainier Vista on the UW campus for the Husky Stadium station. UW did not allow 65 foot buildings in front of that view and it even pushed for a low rise design of the light rail station. City Council decided that the view at the high school was less important that the view at UW which also isn’t protected under city code. In the end most of the Council listened more to the developers than the neighbors. The issue was actually pretty simple and most of the Council failed to listen.

I would also add that the trade off of 2 stories for wider sidewalk “open space” is not enough. Increasing real open space along with an increase in density Is a critical part of green building and livable communities. If the Council was serious about open space they would have asked the developer to set aside the entire block in front of the high school as open space. It is unfortunate the process took a turn to disregard the neighbors concerns at the 11th hour when the majority of the process was so positive. This decision sets the wrong tone for other communities going forward.

Comment from WaltH
Time December 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm

…six stories makes apartments more affordable? Usually, just the opposite is true. ” Not for the developers!!
While I oppose the 65 opportunity for these blocks, if NE 66th St is made into a greenway all the way to Ravenna and on to Green Lake, it makes the “tradeoff” (sacrifice) a little more palatable.

Comment from Nat Brown
Time December 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm

“The results will be better buildings, better streets, better public spaces – better building blocks with which people build lives.”
All of these results were also achievable at 40ft heights. The results at 65ft are not what the majority of residents want, and simply represent more profits for Sisley and its developers, who managed to provide lovely last-minute sketches and promises of investment (and doom and lack of investment if they were held to 40ft) to sway council emotions towards the desires of the few away from the desires of the many who live here.
I am deeply disappointed that this will be the outcome and that you support it. Shame on the whole council for being convinced by the money and doom-saying — you are supposed to hold the line for us, it’s why the majority voted for you.

Comment from Sheila
Time December 8, 2011 at 2:40 am

Well put Sally. Although some might not agree with what you’ve laid out, it’s refreshing to see an elected write something like this… Keep up the good work and informative communications.

Comment from Baderj
Time December 8, 2011 at 10:06 am

The only way for the City to get “wider sidealk space,” “more housing” and a “view corridor” as sought by Sally’s Blog is to retain the 40′ limit in the neighborhood development plan as proposed by Sustainable Livable Roosevelt, without prejudice to later review of the pending contract zoning application by the Roosevelt Development Group. A legislative rezone gives the developer a legal vested right to build any structure within the 65′ limit that conforms to the existing zoning. The picture presented to the City Council, promises to work with the community, and housing are fluff that can not be enforced. In contrast, a contract rezone makes those promises a condition for proceeding with the project. The Department of Planning and Development lets developers exercise all their vested rights without regard to promises made to the community leading to the application. The Ravenna-Bryant Community Association has experienced developers who present design plans, reach agreements blessed by the hearing examiner, and then had the Department of Planning and Development led the developer built something else. Design Review will not hold a developer to an earlier drawing if the new drawing is within the zoning. Therefore, the City Council should adopt the SLR plan and tell the developer to come back again with a design satisfactory to the community. Neighborhood Plan guidelines are not controls like stipulations in a contract rezone; the goals are merely that to be interpreted by the developer and somewhat by DPD. A contract rezone is the only way to achieve the objectives in Sally’s blog. This is particularly true here given the ecord of the slumlord owner and the past poor ractice of the developer in the legislative rezone process so far.

Comment from Ravenna Resident
Time December 8, 2011 at 10:56 am

I’m a resident of Ravenna and want to go on record. Not all residents support the 40’ in front of the high school. I don’t feel the increased height will adversely affect the pedestrian experience on 66th. As far as the view from the high school, the high school doesn’t have any more right to that view than the apartment buildings that will go up in front of it. The mission of the high school is to educate our children, not to provide a view platform. Regarding Sisley (our neighborhood slum lord), I can’t stand how he has allowed our neighborhood’s gateway to look like a ghetto but I find the past to be irrelevant. Today I don’t care how much he makes on his land lease. The buildings will be an improvement to the neighborhood whether they be four or six stories. One of the benefits to density and increased heights, is the more people who live there, the more people will be supporting local businesses creating a vibrant and viable retail experience. As far as open space, I encourage the residents to give up this emotionally charged fight and calmly redirect your energy to create a fantastic new park and open space on 72nd and 12th when they decommission the reservoir. This five square block area could be a wonderful neighborhood amenity just three blocks from the light rail station. Pick your sides on that one, there are open leash people, little league people, playground advocates that will all be pushing their agendas. All I’m saying people is direct your energies to maximize the common good. Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by emotion, or vengeance. The community members who were booing people with opposing viewpoints should be ashamed of themselves. Their disgraceful behavior did not and never will help their cause.

Comment from Carolyn Pine Crooks
Time December 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I am very saddened by what you said here and I agree completely with the comment made by Glenn Roberts which I will quote here:
The current zoning of these blocks is a mix of NC1 40, NC2 40, and LR2. All of the Roosevelt Neighborhood plans have called for up-zoning to NC2 40 for all parcels -so to say that NC2 40 with restrictions is down-zoning is just inaccurate.
and by Perry Falcone:
As a community member, it seems that most of the Council did not fully understand the various reasons there was objection to 65 foot building heights on the high school blocks. I feel that the high school view corridor is important to preserve. We protected the view corridor at Rainier Vista on the UW campus for the Husky Stadium station. UW did not allow 65 foot buildings in front of that view and it even pushed for a low rise design of the light rail station. City Council decided that the view at the high school was less important that the view at UW which also isn’t protected under city code. In the end most of the Council listened more to the developers than the neighbors. The issue was actually pretty simple and most of the Council failed to listen.

I would also add that the trade off of 2 stories for wider sidewalk “open space” is not enough. Increasing real open space along with an increase in density Is a critical part of green building and livable communities. If the Council was serious about open space they would have asked the developer to set aside the entire block in front of the high school as open space. It is unfortunate the process took a turn to disregard the neighbors concerns at the 11th hour when the majority of the process was so positive. This decision sets the wrong tone for other communities going forward.
And I agree with

Comment from Ravenna Resident
Time December 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm

The view from the high school cannot and will never be appropriately compared to the Rainier Vista view. It is a total apples and oranges comparison and quite ridiculous. Beware the vocal minority. This whole light rail rezone is a regional issue and should not be up to the property owners of Roosevelt or Ravenna. As a regional issue, some of us applaud you and the council for overriding the NIMBY crowd in consideration for the neighborhood’s future and it’s residents. Lets face it, the Roosevelt business district is experiencing only a fraction of it’s potential and that potential will only be realized with a lot more density. I know a lot of people will not scream; “we like it like it is!”. Well sorry, but retail neighborhoods must either adapt or die. The light rail station and subsequent redevelopment is just what the neighborhood needs. And, yes, it will change, it will change drastically, it will change for the better.

Comment from Resident between Ravenna & Roosevelt
Time December 11, 2011 at 11:44 pm

If the 65 ft. rezone happens, the desires and interests of one single property owner with decades-long history of trashing the neighborhood for his long-term benefit will supersede the sensibilities of the majority of the neighborhood which played by the rules, has very responsibly adapted to change and provided thousands of volunteer hours to develop a neighborhood plan. The lesson to be taken by would-be property tycoons in other Seattle neighborhoods: Buy a piece, trash it, reduce the value of the surrounding property, buy the surrounding property, trash it, reduce the value, etc. Lesson for other neighborhood residents: Don’t bother preparing a plan and play nice. They will trample your will and upzone when big money comes in and the tax base is poised to grow no matter how ugly and unsuitable the resulting “development.” Why do we have to ruin every neighborhood and erase their character in the name of development and efficiency? When is this going to stop? When everything looks as ugly, faceless, and characterless as everything else? Look at how neighborhoods developed in other places and countries that everyone loves to live in and visit. Did they destroy whole neighborhoods when transit came in? No! Transit adopts to the existing neighborhood. Not the reverse!!!

Comment from Ravenna Neighbor
Time December 12, 2011 at 10:53 am

I understand you realize that the derelict buildings cannot remain in place and it is a PR disaster waiting to happen. However, allowing 65 feet in height is insult added to injury for the neighbors that have lived with them for so long. Not adopting the thoughtful Sustainable Liveable Roosevelt Plan and parceling out the neighborhood – accepting all the allowances it offers to increase density and then adding what the neighborhood did not want in these three blocks – would be a slap in the face for all the citizens that worked hard and in good faith.

Comment from Laurie hemingway
Time December 12, 2011 at 9:12 pm

I strongly believe that 65′ is too much height infront of the high school! And this is a legislative rezone, which means the developer can raise the height even further when they submit for a contract rezone. Adding more density to this already pedestrian and traffic congested area is rediculous when it can easily be put away from the FRONT of the high school. Who would want to rent directly across from the high school anyway? Lets keep our kids safe!

Comment from Resident between Ravenna & Roosevelt
Time December 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I think Councilmember Licata’s proposed amendment shows that he is listening to the people of Roosevelt/Ravenna and is able to see through the smokescreen created by RDG/Sisley gang. http://licata.seattle.gov/2011/12/13/up-317-roosevelt-neighborhood-rezone/

Comment from Maylin H. Fisher
Time December 14, 2011 at 1:51 am

My faith in your ability to represent the best interests of people in my neighborhood is deeply shaken. We voted for you to represent US, rather than developers who care more for profit than for the livability of our community. Are you really going to let the interests of Hugh Sisley buy you out?! Our neighborhood has acted in very good faith, seeking a solution to the recognized need for density, to the point of bending over backwards and increasing density over the city’s plan. We understand this area intimately. You set a very BAD precedent if you do not listen to the will of the majority of the people whom you serve. I find your arguments for 65 feet on the three high school blocks to be insulting to our intelligence and disrespectful of the hard work and commitment of Roosevelt and Ravenna residents. Shame on you! How about setting a GOOD precedent of listening – truly listening – to your constituents?

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