CM Johnson’s last minute addition of 3-block area to UDistrict upzone spells loss of another 180 low cost rentals – council unanimously approves covering neighborhood with highrises

CM’s Juarez and Harrell vote against Herbold and OBrien’s efforts to mitigate impacts of upzone  siding with developer backed majority


For youtube vid click here of affected 3 block area 

CM’s Herbold and OBrien (with Sawant backing) failed in their attempt to amend the upzone and remove this area, between Brooklyn NE and 11th NE and NE 50th and 52nd, never intended for upzoning & and failed in their attempt to ensure developers pay more.

Despite many calls flooding Councilmembers especially Harrell and Juarez, the final vote was 6-3 to expand area of the UDistrict upzone and turn back O’Brien and Herbold’s effort to increase the developers mandatory affordable housing requirement by a mere 1 percent from 9 to 10 percent.  It wasn’t much but even that was turned back by the Council’s pro-developer pro-density majority.  The biggest disappointment were CM’s Juarez and Harrell who clearly announced whose side they are on as the Council begins its review of HALA upzones scheduled for the rest of Seattle’s neighborhood’s over the next year.

The full council unanimously approved covering the UDistrict with 240′ – 320′ highrise towers.  Over 1500 low cost units are located in this area and now fated for increased rents and/or the wrecking ball to make way for primarily luxury apartments and highrise office building serving the U of W’s dense hi-tech ambitions for the community.  It will become as dense as downtown and South Lake Union with canyons of glass and steel and much of the communities unique lower rise affordable  and historical character washed away.

Before the Council voted unanimously to approve the upzone, last week, CM Johnson as chair of the Land Use committee acceded to Herbold and OBrien’s request to delay upzoning the Ave for six months so a study could be completed and measures implemented that would mitigate the impacts on small businesses threatened with displacement due to the upzone.   Also, Johnson agreed to remove an area north of 56th along the Ave from the upzone plan and a sliver of land at Brooklyn and Ravenna Boulevard.  This saved about 130 existing low cost units from the wrecking ball.  But the bulk of the plan went forward and will take effect soon with the Mayor’s signature.

Here are the amendments sought by Councilmembers Herbold and OBrien and outcome of the vote on each.   At least these two, backed by Sawant, did make an honest attempt to mitigate the impacts of the upzone on the community:

  1. An amendment by Herbold and OBrien to remove from the upzone area, CM Johnson’s last minute addition of the 3 block area north of 50th to 52nd between 11th and Brooklyn. This failed by a 6-3 vote.  Harrell and Juarez joined Burgess, Bagshaw, Gonzalez and Johnson standing squarely in support of densifying this area and displacing 180 households.  Nearly all of the area south of 50th is slated for highrises 240′ to 320′ tall, but the area north of 50th was never anticipated for upzoning, nor did the planners ever study what the impacts would be on this area if it was included in the upzone.  Nor is an upzone needed here since highrise zoning south of 50th will accommodate 4 times the neighborhood’s job target and twice its housing target for 2035.  Further, the Mayor did not back adding this area, nor was it studied in planner’s so-called recent displacement analysis.  There’s no vacant lots here, only 175 to 180 low cost and affordable existing units that cover the affected area.  Why did CM Johnson (backed by Burgess, Bagshaw, and Gonzalez) choose to add this area, likely done specifically to accommodate a developer’s special request.  If an amendment had been approved removing this 3 block area – then these existing units are saved from the wrecking ball.  They now are safe under current zoning since they are built to current LR-3 zoned capacity or close to it.  Owners here are mostly longterm and rents are stable in this area as well because they are older buildings not suitable as higher rent units serving higher income groups.  If upzoned, all these 180 low cost units are threatened.  A mandatory requirement accompanying upzone here would replace only a tiny fraction of what now were going to lose. 

    180 affordable housing in this 3 block area CM Johnson recently added to upzone area


  2. Support the amendment increasing developer requirements for MHA for the high rise area to 10% in core area of District – this also failed by a 6-3 vote (Bagshaw, Johnson, Burgess, Juarez, Gonzalez and Harrell voting against Sawant, Herbold, O’Brien for).  The framework policies say raise requirement to highest percent M2 (and 10 percent) in areas experiencing greatest increases in density (and developer profit) – if raising heights/densities from 45,65,85 feet to 240′ and 320′ doesn’t warrant the M2 10 percent requirement then where would it be imposed?  This didn’t impress the majority oblivious to Herbold, OBrien and Sawant’s eloquent plea to raise the fee.
  3. Support a “Clawback amendment” – Language was added to the plan to ensure we go back to an incentive system or the upzones are rolled back in the event the courts strike down the mandatory requirement.  The language however didn’t mandate this but expressed the council’s “intent” to do this, meaning later they’ll give it their consideration.  
  4. Support Resolution 31733 – This was approved – a Displacement Resolution committing the Council to a thorough additional review of displacement affects accompanying the dramatic upzone of the District and the rest of the city later under the HALA upzones and consideration of antidisplacement strategies when impacts are identified.  This was passed, but since it only was a resolution, nothing will be adopted now to mitigate the effects of the upzone on the UDistrict, going into effect as soon as Murray signs the upzone ordinance. Further the Council has a habit historically passing resolutions but never following through later with actual ordinances reflecting the resolutions. Only ordinances carry weight of law.
  5. Support Resolution 31732 – U District Resolution calling for follow-up development of new measures to assist small businesses so they are not displacement due to the upzone and in order to implement other design and open space recommendations that need to follow the upzone plan.  This was approved.

It would have definitely softened the blow, had the Council majority agreed with Herbold and OBrien’s raising the mandatory requirement and removing the 3 block area north of 50th.  But that was not to  be thanks especially to Rob Johnson.  And it was especially surprising to see and hear Juarez and Harrell dutifully fall in line with Johnson’s pro-density-at-all-cost agenda.  It’s a portend of what the rest of Seattle’s neighborhood’s are facing when the Mayor’s HALA plan comes to their community.  The UDistrict upzone and the rest of the HALA upzones are little more than a blueprint for displacement and gentrification of our neighborhoods.  Our unique mixed income and affordable character will give way to highrises and hi-tech and expensive housing. Growth under current zoning is overwhelming our city as it is – measures like impact fees and other ways to mitigate existing growth should have been considered first… yet the Council majority and Mayor apparently see fit to pour on the gas with upzones.  Only strong well organized challenge by the neighborhood will turn all this back.


About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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