University Way: Historic buildings, storefronts, small businesses, affordable housing all put at risk by City Council
Nearly a dozen other blocks in the University District also are proposed for upzones
“Essentially we’re back in hot water or soon will be, thanks to Mr. Johnson” said a member of the University District Small Business Association, responding to the former councilmember’s decision, only days before he left office, to re-submit upzones for University Way and nearly a dozen other blocks in the neighborhood.
Johnson’s decision to do so, without any consultation with those whose homes and businesses are affected, epitomized Johnson’s three-and-a-half year tenure on the City Council. As one resident of the district said, “there were many ‘up yours’ moments that came from Johnson. He routinely and arrogantly favored developers and other special interests over his constituents.”
To bring folks up to speed, the Seattle Displacement Coalition proved to be correct when it stated in a letter to the City Council that they would be on very thin legal ice to include upzones for the Ave in the Mandatory Housing Affordability MHA plan. That was because the zoning changes along the Ave were not originally included as part of the MHA plan – only added later – and as a result never were subject to study in the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the plan.
While most councilmembers ignored our letter, the City’s Law Department did not. While we were not privy to their specific legal opinion – it’s not disclose-able to the public – we were told by several sources their opinion was in sync with ours – going forward with these upzones for the UDistrict was a “no-no” without first some level of environmental review preceding it. Only then, did Johnson and his Council colleagues remove the upzone for the Ave from the city-wide MHA plan.
This begs the question why this zoning change was inserted at all into the MHA plan and without knowledge or notice to the neighborhood. After all, as one small business advocate pointed out: “We were promised by Johnson and other councilmembers after the University District was hit over two years ago with MHA upzones, that the Ave would not be rezoned until the needs of small businesses could be identified and measures put in place to prevent small business displacement and preserve historic buildings. It was the whole reason why the Council didn’t upzone the Ave back then in the first place.” These commitments to the neighborhood also were embodied in resolution form and passed unanimously by the Council at that time.
As it turns out, Johnson sneaked into the MHA plan upzones for other parts of the University District as well – nearly 12 blocks – that also were not studied in the EIS and added only after it was completed. And, again, upon advice from the City Attorney they were removed from the MHA plan. This too left the community scratching its collective head. Why were they secretly added by Rob Johnson at all?
But the community barely had time to breath a sigh of relief. Less than a week before he left office and only a few days after the Council approved the MHA city-wide upzones, sans UDistrict upzones, Johnson turned right around and re-introduced separate legislation to upzone the Ave and these other areas of the University District. This time however, these upzones will have to go back to the planners for some level of environmental review pre-requisite to bringing it back to the Council for a formal vote.
Johnson apparently couldn’t resist aiming one more shot at the community and just days before he left office. What’s especially mystifying, there seems to be no particular local constituency actively lobbying for these zoning changes. We only can see vocal opposition to them from the University District community and not just the small businesses. Yet Rob Johnson and other Councilmembers – especially Mosqueda and Gonzalez – seem hell bent on ramming them down the community’s throat. And now that Johnson has left office, apparently these two other councilmembers will be carrying, at least as high as he did, the pro-upzone pro-developer banner.
Planners may bring back proposed U-District upzones to the Council for a vote as early as June
So how long will this environmental review take and when will these upzones for the U-District finally work their way back to the City Council for a vote? We spoke with the planner in charge of the environmental review w/in the Office of Policy and Community Development, Geoff Wendtland. He told us that they hoped/expected to finish their review by the end of May or there-abouts and bring something back to the Council soon after that. He made sure to emphasize as well that there would be opportunities provided for public comment.
However, and this is where we may take issue with the their analysis, he said they’d likely be issuing only an addendum and did not foresee the need for issuance of a Continue reading