Summary of the 1/14/14 City-Wide Meeting on Lowrise Building Heights

On Tuesday January 14th 2014, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) held a public meeting to discuss how to fix the problem of excess building height and scale resulting from changes to the Seattle Land Use Code for Lowrise 3 (LR3) Growth Zones in 2010.  This meeting was set up after Seattle Speaks Up (SSU) took our petition of over 1000 signatures to Council President Sally Clark.  In a subsequent letter to DPD, Council President Clark stated  that she “never envisioned…5 stories in LR3 zones”, and asked DPD to prioritize making corrections to the 2010 legislation.  Click HERE to learn more about the history of the SSU petition, our meeting with Council President Clark, and her letter to DPD.

Hundreds of residents from several Seattle neighborhoods attended the meeting, and nearly 30 people spoke during the Q&A/comment period.

Click HERE to watch the entire video of this meeting – entitled Lowrise Multifamily Code Correction Community Meeting – at the Seattle Channel.  (Unfortunately, it is a very slow site).  See below for comments from the meeting.

The meeting began with representatives of DPD explaining the corrections to the code that they are considering now, in response to Council President Clark’s directive.  The list of potential corrections proposed at the meeting corresponded to the list that DPD presented to SSU in December 2013  (previous list HERE) with ONE CRITICAL EXCEPTION:

Reduction of the maximum building height from 40 feet to 30-35 feet APPEARS TO NO LONGER BE UNDER CONSIDERATION!  This was the most important code change that DPD was considering in December, and was the key request in our petition.  

From this, it appears that DPD is backing off from making the most important correction!  Could it be that they are responding to developer pushback?  Do the developers’ requests matter MORE than the requests of Seattle residents?  

Here is what we need to do to get OUR VOICES heard:

First we need Seattle residents to write to DPD to insist on a reduction of the maximum building heights in LR3, along with all the other proposed changes.  DPD wants comments SOON, so please start by sending an email to them at: geoffrey.wentlandt@seattle.gov.  

Please send a copy of your comments to seattlespeaksup@gmail.com so that we can consider posting your comments anonymously on our webpage.  This will allow everyone to see how Seattle residents feel.

After you write to DPD, you should write to city council members about this issue (contact information HERE), or better yet, ask to meet with a city council member who lives in or near your neighborhood.

Below are selected comments from the meeting, excerpted and paraphrased for readability:

  • You are having one meeting with us – how many meetings do you intend to have with developers?
  •  A new building going up at 18th and John [replacing a much smaller 8-unit building] will have 68 units…All the units that are there now ARE affordable units…I asked the developer how many of the new units will be affordable…he said somewhere between zero and four units.  So what we end up with is a NET LOSS of affordable units.
  • Why is the city continuing to issue permits for construction of 5-story buildings in LR3 while we are discussing corrections to PREVENT construction of 5-story bulidings?
  • I live in front of one of the new buildings under construction…all of a sudden we will have a building that will be over 50 feet when all of the neighboring buildings are under 30 feet.  The adjacent single family home, which has children and chickens, will be in perpetual shade once the new building is built.  We had no idea this was coming, and they are now digging the hole.
  • Developers should have to contribute to paying for new sewers…the same sewer that used to accomnodate 12 small houses is now accomnodating buildings with a huge number of units…developers are not contributing at all to upgrading the infrastructure.
  • DPD is not talking about the little house that loses all its light…
  • Last year, a city councilmember on the Land Use Committee said that we need to stop worrying so much about the people who live here and start focusing more on the people who are moving here – THAT IS WRONG!
  • For 10 years now, we have had privacy in our backyard – it is gone now!
  • The infrastructure has been way exceeded in several neighborhoods; those nieghborhoods need immediate attention to their infrastructure.
  • We are trying to encourage urban gardening, chickens, street trees, and greenery, all of which are not possible if you have shade all day long…there have been tons of studies about what happens to housing developments when you allow them to be in constant shade.
  • Instead of taking the average grade of the lot, you should go back to following the slope.
  • Increasing density does not necessarily lead to affordability!
  • A lot of the new buildings have no parking because they were supposed to rely on mass transit…but metro is cutting the routes – the buses are so full that they go by you 3 times before they can pick you up.  The developers should be made to put funds into mass transit!
  • Try helping someone move their belongings into an apodment when you can’t find a nearby place to park the car full of their stuff!
  • I want a 30 foot limit in LR3 zones…and I think Design Review is  important.
  • I would like you to reconsider measuring from the average grade… This is great UNLESS you live on the downhill side of the block, in which case you end up with a skyscraper facing you!
  • Council President Clark called this meeting to address the unintended consequences of the 2010 zoning changes [like 5 story buildings]…While we consider what to do about those unintended consequences, a moratorium on more permits for 5-story buildings is perfectly reasonable.
  • I am from Ballard…I live in an area undergoing severe growth…I am not opposed to density…I lived in Capitol Hill in the tiniest of apartments…so I understand the need for density and affordable housing.  But developers are pitting people who are advocates for affordable housing against people who want the community to drive development.  What we are seeing is here is a code which allows for all kinds of development that was unintended…there are countless loopholes that allow developers to exploit the existing code, subdivide lots, and maximize buildings with no consideration for the community.
  • Issues of shade, impact on the community, and whether the design actually fits the neighborhood are being overlooked because developers have found loopholes that allow them to circumvent Design Review.  Our communities need to drive the increase in density…This should not be a gold-rush land-grab in which we GIVE AWAY OUR NEIGHBORHOODS to developers!
  • We are seeing 17 – 20% cuts in mass transit – what the hell!  Increasing density while not increasing the ability to absorb density is just foolhardy and irresponsible.  You have a runaway train here!
  • Community cohesion in Seattle is disintegrating…I am not opposed to density, but there is some whitewashing going on here.  There IS a land grab going on here.  There IS a giveway to developers going on.  Sunlight is not a trivial issue.  Open space is not a trivial issue.
  • I love renters, but homeowners provide cohesion and keep neighborhoods anchored.
  • I am a white middle-aged renter living here on Capitol Hill.  I hope DPD appreciates that A LOT OF PEOPLE HERE FEEL LIKE THE DECK IS STACKED AGAINST US!
  • Stop the spigot of the FAR exemption.  Developers are getting exemption upon exemption, departure upon departure,  incentive upon incentive – that’s how  we are getting 50 to 60 foot building heights in an L3 zone.  If DPD wants to really do something about that, they should start counting the below ground floor and the penthouse stairways in the FAR requirement.
  • A moratorium on permits while these unexpected consequences are being reviewed just seems to make logical sense, so I hope you will seriously consider that.
  • I have lived in Seattle for 14 years, I have rented here, I own here, and I am also a business owner who employs about 30 people who live here…I am a density fan…I need to hire more people; they need a place to live.  What’s going on on Broadway and the Pike-Pine corridor is fantastic…However, once you get past Broadway and the Pike-Pine Corridor, you’ve got a bunch of beautiful homes and smaller buildings  – having buildings that are 50 feet or more in those areas is absolutely ridiculous.
  • I am with the Capitol Hill Community Council…I hear a lot of concern from people in the neighborhood about the new heights of buildings…They are not happy with what is happening in the neighborhood…They want heights lowered back to where they were a number of years ago…I don’t hear people in this neighborhood saying “Oh look, they tore down another mansion, how wonderful is that, I am so happy with that!”  That is not what people are saying in this neighborhood.
  • The City of Seattle did not just wake up and decide one day to have this meeting…this meeting happened because a lot of neighborhood groups put pressure on the city!
  • I have to take issue with folks saying that it’s just the rich white people on Capitol Hill who don’t want the poor people and diverse people coming here…I have a little condo that I can barely afford with my husband (speaker is male)…we are not rich…Here is an analogy for those of you who think “These people just don’t want any new people in the neighborhood” — New people in the neighborhood are great, but you can’t just put up buildings that block everything as if the people who have been here all these years don’t matter.  If you went to an outdoor concert where there is festival seating and people got there two hours earlier and set up their blankets, would you go stand in front of them at the last possible minute blocking the stage?  Is that what you would do?  Give me a break!  You would find a place where you can fit in and then maybe you would work your way up over time.  But you don’t just go stand in front of people at the last possible second!  So we can have development in this neighborhood…but we cannot be giving incentives to developers to blow out the neighborhood…We are giving it all away…We need impact fees, we need infrastructure improvement, we need to put money into transit!
  • Look at the Pike-Pine corridor – you don’t see any single family homes.  That is the place to put up big apartments for younger people who want to be close to downtown and don’t want to own cars.  But 12th Ave, and 13th & 14th Ave:  these are not places to put up buildings like the godawful one that is going up next to us.  Density can’t just go anywhere…there are neighborhoods that are appropriate for tall buildings and there are neighborhoods that are not appropriate.

A speaker who favors the lowrise 3 upzoning that occurred in 2010 chided us for our lack of  “inclusiveness” – for not considering that people move to Seattle so that they can walk down the street with their same sex partners.  He argued for unrestricted growth to allow new people who can’t afford a mortgage to move here.  In response to this another speaker said the following:

  • I am elderly, gay, disabled, and live in affordable housing – so I know a little bit about inclusion and exclusion.  When all these developers talk about all this new building bringing inclusion, THEY DO NOT  INCLUDE THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE – the poor, elderly, gay people like ME…

Click HERE for a link to the King 5 coverage of the meeting.

See the DPD webpage discussing the plan for Lowrise Multifamily Code Corrections, and the 1/14/14 community meeting.

Not clear about your neighborhood’s zoning? Click here.

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