So Who’s Pushing for Upzoning?

The Seattle Planning Commission has a plan to revise zoning in neighborhoods with frequent transit service.  On their March 2013 website (see recommendations, Revise Zoning; and priorities, Broadway) they propose to:

“…evaluate Single Family zoned land within transit communities to identify the opportunities for rezones to higher density or intensity…”

“Modify zoning to increase density and building height, particularly in the immediate vicinity of the Capitol Hill station.”

So who’s on this commission? Could it be a lot of people who stand to make a lot of money from up zoning? Well, here’s the 2013 list:

• David Cutler – Associate, GGLO (Architectural firm – works with development groups throughout the city)

•Amalia Leighton – Engineer, SvR Design Co (engineering and landscaping firm – works on commercial and multifamily projects throughout the city)

• Catherine Benotto – Principal, Weber Thompson (architectural firm – works on commercial and multifamily projects throughout the city) served on the Light Rail Review Panel

• LuisF. Borrero Principal, DRVE LLC (Limited Liability firm – activity unknown; in strategic partnership with Heartland LLC, real estate risk management firm)

• Josh Brower – Partner, Veris Law Group PLLC (land use and environmental law – represents developers of multi-family and single-family projects in Seattle; outside land use counsel to Sound Transit on its Capitol Hill Station project.)

• Colie Hough-Beck – Principal, Hough Beck & Baird Inc (Architectural firm – works on commercial, multifamily, and infrastructure projects throughout the city and Sound Transit has been a client in the past)

• Mark S. Johnson Planner, ESA Adolfson (environmental engineering – provided permitting support for Sound Transit’s Roosevelt Station final design, and also s on-call consulting to Sound Transit that may include work on a TOD project in the Roosevelt area)

• Bradley Khouri Founder and Principal, b9 architects inc (architectural design firm – works on commercial and multifamily projects throughout the city)

• Jeanne KArikawa – Partner, The Underhill Company LLC (architectural firm – works on transportation and planning projects throughout the city)

• Christopher Persons Director, Capitol Hill Housing (builds and owns affordable housing throughout the city of Seattle) Chair Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and board member of the Housing Development Consortium.

• Matt Roewe Design Director, Via Architecture (provides design and planning services to transit agencies, the city of Seattle and private sector developers in Seattle)

• Morgan Shook Consultant, BERK (Consultant firm – real estate, development, etc.)

• Kevin McDonald – Senior Transportation Planner, City of Bellevue

• Kadie Bekk Sata associate instructor at University of Washington’s School of Public Health.

Leslie Miller – Partner, Girl Friday Productions (editing, writing, branding etc.)

All but 3 of these people work for or own companies that are heavily involved with real estate develoment and construction industries, the very groups that would benefit from taller, bigger buildings that don’t fit the scale and character of our neighborhoods. In other words, their personal interests may well be at odds with the interests of people who live in these neighborhoods. What do you think?

Interestingly, four of these people — Josh Brower, David Cutler, Brad Khouri, and Matt Roewe — were members of the Mayor’s Regulatory Reform Roundtable (see below).  Does this seem a little incestuous to you?  Same faces but now under a new name?  Why does the Seattle City Council go to the same people with financial interests in real estate development repeatedly to get advice on planning and zoning?

The Mayor’s Regulatory Reform Roundtable is the group that Mayor Mike McGinn chose to advise him on how to ease regulations.  This group proposed allowing businesses on the ground floor of residential buildings in lowrise neighborhoods throughout the city, and weakening the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA).  The full list of this group’s members was never, to our knowledge, made public, but a 2012 article in the Seattle Times documented that 20 of its 28 members worked “in, or with, the building industry”.  Fortunately, vigorous community opposition in the spring of 2012 put a stop to ground floor commercial uses in residential neighborhoods.  Read about that successful citizen’s movement here.

Sightline Institute says their goal is to to develop “strong comunities, a green economy, and a healthy environment”.  But their policy director Eric de Place testified repeatedly in favor of the Mayor’s wildly unpopular proposal to allow ground floor commercial uses in our quiet neighborhoods.  Interestingly in their 2011 501(c)(3) non-profit disclosure, they only list 12 donations, the smallest of which is $17,500; the largest, $100,000.  Does this sound like a grassroots environmental group to you?