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Single-family zoning advocates will appeal MHA rezones [Update]

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Some groups are going to bat for 6% of single-family zones

An aerial view of homes in West Seattle.
Artazum/Shutterstock

Update, November 27: A coalition of neighborhood groups—which includes not only the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Association, but the Eastlake Community Council, University District Community Council, Wallingford Community Council, and Magnolia Community Council as well—has said they’re submitting a legal challenge to the proposed citywide zoning changes.

The group is calling themselves the Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity, presumably a jab to Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), which the upzone plan grew from. The group claims the city’s mandatory housing affordability plan will make the city more unaffordable, with less diversity and more pollution.

Friday, the group announced they’d be filing an appeal on to challenge the proposed upzone’s environmental impact statement with the city’s hearing examiner.

City councilor Rob Johnson said in a statement that while the city council can’t take “final action”—that is, pass any legislation—with an appeal pending, they’ll go ahead with their eight-month outreach and discussion plan around the upzones.

Original article, November 10:

Yesterday, mayor Tim Burgess and city councilor Rob Johnson unveiled their full plan to implement mandatory housing affordability—zoning changes that trade extra height for affordable housing—across the city. The plan is expected to generate 6,000 affordable homes over the next ten years.

While the plan includes neighborhoods all around Seattle, many more than the six that have already been rezoned, a ton of neighborhoods aren’t included. Most notably: 94 percent of the city’s single-family zones.

Still, six percent of the city’s single-family zones—which includes about 10,000 homes—are going to experience changes. And many of those who want to preserve single-family zoning aren’t happy. Unhappy enough, as Erica C. Barnett at C is for Crank reports, to plan a lawsuit against the city, including the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Association (JuNO), the Seattle Displacement Coalition, and Seattle Fair Growth.

Proposed rezones for the West Seattle Junction.
Via City of Seattle

They’ve issued a call to other neighborhood groups to join them, reports Barnett. And others have certainly expressed opposition, including in Wallingford (one of their arguments was about sewer system capacity) and Miller Park.

If they move forward with their appeal, the group’s first available step would be taking the proposal to the city hearing examiner, a process that takes about six months. After the legislation passed city council, they’d be able to take it to court.

So what exactly are they challenging? In the Junction specifically, bigger low-rise and commercial zoning is concentrated along California Avenue, Alaska Street, and Fauntleroy Way, what the city considers a small change (or an “M” change) to the area. Most were already low-rise.

The single-family parcels closest to the Junction are moving to low-rise zoning. But many previously single-family zones in the rezone area are moving to the new “residential small lot” (RSL) zoning, which allows attached and stacked homes—a maximum of three stacked—but also sits strict development standards, like a new floor-area ratio and higher tree-planting requirements.

RSL zoning incentivises smaller, denser housing, but also keeping existing structures and turning them into multifamily housing. The key part of RSL zoning, though: MHA zoning applies, so anyone who built new projects in one of those areas has to contribute to affordable housing through either building on-site or paying into a fund.

Regardless, a few blocks from major arterials and bus lines, West Seattle’s single-family zoning is largely preserved—along with 94 percent of zoning around the city.

Proposed rezones along Greenwood Avenue North.
Via City of Seattle

The Junction is just one example. In other, similar neighborhoods—with a large concentration of single-family homes but a robust, walkable, low-rise commercial district—the plan takes great pains to preserve single-family zoning. As close to half a block away from the neighborhood hub of North 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue North, there’s no change to zoning as close to a block away, creating kind of a lollipop-shaped zoning map.

Still, to many fervent single-family zoning preservationists, any encroachment on that zoning represents a threat. Barnett’s theory: “To single-family preservationists, the new rules represent an unprecedented incursion on their right to own property without having to live in close proximity to (and share scarce on-street parking space with) renters who may be younger and lower-income.”

JuNO, in a position paper responding to the city’s draft impact statement (an earlier version of the proposal released this week), said they “don’t want to ban development in our own backyard,” but the proposal “fails in its mission to create appreciable affordable housing in our area.” They claim the plan “increases density without improving already-strained parks, schools, and transit,” and that analysis on the impacts of the plan are flawed and not neighborhood-specific enough.

Most relevant: JuNO’s paper says the plan “destroys single-family neighborhoods.”