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Downtown and SLU rezone met with positive community response

Monday night’s public hearing was packed with supporters

A view of South Lake Union and Downtown from the east Wonderlane/Flickr

Surprise: There isn’t a lot of public backlash against some of Seattle’s densest areas getting denser.

Monday night’s public hearing on a proposed upzone with mandatory housing affordability (MHA) requirements had 60 people signed up for public comment—and nobody outrightly opposed the policy, recommended by the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).

The majority testified in support of the policy. The first comment came from a member of the blind community who “enthusiastically voiced [his] support”: “For the blind to have access to buses and trains with literally make or break the quality of life for the blind.”

“For people who would be concerned about views,” he continued, “Go find a blind person ... Go tell him or her there shouldn’t be more affordable housing because someone wants to stare out their window."

One self-identified single-family homeowner within the upzone told Council, “please, knock down my house” and “eliminate parking requirements.” A Belltown resident says that while he’s bummed to lose his views, he’s excited to have more neighbors.

Still, much of the public comment was pro-with-reservations. Overwhelmingly, when people had concerns, it was that affordable housing mandates currently in the plan—anywhere from 3 to 11 percent—weren’t high enough.

Sightline’s Dan Bertolet, in his comment to the Council, testified that the current plan gets the delicate balance required for MHA exactly right. Bertolet has voiced his concerns about this in the past.

Emily Alvarado of the Office of Housing noted that they expect most downtown development to choose the option to pay into an affordable housing fund rather than include the affordable housing in their developments.

A few others had “livability” concerns. One Escala resident who has been outspoken against MHA before said he was concerned about “building girth,” but didn’t oppose the policy on a top level. A few other residents echoed his concerns, worried about thicker buildings blocking access to light.

Sam Assefa of the Office of Planning and Community Development, who gave a similar presentation to the one given in committee last week, noted that after public input, they took away some parts of the proposal where buildings would get extra width, for example, and exempted some historic districts from the rezone.

In some areas of Downtown where there’s no height cap to raise, some additional width would still be given. Commercial buildings would be given additional floor area ratio.

Residential buildings, as with the University District rezone, would gain extra height, ranging from 10 extra feet where the limit is currently 85 to 50 extra feet in zones with a 500 foot limit.

The hearing also had heavy institutional, neighborhood, and nonprofit support: Representatives from the South Lake Union Community Council, Plymouth Housing Group, Seattle Tech 4 Housing, Downtown Seattle Association, Transportation Choices Coalition, Cascade Bicycle Club, and others spoke in favor.

Naturally, the HALA-boosting coalition Seattle for Everyone was there handing out signs and buttons.

The Seattle City Council Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee hasn’t made any modifications to the policy, but expect to present amendments at their next meeting on March 21.

After the rezone ordinance passes committee, it will move to full council for a vote.