Councilmember Rasmussen left office on January 1, 2016.
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Full Council Comments From Today’s Lowrise Legislation (CB 118385) Debate


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There has been a great deal of interest in the lowrise legislation voted on by the Council today, which was passed by a 8-1 vote. I was the lone “no” vote. Below are my edited remarks from today’s Full Council meeting, which explains my opposition to the bill:

LR exampleIntroduction

My remarks will cover three key subjects relating to this Council Bill:

First: The original intent of this legislation;

Second: The legislation that is before us today; and

Third: I will comment on forthcoming recommendations from the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee which we sometimes call HALA.

1. Original Intent

This legislation was originally proposed to carry out the intent of the Lowrise (LR) Zone Code that was updated in 2010.

The LR zone was to be a Multifamily Zone that serves as a transition between the Single Family zone and the more dense midrise and highrise zones. It is to be the least intense multifamily zone, with a limit of 3 or 4 story buildings.

But what we saw was that some provisions of the new code allowed developers to construct buildings 10’-15’ higher than intended. The result is that today there are buildings that tower over their neighbors; and more townhomes are crowded onto lots than had been intended.

At the request of Councilmember Clark, the former Land Use Committee chair, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) drafted legislation last year to ensure that development was consistent with the goals of the LR zone.

In 2014, after months of research, community meetings, and consultation with developers, architects, and neighborhood volunteers DPD produced very good legislation.

Last fall that draft legislation was appealed to the Hearing Examiner by some developers, and the Hearing Examiner ruled against the developers.

Unfortunately, that legislation was not introduced to the Council.

2. CB 118385

The bill before the Council today (CB 118385) was introduced by Councilmember O’Brien, the current Land Use Chair, with some of the provisions of the original 2014 DPD version intact.

But this is not a clean-up bill and does not “fix the problems.” It is weaker and undermines the intent of LR zone. This bill will continue to allow taller and bulkier buildings than were intended for LR zone.

Because of that I introduced 8 amendments in committee to bring the legislation in line with our original vision for this zone.

Three of the amendments passed and that is an improvement, but is not good enough. I had hoped that my colleagues would support and bring forth other amendments but that has not happened.

The bill as amended does not restore the intent of the 2010 legislation.

To have a city with diverse neighborhoods with rich cultural history and which supports retaining neighborhood character requires thoughtful and complex planning, with more density in some neighborhoods than others.

We have zoned the City to accommodate greater height and density in the mid-rise and the high-rise zones and we should continue our policy of having the LR zone be a less dense multifamily transition zone between single family and more intense multifamily zones.

With this legislation however, the table is set and the developers will have a feast with more demolition of older affordable apartments and homes, to build more expensive housing resulting in more displacement of renters in a zone that was to be the least intensive multi-family zone. And for that reason I will be voting no.

3. Forthcoming HALA Recommendations

My third area of comments is directed to the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee (HALA).

It appears that the weakening came after some members of a HALA subcommittee commented upon the DPD legislation. This is very concerning because the HALA charge includes recommending strategies on both affordability and LIVABILITY.

The HALA subcommittee’s comments to this legislation didn’t balance livability and greater density. Balancing the two would have looked like the 2014 DPD version.

Future Growth/Conclusion

Opposing sides have sought to turn discussion of this legislation into a question of whether you are for or against density or growth. To be clear, I support density and growth – but we do not have to bulldoze our neighborhoods to increase density.

People who have concerns about this legislation have been called NIMBY’s by some developers’ advocates, but that characterization is a tactic to discourage participation and to avoid discussing the issues.

More legislation will be coming this year related to growth and affordable housing.

Councilmembers, we must do more than allow people to speak for only 1 or 2 minutes at a hearing on this issue.

We must make sure that everyone is provided the opportunity to provide meaningful involvement in planning and in accommodating growth.

Thank you.

Comments

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Comment from Kevin Dillon
Time July 7, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Thank you for taking on this issue. Many families want to live in single family homes and would be forced out by higher buildings next door unless you want to live in the shadow/shade of these buildings. Some homes sunlight is completely blocked by these structures. I agree we need density but done intelligently and with keeping the people of Seattle in mind.

Comment from Joseph
Time July 7, 2015 at 8:01 pm

Thank you for your commitment to this issue. I’ve personally started to watch Eastlake become gutted for microhousing at the expense of the residents. I too, support growth, but it needs to responsible.

How can we continue to try to solve these issues? It is possible to rezone a neighborhood out of the LR zone?

Comment from Karen Bertling
Time July 7, 2015 at 9:43 pm

Thank you, Tom, for being the lone voice of reason on this issue. My husband and I live in Crown Hill in a single family house. The changes in housing density we’ve seen in Ballard and other neighborhoods in recent years has us making plans to move out of Seattle after 35 years. It’s only too clear that developers are getting everything they want at the expense of neighborhood residents. I’d say Seattle’s livability ranking is plummeting rapidly, and the council’s vote on this issue confirms that they are on the side of developers, not residents.

Comment from Janet Seeley
Time July 7, 2015 at 9:46 pm

I have been in West Seattle for over 40 years. Do you honestly think that HALA, or the city council, really gives a damn what I, as a constuent, think? Or any of the other constituents who are slowly(sometimes quickly) being economically evicted from our neighborhoods? It’s all politics, and they will do what they do….as I have said many times, the mayor and council of this city have never met a developer that they did/do not like and embrace. Sigh.

Just an opinion.

Comment from Deanna Baldi
Time July 14, 2015 at 7:21 am

Tom,
Thank you for your advocacy. We lived in an L-3 zone in Fremont in a 1907 farm house that is on a block that in the 4 years we lived there saw the destruction of all but 3 of the single family homes to make way for condo developments. After having to shuttle groceries 3-4 blocks with a baby in a back pack because we could not find parking on our block we sold the hose. It is now a condo. We moved to Phinney Ridge 15 years ago and now again faced with how the L-4 zoning could impact the livability of our family home. Our block backs up against Greenwood Ave. N. and is facing the development of 3 projects within a four block stretch of Greenwood between 67th-70th. The first two plans have started with 0 parking for 60+ units and both the number of unit and the lack of parking is of grave concern.
The Charm and character of our block is special in that all of the neighbors know one another and most are not only neighbors but friends. The impact of such density literally in the back yards of many of these neighbors threatens this kind of neighborhood culture. It is not acceptable for the city to allow for developers to change the character and culture of a neighborhood under the guise of urban density when we all know the bottom line is profit. Many of us have put huge investments into inmproving our homes with the intent of living in them for a lifetime. The livability of these single family blocks are contingent upon being able to find a place to park, have a quite nights sleep, know your neighbors and if you are lucky like us, count them among your friends. Thank you for advocating to preserve this kind of neighborhood culture in areas of the city like ours that are most impacted by this legislation!

Comment from Deanna Baldi
Time July 14, 2015 at 7:28 am

Tom,
Thank you for your advocacy. We lived in an L-3 zone in Fremont in a 1907 farm house. It is on a block that in the 4 years we lived there saw the destruction of all but 3 of the single family homes to make way for condo developments. After having to shuttle groceries 3-4 blocks with a baby in a back pack because we could not find parking on our block, we sold the hose. It is now a condo.
We moved to Phinney Ridge 15 years ago and now are again faced with how the L-4 zoning could impact the livability of our family home. Our block backs up against Greenwood Ave. N. and is facing the development of 3 projects within a four block stretch of Greenwood between 67th-70th. The first two plans have started with 0 parking for 60+ units. Both the number of units and the lack of parking are of grave concern.
The Charm and character of our block is special in that all of the neighbors know one another and most are not only neighbors but friends. The impact of such density, literally in the back yards of many of these neighbors, threatens this kind of neighborhood culture. It is not acceptable for the city to allow for developers to change the character and culture of a neighborhood under the guise of urban density when we all know the bottom line pushing the limits of these developments is profit. Many of us have put huge investments into inmproving our homes with the intent of living in them for a lifetime. The livability of these single family blocks is contingent upon being able to find a place to park, have a quite nights sleep, knowing your neighbors, and if you are lucky like us, counting them among your friends. Thank you for advocating to preserve this kind of neighborhood culture in areas of the city like ours that are most impacted by this legislation!

Comment from Tom Rasmussen
Time July 14, 2015 at 9:13 am

Thanks Deanna for taking the time to write. I appreciate hearing from you.

Comment from Tom Rasmussen
Time July 14, 2015 at 9:14 am

Janet: Did you read my blog? If you did I don’t think you would draw the conclusions that you may have about my approach to land-use or neighborhood issues.

Comment from Tom Rasmussen
Time July 14, 2015 at 9:15 am

Thanks Karen for taking the time to write. I appreciate hearing from you. Please feel free to contact me at any time.

Comment from Tom Rasmussen
Time July 14, 2015 at 9:17 am

Joseph: Thanks for writing. I appreciate hearing from you. It might be very difficult to “down-zone” a neighborhood. I haven’t seen that done. But if a strong majority of a neighborhood agreed that it wanted to do so it may be possible.

Comment from Tom Rasmussen
Time July 14, 2015 at 9:18 am

Thanks Dillon: I appreciated hearing from you. What neighborhood do you live in?

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