MAKING IT WORK
Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
March 9, 2006, Volume VIII, Issue 2
CRITICAL AREAS ORDINANCE
The Council has been working on amendments to Seattle’s Critical Areas Ordinance since last November, under a state
requirement for review at least every ten years. On Monday, March 6, proposed revisions to this roadmap for protecting
key habitats, shorelines, and wetlands came to the Council floor for a vote, but the Council postponed action until Monday,
March 27, reflecting conflicts over how strong the ordinance should be.
While most of the changes are technical or relatively modest, I sponsored three important amendments which were approved
by the Committee:
- Preventing new residential development within 25 feet of a shoreline. Under the previous legislation, there was an
exception that allowed houses to be built within 25 feet of a shoreline if there were other houses within 100 feet that
were built closer than 25 feet. This will no longer be permitted.
- Requiring parks and golf courses to keep all land within 50 feet of streams, wetlands and shoreline habitat free of
pesticides and fertilizers, unless the facility receives specific permission from the Director of Seattle Public Utilities
that the pesticide is critical for public safety, health or there is no other way to halt the spread of an invasive plant.
This expands the buffer, which previously only applied to the most hazardous pesticides (approved in legislation I
sponsored in 2004).
- Ensuring that the buffer for new development near salmon-bearing streams will increase from 50 feet to 75 feet.
While each of these new codes should significantly improve and protect the habitat in our city, there is one additional
revision that I hope to add. My amendment sets a city policy direction in favor of daylighting streams currently buried
in pipes and culverts, and empowers the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to require that property owners and
developers remove underground pipes and culverts and replace them with daylighted creeks.
The City cannot mandate this removal unless there are demonstrated benefits to fish and wildlife, and, even in those
circumstances, most Councilmembers are reluctant to mandate that a property owner must be required to pay to fix an
environmental problem that, in most cases, he or she did not create.
My amendment addresses this concern by allowing DPD to grant other benefits in return for daylighting creeks. For
example, if a landowner is building condominiums, the DPD could reduce the required parking spaces or allow reduced
setbacks in exchange for daylighting.
I am also sponsoring a resolution calling for an inventory of potential daylighting opportunities and a set of additional
incentives for property owners to daylight creeks. Conceivably, the City could provide matching funds or other resources
to property owners to help them remove pipes and culverts.
This legislation will be in my EEMU Committee in the future, and I will take it up again in 2007 if the legislation
approved this year turns out not to adequately protect the environment.
Back to Contents
CROWN HILL PEDESTRIAN ZONE/GAS STATION
Beginning on March 20, the Council will consider three measures that affect the pedestrian character of the Crown Hill
neighborhood. The Council will first consider extending the current interim pedestrian district to allow time for
completion of its work on the other two measures, a permanent pedestrian district and limitations on the size of gas
stations in urban villages, both of which would affect a proposed Safeway gas station in this community.
In April, 2005, the Council approved legislation I developed to create an interim pedestrian district in Crown Hill.
This legislation prevents auto-oriented development that would be incompatible with the Neighborhood Plan along 15th Ave. NW,
from NW 83rd to NW 87th Streets. The goal of the interim legislation was to provide time for the Council to analyze
and consider a permanent mechanism to fulfill neighborhood desires to create a pedestrian urban village.
The interim district includes property owned by Safeway, which has plans to build a large gas station at the corner
of NW 83rd St. and 15th Ave. NW. Neighbors fear that a gas station will generate dangerous traffic patterns and hold back
land development potential in this urban village. The community asked me to develop this legislation to prevent the
compromising of their vision for the future and the encroachment of car-oriented development on their pedestrian area.
The legislation creating an interim pedestrian district expires April 1, 2006. The Council is considering two
alternatives that would provide protection to the neighborhood, but it is unlikely that there will be a vote on either
of these before the interim district expires. For that reason, I am recommending that the Council extend the interim
district for several months while we complete our work on the other legislation.
The Council will hold a public hearing on the extension of the interim district at the Council meeting on March 20,
and will vote on either March 20 or 27 on whether to extend the interim pedestrian designation. The Council will hold
a public hearing on the proposed permanent pedestrian district on Wednesday, March 22, at the regular meeting of the
Urban Development and Planning Committee. The Committee will vote either on that day or April 12, and the Council will
likely vote on the Monday following the Committee.
The Department of Planning and Development has recommended a small Crown Hill pedestrian zone that does not include
the proposed gas station. I will offer an amendment to extend the boundaries of the pedestrian district to create a
more realistic pedestrian zone.
The Committee will also vote later in April on legislation affecting neighborhood business districts which will include
a measure limiting the size of gas stations in certain neighborhood zones. The Committee has already agreed to my
amendment that limits these stations to four pump areas (serving no more than 8 cars at a time), along with other
measures that would reduce traffic congestion. The amendment allows a 5th pump station only if it is dedicated to
While I believe that expanding the pedestrian zone is the most appropriate step, if this measure is unsuccessful, the
limitation on the size of the station will still have a positive effect in Crown Hill by reducing the impact of Safeway's
proposed gas station on the community.
Back to Contents
ALASKAN WAY VIADUCT REPLACEMENT
On Wednesday, March 8, the Washington State Legislature approved a major transportation package, which included
provisions delegating to the Seattle City Council the task of recommending a preferred alternative for the Alaskan Way
Viaduct/Seawall Replacement Project. While the Council has had the opportunity to make a recommendation in the past, it
has never had recognized authority for this decision.
The Washington Department of Transportation has the legal responsibility for a final decision on the preferred
alternative, although in practice the City is a participant in the project, and it would be nearly impossible for WSDOT
to proceed without City concurrence. I initiated a Council process for reviewing the alternatives in 2004 and secured
the agreement of the Mayor’s Office to work in cooperation with us. As recently as last week, however, documents were
being circulated naming the Mayor as the source of the City’s position.
The new legislation gives the Council the opportunity to submit the choice of alternative to the voters on an advisory
ballot this November, and to hold public hearings and make a choice by ordinance. While the legislation is silent on the
legal standing of this action, it seems unlikely that the state would attempt to proceed with a project alternative that
had been rejected by the voters and/or Council.
In 2004, the Council voted 7 to 1 to endorse the tunnel alternative. The Council also adopted a resolution, which I
sponsored, calling for a Safety and Transition Plan to implement transportation improvements that would prepare us for
both an emergency closure of the viaduct and for its closure when the replacement project begins, and calling for a
financial plan for the tunnel project.
Since that action, the tunnel alternative has gone through several changes in design, the issues relating to financing
have become clearer, and at least one Councilmember has withdrawn his support for the tunnel alternative.
Over the next several months, I will urge the Council to develop a clear and coherent presentation of the costs and
benefits of the alternatives and make sure that this is communicated to Seattle voters. I will support placing at least
three alternatives on the November ballot – the tunnel, the aerial rebuild, and the distributed traffic alternative
suggested by the People’s Waterfront Coalition, so that Seattle voters will have the opportunity to express their
preference among the range of potentially feasible options. I am confident that the voters will make a thoughtful and
deliberative choice if presented with full information about the long-range implications of the choices before them.
Back to Contents
KEY ARENA AND SONICS
The Legislature has decided not to take up in 2006 a proposal by the Seattle Sonics/Storm to extend the taxes used to
build Safeco and Qwest Fields to overhaul and expand the Key Arena. I expect that the City and the basketball team will
try to negotiate a proposal that could return to the legislature in 2007. Unfortunately, the Sonics/Storm appear to be
committed to having the public fund this project at a level and scale that may greatly exceed the benefits to the public,
and it is not clear that this negotiation will be successful.
The Sonics/Storm are an important part of the Seattle sports scene, and I regret that they have made threats to leave
Seattle if they do not get their way on the Key Arena renovations. Key Arena was renovated to the Sonics specifications
in 1995, and performed well until 2001. Since then, for reasons on which the interested parties do not agree, the Arena
has not delivered the expected revenues, and the City has had to pay millions of dollars out of the General Fund to cover
the debt service on the improvements.
The Sonics have proposed a package of some $220 million in modifications to the Key Arena that they argue are necessary.
They propose that the taxpayers fund these improvements and turn over the management of the Key Arena to the Sonics.
While some of the improvements will improve the field area and seating capacity of Key Arena, much of the proposal is designed
to improve the concessions areas to create what will be in effect a shopping mall inside the Key Arena facilities.
While I certainly wish the team well, I am concerned that the taxpayers will not receive a return on their investment
if this plan is implemented. I am also concerned that the effect of turning over the facility's operations and revenues
to the Sonics will further erode the City's finances, and that the creation of this expanded business area will cut into
the revenues of the businesses in the Uptown community around the Key Arena.
An analysis of the finances of Key Arena indicates that it can operate at a profit with concerts and other sports events
without the Sonics, although under the current financial arrangement Key Arena will be more profitable with them. I am
willing to discuss renovations and improvements that will improve the bottom line for the City and taxpayers, but I will
not support any renovation that is not designed to provide a return on investment to the taxpayer. My impression is that
there may be some modest improvements that meet this standard, but that the proposed $220 million package is likely to fail
The Council is currently evaluating the City's options on the Key Arena, and will make a recommendation sometime in
April as to a formal City position.
Back to Contents
“Megaproject development today is not a field of what has been called 'honest numbers’.
It is a field where you will see one group of professionals calling the work of another not only ‘biased’ and
‘seriously flawed’ but a ‘grave embarrassment’ to the profession. And that is when things have not yet turned unfriendly…”
-- Bent Flyvbjerg, in Megaprojects and Risk
"When we know how to read our own hearts, we acquire wisdom of the hearts of others."
-- Diderot--Winston Churchill
Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting, and useful. And please forward it along to friends who might be interested. You can get more information or send me feedback through the City Council website at http://cityofseattle.net/council/
Your Seattle City Councilmember
Back to Contents
Back to MAKING IT WORK Newsletters