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.
April 10, 2006, Volume VIII, Issue 3
CRITICAL AREAS ORDINANCE
On Monday, March 27, the Council unanimously adopted a set of revisions to the Critical Areas Ordinance which we have been working on since last November, under a state requirement for review at least every ten years.
While most of the changes to the ordinance 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 of the proposed house that were built closer than 25 feet of a shoreline. This will no longer be permitted.
- Prohibiting the use of pesticides and fertilizers within 50 feet of streams, wetlands and shoreline habitat, unless the use is done in accordance with approved best management practices and will have no adverse affect on fish and wildlife, or 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.
During the floor debate on the ordinance, I was successful in securing the adoption of an additional amendment that 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 property owners and developers to remove underground pipes and culverts and replace them with daylighted creeks. Under this amendment, when a property owner proposes a development project, the Director must assess that the existing pipe or culvert cannot remain in its current location and provide an effective passage for anadromous fish, and that other methods for preserving fish passage such as pipe or culvert placement or site engineering are not feasible. If the Director finds this to be the case, then the applicant will be required to prepare a plan that demonstrates that daylighting can be done while preventing erosion, protecting water quality, and providing diverse habitat. The Director may then order the daylighting if s/he determines that the cost of daylighting is proportionate to the impacts on fish or wildlife from the development.
The City cannot mandate removing creeks from pipes and culverts 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.
The Port of Seattle opposed this amendment, suggesting that it would adversely affect industrial properties. As the above outline demonstrates, the amendment was carefully crafted to apply to creeks with anadromous fish (Thornton, Longfellow, Taylor, Pipers, Fauntleroy, and possibly Schmitz Creek qualify). Of these, the only one that passes through industrial land is Longfellow Creek, which may affect one Port property if a major redevelopment is proposed.
If this property is affected, the Port should step up to its environmental obligations, just as the City will have to on the land that it owns where creeks are culverted or in pipes. No other industrial land is likely to be affected.
As follow up to this legislation, 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. Councilmember David Della and I are also sponsoring a companion resolution to the pesticides provisions providing a process for defining best management practices and educating the public on the provisions of the Critical Areas Ordinance. These resolutions will be considered in my Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee on April 11, and will come to the Full Council for a vote shortly afterward.
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CROWN HILL PEDESTRIAN ZONE/GAS STATION
On Monday, March 27, the Council voted to extend an interim pedestrian district in the Crown Hill neighborhood to allow time for completion of its work on 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. Both the community council and the Crown Hill Chamber of Commerce have endorsed the pedestrian designation, recognizing that adding a very large gas station at Safeway is not in keeping with the neighborhood plan and the community vision for Crown Hill.
Unfortunately, the Council vote was only by a 5 (Conlin, Steinbrueck, Licata, Clark, and Della) to 4 (McIver, Drago, Godden, Rasmussen) margin, which allows the interim designation to lapse for the month of April. Emergency land use legislation requires 7 votes to take immediate effect. The interim pedestrian district in Crown Hill was initially approved by the Council in April 2005 to prevent 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 is 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.
While it is possible that Safeway will be able to successfully vest a land use application during the time that the interim designation is not in effect, even if this happens there are other possible land uses that could be problematic, so the Council will continue with its consideration of the permanent designation. The Urban Development and Planning Committee will vote on the legislation on April 20, and the Council will likely vote on the Monday following the Committee. It is my hope that Safeway will work with the community to as much as possible honor the Crown Hill goals for a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
The Department of Planning and Development has recommended a small Crown Hill pedestrian zone that does not include the proposed gas station. The legislation that is before the Council will extend the boundaries of the pedestrian district to create a pedestrian zone more in accord with the community's vision.
The Committee has already agreed to legislation that limits gas stations in designated neighborhood commercial areas to four pump areas (serving no more than 8 cars at a time), along with other measures that would reduce traffic congestion, with a possible 5th pump station only if it is dedicated to alternative fuels. However, this is part of a package of major changes in the regulations for neighborhood commercial areas, which will not come to the Council until June.
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SOUTH LAKE UNION STREETCAR
On Monday, March 27, the Council approved the Maximum Allowable Construction Cost agreement and the assessment for the Local Improvement District that provides most of the funding for the South Lake Union Streetcar project. Groundbreaking is expected in early summer.
This legislation specifies that property owners along the streetcar line will be assessed $26.2 million as part of the $50.5 million cost of the project. The remaining funds are to be provided from grants and other funds that are pecifically dedicated for transportation improvements in South Lake Union. The ordinance is consistent with previous actions of the Council limiting the use of City general funds for the streetcar, and the projected cost is consistent with previous estimates.
This project has come a long way since it was initially proposed, when it appeared to be primarily an amenity and did not have a clear financial plan. There is now a coherent vision for how the streetcar will fit into a potential streetcar network, which could include a First Hill circulator likely to be funded by Sound Transit as mitigation for the loss of the First Hill Sound Transit station; a connection to the Waterfront Streetcar, which now has a new maintenance base; an extension down Jackson into the Central Area; an extension to the north to the University of Washington; and even, conceivably, streetcars in the former monorail corridors to Ballard and West Seattle. If several of these proposals materialize, the streetcar network will begin to take serious shape.
With the contracts now in place for vehicle purchases and construction, cost overruns are less likely. The final $50.5 million cost includes the $45 million initial estimate, with an added $2.5 million for inflation, $1.5 million for additional track to a new maintenance base location (fully funded by the sale of property for the previous base location), and $1.5 million in contract additions for pedestrian, bicycle, and other street improvements, funded from dedicated South Lake Union transportation moneys.
There is now also a clear financial plan, built around the Local Improvement District (LID). This LID is an extraordinary commitment of private funds to a public transit project, and has received overwhelming support from around 98% of the affected property owners.
The Council was somewhat disappointed that not all of the grants projected to fund the other costs have been received to date, and the principle controversy at the meeting was how to ensure that these costs could be covered if the grants ultimately do not materialize. Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck preferred to immediately assess the LID an additional $3 million, with a provision that this could be refunded if the final grants came through. In the end, the Council decided by a vote of 6 to 3 that this was not necessary, as the authority to increase the LID continues to exist for ten years, and there was not a need to take an action now that could jeopardize the approval of the LID by property owners who had already committed to the current proposal.
The South Lake Union Streetcar has received more scrutiny than many other larger projects. It is on track to become a modest, but potentially important, part of an overall transit system, and is coming in at a reasonable, and relatively modest, cost with major private investment. What originally looked like a frill now is materializing as a small step towards reducing automobile dependence by providing alternatives to the private automobile in an area that is likely to become increasingly built up and congested as downtown expands and development proceeds.
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"Of course, it is impossible to foresee the future turn of events. In politics and history, perhaps in everything, that unknown power the ancients called Fate is always at work. Without forgetting this, I must add that, in politics as well as in private life, the surest method for resolving conflicts, however slowly, is dialogue."
-- Octavio Paz
"King Alexander, every man can possess only so much of the earth's surface as this we are standing on. You are but human like the rest of us, save that you are always busy and up to no good, traveling so many miles from your home, a nuisance to yourself and others!... You will soon be dead, and then you will own just as much of the earth as will suffice to bury you."
-- Jain philosophers, when asked by Alexander the Great why they were paying so little attention to him
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
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