MAKING IT WORK
Welcome to MAKING IT WORK, Councilmember Conlin's monthly email newsletter. This newsletter is one way that Councilmember
Conlin is seeking to carry out his conviction that fostering citizen participation and engagement is a key task
of elected officials, and is vital to a democratic society. Each issue includes Councilmember Conlin's thoughts
on a key issue, informs you of other major issues in the City, and let's you know how you can influence City decisions.
INDUSTRIAL LANDS LEGISLATION
On Monday, December 17, the Council approved legislation reducing the size of commercial and retail uses that can be constructed in areas zoned industrial. The legislation was approved by a vote of 6 to 3, Conlin, Drago, and Rasmussen voting against. Prior to final approval, amendments were defeated to hold the legislation for several weeks so that it could be fine-tuned (5 to 4, with Clark joining Conlin, Drago, and Rasmussen in supporting holding the legislation), to exclude the Georgetown area (5 to 4, with the same 4 voting to protect Georgetown), and to exclude a portion of SODO (6 to 3, Clark, Conlin, and Drago voting to restrict implementation in SODO).
I opposed this legislation and offered amendments to limit it because:
- It effectively rezoned some 12% of the City’s area, affecting almost half of the property not zoned for single family, without taking into account the specific needs of particular sub areas such as SODO, Georgetown, and Interbay.
- It privileged large commercial enterprises, such as Starbucks, Amazon, Vulcan, and the Port, who have the resources and clout to get specific exemptions from its provisions, while penalizing other landowners who do not have the same access or influence.
- There was no evidence that this particular legislation was needed or appropriately targeted to achieve the goal of preserving industrial jobs and enterprises, or of any rush to construct encroaching commercial buildings that would take land out of industrial use (the proponent’s own numbers showed that less than 800,000 square feet of commercial construction was permitted in industrial zones in 2007, using up about one tenth of one percent of the possible land – leaving a 700 year supply under the zoning in place).
- This legislation was prepared in haste and without adequate consultation as required under the Growth Management Act – the vote on December 17 came only 19 days after the legislation was introduced, with the first Committee votes only a week after introduction, and even the sponsor of the legislation introduced an amendment on the floor of the Council to correct inadvertent errors.
- The legislation effectively overturned a compromise painfully arrived at during the neighborhood planning process for the Duwamish Industrial Area, a process that did engage all of the stakeholders and took the time to find agreement – just when steps are underway to revise neighborhood plans through a new stakeholder process.
The industrial lands legislation came to the Council in response to a study by the Planning Commission. The Commission examined the state of the City’s industrial land, concluded that there were potential threats from commercial development, and recommended considering measures to protect industry. Historically, land was zoned industrial to protect commercial and residential property from being encroached on by industrial smells, sounds, and pollution. This situation has now reversed, with industry needing protection from the higher value that land has when developed for commercial or residential purposes.
All Councilmembers agree with that conclusion, and agree that steps are needed to preserve the core industrial and maritime properties which support Seattle’s thriving industrial sector and the many blue collar jobs that are part of it. I personally led the effort to secure funding for the Planning Commission study.
However, adoption of this legislation short-circuited the rational next step in the process, which would be to figure out the right amount of land that should be protected and where protection would be most needed and appropriate without possibly compromising commercial, retail, and residential development that is likely more appropriate for areas such as SODO and Georgetown. Instead, this legislation took a broad brush approach without the detailed assessment of the long range needs and opportunities for Seattle’s future.
Consequently, organizations such as the Washington Software Association opposed the legislation, noting that fringe industrial/commercial land is exactly the kind of relatively low rent property that fledgling companies need to be able to develop and grow, and that restricting this much land will cause office rents to rise with scarcity (the most likely beneficiaries will be large property owners in areas like downtown and South Lake Union). In the long run, this legislation is likely to reduce the amount of future land available for industry, as the pressure will grow until wide swaths are rezoned for commercial, instead of remaining as areas where both commercial and industrial could be developed depending on the specific economic conditions at the time.
The outstanding immediate example will be the proposed rezone of the Port’s property in Interbay. Ironically, the Port, while supporting this legislation to restrict commercial development in other industrial lands, wants to take some 50 acres of prime maritime industry land with water access out of industrial use and rezone it for commercial development. Reportedly the Mayor has agreed to support that in return for the Port support of this legislation.
The Council clearly lacked the knowledge to make a good long-term decision on this issue, which the legislation’s proponents acknowledged by also proposing a series of further studies in an accompanying resolution. There is no rush to vest commercial development, and the Council has the power to enact emergency legislation if such a rush develops. There is a consensus that the zoning should be modified to preserve the appropriate maritime and industrial development. But the time wasn’t taken to develop the needed knowledge and work through the issues in order to make a good decision.
Several years ago, the City’s approval of a revision to the University’s Master Development Plan was overturned by the Growth Management Appeals Board because it acted without appropriate public participation. The Board noted that following the letter of the law might not be enough: “To inappropriately truncate or eliminate the public’s opportunity to participate in the making of local government policy would fly in the face of one of the Act’s most cherished planning goals and separate the “bottom up” component of GMA planning from its true roots – the people.” This legislation could have similar legal vulnerabilities. However, even if it is upheld legally, there are so many significant problems with it that the Council will likely have to spend the next several years amending it to clean up the unforeseen consequences.
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NORTH HIGHLINE POTENTIAL ANNEXATION
On Monday, December 17, the Council voted to retain North Highline as a Potential Annexation Area (PAA) in Seattle's Comprehensive Plan, by rejecting an amendment that would have stricken the PAA designation, by the same 6 to 3 margin that approved the designation in 2006 (Councilmembers Drago, Rasmussen, and Steinbrueck supported the amendment striking the PAA).
At the same meeting, the Council unanimously approved an agreement with the King County Library District that would turn over to the City two branch libraries and $2 million in operating funds if the annexation proceeds. This agreement is the first step in putting together a financial plan for the potential annexation that would ensure that residents of the annexed area would receive quality services without placing an undue burden on Seattle's financial resources. The City will continue to proceed carefully over the coming months to develop the full financial plan along with appropriate agreements with affected utilities and other interested local governments. A key step forward would be extension to Seattle of the state sales tax credit already authorized by the legislature for all other Washington cities for annexation expenses, legislation that passed the State House in 2007 but has not yet been approved by the State Senate.
When these processes have been concluded, the City is committed to then asking the voters of North Highline whether they would like to be annexed. While there is clearly substantial support for annexation to Seattle, the voters should have the opportunity to make a choice.
North Highline voters are likely to support annexation to Seattle, because Seattle is in the best position to provide good services to the North Highline area, and the area would integrate well with the adjacent Seattle communities. Under the Growth Management Act, all urbanized unincorporated areas must annex to cities or incorporate. Seattle annexation is the most responsible way to ensure that the spirit and letter of the Growth Management Act are carried out. North Highline residents and businesses would benefit from Seattle's lower property tax rate (Seattle's current property tax rate is levied at $9.28 per $1000 assessed value, compared to $11.59 in Burien and $11.98 in King County). Seattle would benefit by bringing into the City a diverse community with considerable affordable housing that would thrive economically under Seattle's progressive and fiscally responsible policies.
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WALLINGFORD PLAYFIELD/HAMILTON SCHOOL
At the request of the Seattle School District, the City Council has put on hold a potential exchange of land between Hamilton Middle School, owned by the Seattle School District, and Wallingford Playfield. The exchange of land would allow for the construction of a new 27,000 square foot gymnasium at Hamilton Middle School as part of an overall planned rehabilitation of the school. The land requested from the City is vacated street right-of-way, currently covered in asphalt, and would not impact the land currently in use as part of the park.
The School District requested the hold after opponents were successful in an appeal to the City’s Hearing Examiner challenging several elements of the project that had been approved by the Department of Planning and Development. Opponents have expressed concern about the impact of construction on the Playfield and shadow effects of the higher building on the sunken garden adjacent to the proposed project.
If the project returns to the Council, Resolution 29475 states that the use of the park land for this non-park use requires a compensation and mitigation package to be approved by Council. The School District has also proposed using the Playfield for a geothermal well field to heat the building. That would require separate legislation, which would allow the use, through an easement, and would have additional compensation and mitigation to address temporary loss of use and construction and restoration of the park.
The School District has proposed providing access by the community to the new facility to function as a community center during non-school hours. In anticipation of that, the Council approved a budget guidance statement requesting that the Department of Parks and Recreation prepare a programming plan for community use of the renovated Hamilton Middle School, along with recommendations for staffing and other resources for programming use of the gymnasium and related facilities for community use. This provision may now be moot, depending on what the School District decides to do in the light of the adverse ruling by the Hearing Examiner.
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SEATTLE CLIMATE DIALOGUES
There is growing recognition that it will take creativity, hard work, and commitment to address the critical issues around climate change. In recognition of that, the Council has recently signed a contract with Cascadia Consulting, Sightline Institute, ICLEI, and Climate Solutions to identify legislative initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate the impact of global warming.
It is clear that legislative action is not enough, and Seattleites who are concerned or confused about climate change and want to know what can be done to make a difference are invited to participate in community discussions through the 'Greater Seattle Climate Dialogues'. Your voice is needed as the community comes together to learn and dialogue about solutions. I encourage you to get involved today to help solve one of the most pressing issues of our times. Contact Toni Higgs, Coordinator, at 206-718-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to the website.
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"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It’s not over until the skinny lawyers sue.”
-- Ken Wells
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,
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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