MAKING IT WORK
December 9, 2003, Volume V, Issue 11
Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide
information, inspire involvement, and make things work
in this great city.
NORTHGATE COMPROMISE PROPOSAL APPROVED
CAB ELVIS LEGALIZED
QUOTE AND DEEP THOUGHT
NORTHGATE COMPROMISE PROPOSAL APPROVED
On Monday, December 8, the City Council unanimously approved four pieces of legislation
to implement the Northgate Area Comprehensive Plan (NACP). The legislation creates a clear
regulatory structure, agrees to development plans for the Northgate Mall sites, commits the
City to investments, offers ways to manage transportation issues and increase housing, and
provides the opportunity to daylight Thornton Creek. The package of legislation was a
compromise that Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck and I, representing a majority of the
Council, worked out with the Mayor's Office.
Approval of the compromise followed several weeks of intense negotiation. Mayor Nickels
had proposed a package of legislation that raised many concerns. It included a Development
Agreement with Simon Properties, owner of the Northgate Mall, emphasizing development along
the freeway side of the Mall. It also included repeal of the General Development Plan
GDP), a Northgate-specific regulation requiring coordinated planning for properties of 6
acres or more. The GDP was an attempt to move Northgate towards becoming a
pedestrian-friendly Urban Center. And the Mayor proposed a stormwater detention pond on
the South Parking Lot, which would have precluded the possibility of daylighting Thornton
The Council's counterproposal was presented at a news conference at Northgate on
November 12, with the support of five Councilmembers (Conlin, Steinbrueck, Licata, Wills,
Nicastro). The Council package was designed to foster the Northgate Urban Center - a place
where good jobs, a diverse mix of housing, and excellent transit connections can come
together, and to move beyond the classic developer versus neighborhood conflict by meeting
the needs of many different stakeholders through finding common ground. Our proposal was
developed in consultation with Northgate area community organizations, business interests,
housing developers, and environmental groups.
Specific elements of the proposal included:
- Moving forward with a parking garage and with development on the west side of Northgate Mall as proposed by Simon Properties, but including development along 5th Avenue NE and pedestrian circulation improvements.
- Incentives for building multi-family housing, including considering additional height for mixed-use projects, reducing parking requirements and provisions for shared parking in certain locations.
- Economic development strategies emphasizing small business.
- A Northgate public art initiative.
- A coordinated surface water plan based on natural drainage strategies and allowing the opportunity to daylight Thornton Creek in conjunction with a mixed use development.
- Adding open space.
- Promoting open discussion with the community.
- Reworking the current development regulations to provide more options for developers.
- Setting forth parameters to be included in a new Development Agreement to be renegotiated with the owners of the mall, within 60 days of approving the resolution.
The council initiative was endorsed by seven Northgate area neighborhood groups and by
many members of the Northgate Chamber of Commerce, which publicly opposed the Mayor's plan.
In the light of a Council majority endorsing an alternative, the Mayor's staff
recognized that their proposal had bleak prospects, and were willing to come to the
table to discuss alternatives. With some hard bargaining, we were able to forge a
compromise agreement, which includes:
- A framework resolution, incorporating a set of proposals to stimulate housing
production (including extending the Multi-Family Affordable Housing Tax Exemption to
Northgate), an economic development strategy emphasizing small business, implementing
the natural drainage strategies called for in the Thornton Creek Action Plan, and
fostering a public art initiative. As part of a continued commitment to public
involvement, a Northgate Urban Center stakeholders group is to be organized, with an
independent facilitator and a list of key stakeholders to be included. And the City
will integrate the Northgate Area Comprehensive Plan into the Seattle Comprehensive Plan.
The framework resolution also contemplates a Development Agreement with Lorig
Associates, who are planning to purchase part of the South Lot of Northgate Mall.
Under the revised Development Agreement with Simon, the City will get control of 2.7
acres of the South Lot for $375,000, without creating a detention pond. The City is
committed to using the 2.7 acres for open space and natural drainage, and to preserving
the option for Thornton Creek daylighting. Lorig will come up with 3 alternative
coordinated strategies for South Lot development, including at least one that provides
full creek daylighting, and the City will work with Lorig and the community to select a
strategy for implementation. Lorig has agreed to restrictions that prevent auto-oriented
development, to building at least 300 units of housing (including a range of
affordability), and to work with the City on green building, natural drainage, open space,
and pedestrian access.
- The revised Development Agreement with Simon allows the Mall to proceed with their
167,000 square feet of planned development, but adds 63,000 square feet of development
on the NE side of the Mall, built to the street, a major step towards the NACP goal of a
pedestrian friendly 5th Avenue NE Main Street. Simon will also create an entrance on 5th
Avenue NE opposite the library that complements the City development. Simon is allowed to
construct a parking garage on the Mall site, but the garage cannot have any frontage on 5th
Avenue NE or Northgate Way. Simon agrees that the 63,000 square feet of development in the
NE cannot be transferred to any other portion of the Mall, and that they will work with the
City to consider natural drainage strategies and green building techniques. Simon will
coordinate development with the City's pedestrian circulation plan and will participate in
the community stakeholder group to be organized.
- The Land Use Code ordinance repeals the GDP requirement as proposed by the Mayor and
restructures open space regulations in response to recent court decisions. It also adopts
a set of criteria for any future Development Agreements, clarifies requirements for windows
facing streets to be transparent, and adds new provisions for better pedestrian
environments streetscapes on 5th Avenue NE, NE 100th, and NE 103rd.
- Under the compromise plan, the Development Agreements on the North and South Lots will
replace the GDP to control development on those areas. Other large property owners will be
able to develop under existing citywide regulations. To coordinate future development, the
Council also adopted a resolution moving forward with a Coordinated Transportation
Investment Plan. And the Council adopted a proposal to create a future SEPA Planned Action
or other mechanism to coordinate all aspects of future development. The goal of this
proposal is to benefit both the community and development interests by providing a
coordinated way to determine the impacts of development and the responsibility for
mitigation for the entire Northgate Urban Center. This extends the ability to manage
impacts beyond the 6-acre ownership criteria in the GDP, but does so in a way that
dovetails with existing regulation and can accelerate, rather than slow down, appropriate
The outcome of this process is a win-win-win - for the Northgate neighborhoods, for
the business community, and for all of Seattle. Above all, it is a win for problem-solving
through substantive and thoughtful citizen engagement and mutually respectful negotiation.
In his keynote speech to the Downtown Seattle Association annual lunch, Mayor Norm
Rice asked us to remember Seattle's past successes and renew our commitment to negotiation
and compromise. Democracy works best when we find a way that everyone can win. The
Northgate compromise is an outstanding example of putting this principle into practice.
There is still a journey ahead, but this is a major step towards sustainable development
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CAB ELVIS LEGALIZED
On Monday, December 8, the Council voted to allow cab drivers to wear costumes - a
small victory for individual creativity and promoting tourism. 'Cab Elvis' ran afoul
of the City's dress code for cab drivers, and received a ticket from the City for wearing
an Elvis costume. While the larger question of whether the City should require a standard
dress for cab drivers will await a more comprehensive review of the City's taxicab code,
I believed that ticketing Cab Elvis was an example of regulation taken to an irrational
extreme. Cab Elvis has been referenced in tourist guidebooks, meets the standard of 'neat
and clean' appearance, and brings a little lightness to the City's environment. I was
pleased that the Council agreed with me and approved this minor legislative initiative.
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"The road to freedom lies through democracy, and democracy means above all the capacity
for common speech… To strong democrats, the right of every individual to speak to others,
to assert the right of being through the act of communication, is identified with the
precious wellspring of human autonomy and dignity.
Thus it was in ancient Greece, isogoria - the universal right to speak in the
assembly - came to be a synonym not merely for democratic participation but for democracy
itself. Thus it is that democracy, as it struggles to flourish in a shrinking world of
ever greater complexity and interdependence, has to nourish the power of the people to
speak, to decide, and to act.
For in the end human freedom will be found not in caverns of private solitude but in
the noisy assemblies where women and men meet daily as citizens and discover in each
other's talk the consolation and strength of their common humanity."
-- Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy
“I will care not to go towards the dark. I will go towards the sky."
-- Igulik Eskimo words spoken before a long journey
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
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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