At the February 13 Planning, Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee meeting, Diane Sugimura, Director of the Department of Planning & Development, and Stella Chao, Director of the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), presented the Mayor’s proposal for how to update neighborhood plans. In a nutshell, the Mayor proposes that the city would be divided into six sectors and one sector a year would be tackled by a team of City staff supporting a community check-in and possible update of each of the plans in the sector. Each plan would be standardized to an extent with a set of required components (land use, transportation, housing, open space, etc.) and could add "electives" like education and arts. At the end of six years, we’d be done.
Those are the broad outlines. DON has already met with dozens of groups around the city to discuss the proposal. My colleagues on the Council and I are now pressing for more details about how the proposal will ensure maximum community involvement, even community control of the update work. I’m also dedicated to ensuring that we plan for implementation and stewardship better than we did last time.
The tremendous investment of energy in neighborhood planning 10 years ago helped us shape a national model for how communities and government can partner and plan for absorbing growth. We now face the challenge to design an update process that builds upon the foundation of the existing plans, engages communities that were not included in the 1990s, and do all this without "meeting people to death." This project should be an inclusive update -- not a rewrite.
In that spirit, I partnered with former Mayor Norm Rice and the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington to host a forum about the future of our neighborhood plans last weekend. The room was packed with well over 100 people. We heard from City department heads and civic engagement experts who addressed past successes and failures of the Neighborhood Planning process and we heard from YOU. I gleaned the most important information from the small group discussions later in the day. Attendees provided invaluable feedback for how and why to update our neighborhood plans, but mostly, they provided a strong reminder that updating plans is more than updating words on paper. It is yet another opportunity for community building and stronger neighborhoods.
I'll use the participant feedback as Council begins to address the merits of the Mayor's proposal for updates. For those of you who were unable to join us, the Evans School team will compile a report from the event and I'll put it on my website in mid-April. In the months ahead, check in with the Department of Neighborhoods website to learn of future opportunities to be involved in the Neighborhood Plan Updates.
Return to Index
Sally, addressing a packed room at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.
Planning and Land Use
Since becoming chair of the Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee (PLUNC) this year I’ve had a crash course in SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act). One of the left-over proposals from last year was SEPA thresholds. For those who are unfamiliar (likely 95% of you), SEPA is a review process designed to provide information about the potential impact that a new development project might have on the environment, primarily the impacts from construction itself. A SEPA threshold is the number of units in a multifamily housing project that triggers SEPA review.
My committee is currently exploring whether we should raise the threshold for when SEPA review is required, requiring it for only medium to large scale projects. Currently, SEPA review kicks in for any project with four or more units. The proposal before the committee would raise the threshold and require SEPA review only for higher numbers of units, the exact number depending upon the zoning.
Proponents of the change argue that Seattle already has very specific regulations for the areas SEPA covers. We have new sidewalk rules in a separate part of the land use code. We have view corridor and noise codes (the latter to be updated this year with regard to construction). We also have drainage and lot coverage rules.
Before voting to change the thresholds I will need to know that we can effectively identify the impacts of new developments and require appropriate mitigation without SEPA. If it is truly redundant, then let’s stop requiring it. I don’t see that it’s capturing and controlling the problems I hear about from constituents in low-rise zones. I don’t see SEPA making a positive difference in “edge” area where single family zones bump against more intense zoning or in our low-rise townhome areas.
Often neighbors try to use SEPA as a way to address the aesthetics, height, bulk, and scale of projects, but it doesn’t seem to do the job. I think design review may be the tool we should use to address these concerns. It’s not currently required in most low-rise zones, but if we extend it into low-rise it could be one way we treat the epidemic of poorly-designed townhomes cropping up all over the city. I’m sensitive to the argument about the time it takes for design review making projects more expensive and, subsequently, the final housing more costly. I think we can make design review work and not trade-off affordability. PLUNC will consider the proposed SEPA changes at our March meetings.
Return to Index
Proposed Multifamily Code Changes
Over the past few weeks, I've heard from many of you concerned about possible changes in multi-family zoning regulations. I appreciated hearing from you, but have nothing to report because Council has not received any proposals yet. There is work underway at the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to shape a proposal, and it is has been going on for more than a year.
The proposed changes I'm hearing about are complicated and, clearly, some will be controversial. I don't anticipate Council rushing anything through without substantial review and public discussion. With the pace and scale of development in our neighborhoods, the concerns about "bad" development, and the crisis we find ourselves in with regard to affordable housing, I know councilmembers will have many concerns and questions. My goal will be to make sure any changes are well thought out and help to achieve better design and livability.
If you are curious about what some of the changes may be, (and, again, this is only a draft of what Council may end up considering) check out the DPD website for more information. If you’d like to know when we’ll be discussing the updates in PLUNC, you can sign up to receive meeting agendas here.
Return to Index
Campaign Public Financing
As I write this, Sens. Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are about to learn the results of the Texas primary, and Sen. John McCain is campaigning on his own. It’s early March and Sen. Clinton has spent roughly $106 million, Sen. Obama has spent $115 million, and Sen. McCain has spent $41 million.
On a local level we’ll soon have an opportunity to do what has failed federally -- level the campaign playing field. It looks almost certain at this point that the Governor will sign a bill allowing local governments in Washington to develop ways to allow public financing of election campaigns. The legislation does not prescribe what a program has to look like. It does require that local voters have the ability to approve or reject local financing. I organized a letter of support from the Council for this legislation and am looking forward to developing a local financing plan for voters to consider. Maybe we have time to get a program in place before the next local elections in 2009. I’ll let you know how this work is going in a future e-newsletter.
Return to Index
Northwest African-American Museum Executive Director Barbara Earl Thomas showed Sally and former Seattle City Councilmember Tina Podlodowski around the new museum in late January. The Urban League Village at Colman School, including 36 affordable apartments, was dedicated March 8.
You have received this newsletter because you have contacted our office with a comment and suggestion.