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        January, 2011 E-News


Welcome, 2011. What took you so long?


Honestly, 2010 couldn't end soon enough for me. I'm relieved to be in 2011. It feels slightly lighter here. Maybe it's just the hopefulness of New Year's, maybe it's the ever so subtle lengthening of the daylight? I'm looking forward to this year being better for the city than last.

2010 was a hard year. The recession continued to drain the city of jobs, investment and tax revenue. Food banks saw record numbers of people in need. We voters decided taxing candy and bottled water would be bad, and (according to the state attorney general's recent opinion) that it should require an act of the legislature to raise ferry fares and establish tolls. The state ended the year proposing to axe the Basic Health Plan. The Basic Health Plan!

Despite the overall bitter taste of 2010, we checked a few big things off the to-do list in the committee I chair, the Committee on the Built Environment (COBE). You can click on any of these to learn more.

Seattle City Council Committee on
the Built Environment

  • 1/12, Wednesday
    9 a.m.
  • 1/26, Wednesday
    9 a.m.

Meetings are subject to change. Please check the committee agenda for confirmation. Unless otherwise noted, all meetings will be held in Council Chambers.

  • Children's Hospital expansion plan This was contentious at the start, but the neighborhood and the hospital came together on a final agreement that ensures Children's expansion in Northeast Seattle while protecting the surrounding neighborhood
  • Pike/Pine Neighborhood Design Guidelines New rules still allow new buildings, but developers (and the neighborhood) should see a better "upside" by retaining the character buildings and the scale that define the look of this neighborhood.
  • Ballard rezones We struck a balance between the new and old Ballard by retaining some of the industrial zoning along Market while changing other parcels to handle more office and retail.
  • Energy Code We're pushing the boundaries by demanding that Seattle's code for commercial buildings prompt performance that's beyond the national standards.
  • Landmark nominations We protected a slew of older buildings that help define Seattle.
  • Rental housing inspection We acted quickly to retain Seattle's ability to protect renters. A new program will likely take shape in 2011.
  • Multifamily Code update Just maybe the end of ugly townhomes.
  • South Downtown Neighborhoods We're part way through zoning and land use rule changes to welcome more people living, working, shopping and generally enjoying these culturally and historically unique areas of Seattle.
  • Hitting the road and shining a spotlight I took the committee into neighborhoods to see what we talk about when we talk about heights, setbacks, facades, and modulation. (I think that's a Raymond Carver title, no?)

Click here to jump to the Last Word.


For the first three months of 2010, it was all Children's Hospital, all the time. Children's is a world renowned institution situated smack on the edge of Laurelhurst and within sight of others like View Ridge and Ravenna-Bryant. Children's, the City and neighborhoods spent several years hatching a new "major institution master plan," but it arrived on Council's doorstep with a basket of formal appeals due to disagreements about expansion scale and mitigation. That triggered a complex set of rules of procedure for notice, argument and decision-making all intended to ensure an even playing field as councilmembers considered the appeals.

After oral argument, the hospital and the appellants came to an agreement. I think the neighbors and the hospital made a great compromise and as a result, we'll see improved traffic coordination, more patient beds, and great landscaping buffers. Council adopted Children's Master Plan in March, which means we'll be home to a pediatric hospital of the highest caliber serving the children of Seattle, the Puget Sound, Washington State, (and even Idaho, Montana, and Alaska) for decades to come.

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For the past few years, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has taken a special interest in the Pike/Pine neighborhood of Capitol Hill. It's a dense, popular area with scores of buildings constructed prior to 1930. Seattle's old auto row provides great, tall spaces for retail and cafes. Advocates for the neighborhood have worked with us to figure out how to preserve these buildings and ensure that new buildings follow certain rules.

The Pike/Pine Neighborhood

Phase one, adopted through COBE in 2009, allowed greater development potential if the developer retains the façades of character buildings. This year we took the next step of adopting new design guidelines for the neighborhood. The area's Design Review Board will be able to give architects more specific direction regarding materials, signs and treatment of corner sites.

More work lies ahead, but I think we took some smart steps to preserve character-defining buildings before the next development cycle heats up.

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Councilmembers Burgess & Clark take a walking tour of the Ballard industrial areas

Ballard is an urban village destined to receive more inhabitants over time, but it's also a working community as evidenced by the businesses that rely on access to the ship canal and the locks. In April, we reviewed zoning in two areas – across from the future Nordic Heritage Museum and at the site of the old Nelson Chevrolet in Ballard – to determine whether to keep these industrial or to flip them into commercial or mixed-use zones. Several ship canal businesses argued to retain the industrial zoning on the north side of Market around 26th as a buffer between them and the residential zoning to the north.

In consultation with property owners, the area's Manufacturing Industrial Center advocates, and the greater neighborhood, the Council changed some of the heavy industrial zones to a lighter mix of industrial and retail, and retained the existing industrial zoning in other spots. We kept the heavy industrial uses buffered and provided greater development options for whoever tries something at the old Nelson Chevrolet.

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Every three years we update the City Energy Code for commercial buildings. We get great help from an advisory committee made up of people who actually use the code when constructing new buildings. We're lucky to have a relatively stable supply of affordable electricity here -- now. Growth and climate change should push us to innovate when it comes to both production and conservation. Conservation is the cheapest form of energy production. Our buildings should use energy as efficiently as possible.

With my committee's adoption of the energy code legislation earlier this year Seattle's energy code insists that our buildings be at least 20% more efficient than Washington State requires. I'm proud to say that once again Seattle has the most demanding energy code in the state and one that's more demanding than the codes in most major cities. Having said that, we also could do better when it comes to measuring how well we're really doing. Before the next Energy Code update we'll build ways to check ourselves to make sure our claims match reality.

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One of the more enjoyable parts of chairing the Committee on the Built Environment comes when we review the "controls and incentives" proposed for adoption by the Council when the City's Landmarks Board accepts the nomination of a building or object. The historic landmarks we're able set controls and incentives upon. The buildings and objects listed here are part of our history and culture. Thank you to the owners for believing in historic preservation. Say hello to your new 2010 landmarks!

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A rental licensing and inspection program isn't a cure-all for sub-standard housing, but we should preserve the ability to institute a program that safeguards the right of tenants and property owners. We did just that when the committee adopted legislation in June vesting Seattle in state rules that provide maximum flexibility.

The vast majority of Seattle's rental housing stock goes above and beyond housing code safety requirements, making for great places to call home. However, there are some units in this city that are in deplorable condition. In some cases tenants have felt too frightened of losing even unsafe shelter to call in a complaint to the City. Tenant advocates have floated the idea of a proactive rental housing inspection program for some time, to ensure every unit in our city is up to code and safe to live in.

The 2010 State legislature adopted a bill giving local governments new enforcement tools. However, included in the same piece of legislation was a restriction limiting cities' options in developing proactive rental housing inspection programs.

Sally speaks with the Rental Housing Stakeholder Group at their December 16 meeting.

Recognizing that the Council shouldn't build an inspection program without consulting with rental housing owners, renters themselves and other stakeholders, we adopted "placeholder legislation" to vest under the old state rules and keep open options for a new inspection program. A stakeholder group of landlords, tenant advocates, and resident advocates has already started meeting to make recommendations for whether an inspection program should exist in Seattle at this point and, if we do launch one, how such a program would work. More on this in 2011.

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The end of ugly townhomes? I hope so. More importantly, the update should spur a better variety of housing designs (row houses, for instance) and should focus greater density where it belongs, in our urban villages and centers and along major transit routes.

The Multifamily Code Update changes the way development will occur in our low-rise zones and hits townhomes the hardest since that's the subject we heard about the loudest. This code should put an end to those cookie cutter townhomes that have:

  • a big blank wall facing the street
  • six foot high fences disconnecting the home and its inhabitants from neighbors
  • parking courts shrouded in shadow
  • tiny, unusable backyards
  • parking garages too small for a car, and
  • front doors that don't face the front

For all housing types in the low-rise zones we made code changes that will yield more sustainable building practices through the City's "green factor" requirements and by giving density perks for achieving LEED silver or the Built Green 4-Star rating.

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How do we spur new investment in the region's most intense transit hub while keeping iconic architecture and unique culturally-defined small businesses?

Over the past six months, we've focused on the neighborhoods of South Downtown (Pioneer Square, Chinatown, Japantown, Little Saigon, the Dearborn Corridor and the South of Charles area) devising ways to prompt new market-rate housing development, support existing businesses, clean up streets, find opportunities for open space and secure new affordable housing. Getting these kinds of changes right for any neighborhood is important. In these neighborhoods the work gets more complicated because of displacement fears, rent levels, cultural and historic preservation priorities, and more. Despite these challenges residents and business owners who love these neighborhoods have come forward to help build a plan. After several briefings on the proposal details in Chambers and a walking tour of the neighborhoods, we're waist deep in questions and analysis.

I hope to have COBE wade out of the South Downtown details in the early part of 2011.

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I make it a habit to get my committee out of City Hall once a quarter. This year we followed the work and ended up concentrated in the Central and North parts of the city. Next year we'll try to make up for that with meetings in Southeast and Southwest.


Taproot Theatre in Greenwood hosted our March COBE meeting to discuss changes to the Multifamily Code. Greenwood saw a big amount of new townhome development in the last building boom, so it was nice to host a public meeting out there on a Saturday morning to talk through issues relating to parking, building height, and design.

Councilmembers hear from the public at Taproot Theatre


We held a May meeting with several School Board members at Eckstein Middle School in the Ravenna neighborhood. I hear from parents frequently frustrated by school assignments and crowding. We decided we'd talk about the ways Seattle Public Schools and the city plan for growth. It was an illuminating discussion, and has already yielded improvements in data sharing.

The Council’s Committee on the Built Environment and the School Board’s Operations Committee discuss how we can better coordinate planning efforts


You can only learn so much by sitting in Council Chambers looking at maps before you're itching to stand in the area and look around. We walked South Downtown neighborhoods in July with Seattle Channel and neighborhood advocates to hear how the proposed zoning changes might impact the area.

Councilmembers Clark, Burgess, Bagshaw, and Godden talk with neighborhood residents while walking through South Downtown


This was a double header public hearing at the Wing Luke Asian Museum on a snowy, icy night in November for comments on both the proposed Multifamily Code Update and the South Downtown Neighborhoods legislation. By the time the weather changed on us I figured cancelling would ensure someone showed up to locked doors, so we forged ahead and alerted people we'd continue to take comments after the hearings. 80 people filled Wing Luke's great auditorium to discuss their priorities and how they'd like to see the legislation changed. The feedback resulted in changes to the Multifamily Code proposal and continues to drive the analysis of the South Downtown proposal.

Councilmembers, in the Wing Luke Asian Museum Auditorium, hear from people interested in the South Downtown Neighborhoods legislation

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In hindsight, maybe I’m being a little rough on 2010.  We accomplished some great things in committee and I was privileged to be part of great work – as well as celebrations – outside committee, too

We made great strides in planning for Seattle's waterfront through the hard work of staff, the volunteers of the Waterfront Partnerships Committee and our new lead designer, James Corner Field Works.

I pulled blackberries on a bright, cold, muddy day in Cheasty Greenbelt with eager and engaged Seattle U students.

We started down the path of becoming a "climate positive" city through the work of small advisory groups and a well- attended brown bag discussion in Chambers on what it might mean to pledge to carbon neutrality as a city.

I met with the woman with the amazing and slightly controversial Eastlake garden.

My office volunteered at the Seattle Animal Shelter to better understand how the shelter operates and the demands we place on it.

I travelled on scholarship with i-Sustain to Copenhagen and Stockholm to see what Seattle's future could look like when it comes to energy production, transportation planning and waste use.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and I met with Seattle area LGBT community service leaders in September to discuss community needs.

Seattle LGBT Roundtable

We passed a 2011-2012 budget that preserves human services spending and expands the number of winter shelter beds.

County Councilmember Larry Phillips and I convened farmers market operators and farmers in December to talk about the state of farmers markets in Seattle and King County.

Farmers Market Roundtable

I yelled, clapped, stomped and cheered for the Seattle Storm as they took the WNBA championship. Go Storm!

Just a few nights ago I watched, admittedly astonished, as the Huskies took down Nebraska is the Holiday Bowl.  Go figure!

This year promises to be tough again due to the economy. Seattle is full of people engaged in great civic work, though, making neighborhoods safer, healthier and sometimes just more fun. Thanks for being part of that work!

The Year of the Rabbit begins January 23.
Happy New Year,


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