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.
FORT LAWTON HOUSING AND PARK PLAN APPROVED
On Monday, September 22, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing the proposed plan for reuse of the Fort Lawton property adjacent to Discovery Park. The plan will now be submitted to the federal government for approval. If it is accepted, the City will be able to acquire these 28 acres for a mix of housing and park additions. Under the plan, 216 housing units will be developed, 85 of which will be for persons who are currently homeless, while approximately 7.6 acres of the site will be converted into park land, including the critical habitat adjacent to Kiwanis Ravine.
A few years ago, federal land adjacent to a Park could have been transferred as open space at little or no cost to the City. However, the current federal policy is governed by two requirements: that the Department of Defense realize significant financial benefits from the transfer, and that the plan include a provision for housing for the homeless under the McKinney Act. The City’s plan has been crafted to try to meet both of those requirements while also protecting critical habitat and adding park land where possible. If the City’s application is not accepted, then the Department of Defense would have the opportunity to put the land up for bid, and it could be bought by a private developer.
Based on communications with the federal government, the City believes that this application has the kind of balance that would make the proposal acceptable. The plan has been developed over a period of many months with full communication and involvement of the nearby community, as well as consultation with federal representatives.
Work with the adjacent property owners helped shape the design of the housing community, as well as the type and total number of housing units and of those dedicated to the formerly homeless. The plan includes a number of steps that will address the concerns of the nearby neighborhood, including a coordinated transportation plan and buffers, sidewalks, and traffic measures that will limit impacts on existing homes and streets.
The Council added amendments that state our intention to limit the number of homeless housing units to 85, that specify that the community will be involved in planning revisions to the intersection of Texas Way, 36th Avenue West, and W. Government Way, and that commit to consulting the community if the federal government asks for significant changes to the number of housing units or homeless units during negotiations.
The purchase of the Fort Lawton land is both a challenge and an opportunity for Seattle. The proposed plan for Fort Lawton is carefully crafted to balance the creation of a new neighborhood, the provision of housing for the homeless, and the addition of new park land, while ensuring that the adjacent community benefits from the new development.
Resolution 31086 can be found here.
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PUBLIC COMMENT MEETING ON TREE PROTECTION ORDINANCE
On Monday, November 24, I introduced Council Bill 116404, an ordinance to implement interim tree protection regulations. The Council will hold a public comment meeting on this ordinance on Monday, December 15, at 5:30 PM, in the Council Chambers at City Hall. Related documents and the ordinance can be reviewed on the Council’s website:
The Phinney Neighborhood Association has been operating a community center in the Allen School since 1981, paying a reduced rent to the School District reflecting the community benefits that they provide. The School District first sought to raise the rent closer to market value, but ultimately determined that it will not have a future need for the site, and in 2006 offered to sell the buildings to PNA. The District also agreed to offer the Crown Hill, Webster, University Heights, and Fauntleroy Schools to the community organizations that are currently occupying them.
These buildings are a very valuable asset to the community. For that reason, I recommended, and the Council agreed, setting aside $4 million in the 2007 budget as a first installment towards supporting the community purchase of four sites (Webster School is likely to be sold for housing purposes, as the Nordic Museum, which currently manages it, is moving to a new building, and the City has already purchased the adjacent park from the School District). In the 2008 budget, I recommended, and the Council agreed, adding another $3 million for PNA and University Heights, which were expected to be the first sites ready for purchase and probably have the highest prices. Both University Heights and Fauntleroy are still in negotiations. The Crown Hill building was approved by the School Board for purchase by the Small Faces Child Development Center for $1 million. The open space portion of the Crown Hill will be purchased by the City for $5 million using funds dedicated in the Pro Parks Levy.
House Speaker Frank Chopp has developed a state program to fund the community purchase of surplus schools, and $4.5 million was set aside for five Seattle sites in the 2008 state budget. In addition to the four already in community use, the MLK School in the Madison Valley has been designated for state funding, and the City is currently in the site review process to determine the future options for the community.
Council Bill 116323 can be reviewed here.
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MEGAHOUSE LEGISLATION PROTECTS TREES AND CHARACTER OF NEIGHBORHOODS
On Monday, October 6, the Council unanimously approved legislation I originated that changes the land use code to reduce the impact of ‘McMansions’ on Seattle neighborhoods – houses that are out of proportion with their neighbors and the size of their lots. The legislation also restricts ‘snout houses’ – houses where the garage is the predominant feature opening onto the sidewalk.
Major provisions included in the new legislation include 1) adjusting the formula for how much of a lot may be covered by the structure; 2) better protecting neighboring homeowners from being overshadowed by removing the provision that currently allows a house’s height to be based on neighboring property if it is taller than 30 feet; 3) Limiting the location and visibility of garage doors that face a street; 4) reducing how much extra height is allowed on sloped sites; and 5) waiving parking requirements on lots of less than 3,000 square feet, thereby reducing the prominence of a garage as part of a structure.
This new land use regulation will help ensure that new homes contribute positively to neighborhood character. It will also reduce the number of trees cut down to develop new houses, and address problems with blocking sunlight from neighboring homes. The legislation was initially proposed by neighborhood organizations, and I began working on it almost two years ago. At that time, the legislation included only three changes to the land use code.
However, the code is very complex and unintended consequences affecting single family zoning are always a risk. For that reason, as the legislation was discussed with neighborhood groups, the development community, and City staff, the three changes were replaced by a set of more sophisticated provisions. The new legislation focuses on making houses more height/bulk proportional, and adds the regulations on garage facades.
This legislation will resolve some of the problems with megahouses, but it is difficult to get at all of the issues without causing other potential problems. In addition to this legislation, the Council also approved a work plan for the Department of Planning and Development requesting review of other measures that might further improve the code and the character and compatibility of new houses without adversely affecting reasonable options for property owners.
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NEIGHBORHOOD PLAN UPDATE PROCESS TO GET UNDERWAY
On Monday, September 22, the Council unanimously approved legislation to start the process of updating Seattle’s neighborhood plans. Between 1996 and 1999, nearly 20,000 citizens collaborated with city staff and consultants to produce 38 neighborhood plans for urban villages and urban centers in Seattle. The plans identify actions needed to ensure that each neighborhood thrives as Seattle grows over time. The original plans had 20-year horizons. The update process provides the opportunity for neighborhoods to revisit the plans at about the mid-point of their life.
The process will begin with a review of the status of all plans. City staff will work with neighborhood residents and business people to gather information to create snapshots of each neighborhood compared to 10 years ago, including demographic shifts, zoning, housing units and affordability, transportation upgrades in the past 10 years, new parks, and a neighborhood plan implementation report. The status reports will help neighborhood advocates and the city recognize gaps and inform decisions about whether or how to update particular plans. A Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee, made of citizens appointed by the Mayor, Council and Neighborhood District Councils, will provide guidance to the updating process.
In 2009, updating work will begin with three neighborhoods in Southeast Seattle with light rail stations and significant multi-family and commercial area around them, Beacon Hill, McClellan and Othello. These three neighborhoods are expected to have major changes as a result of the completion of the light rail project, and have the highest priority for possible plan revision.
The update process approved by the Council is intended to carry forward the best elements of citizen engagement and partnership from the city-wide, national model planning effort of 10 years ago while bringing additional new voices into the mix. It will be a great opportunity for neighborhoods to look at where they are and what they want to be in the future.
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MAGNUSON BUILDING 11 AND 27 CONTRACTS: COUNCIL SECURES PUBLIC BENEFITS
On Monday, September 29, the City Council approved leases for Arena Sports at Building 27 and Building 11 LLC by votes of 8 to 1 (Godden voting no). The result of this action will be that the thousands of participants in Sail Sand Point and the other organizations currently housed in Building 11 will have a better home in the future, as will the 20,000 participants in Arena Sports programs.
In this legislation, the Council developed a number of explicit measures to ensure that the public interest is protected in a lease arrangement with a private company. These facilities are used by private organizations already, including some for-profit ones as well as individuals and non-profit organizations. The contracts will greatly increase the number of users, as well as ensuring that the buildings are renovated at no cost to the public. Completion of these contracts and the renovations will be an important part of realizing the vision of Magnuson Park as a place for a diverse array of parks and sports users, each of whom can find and engage in the activity that they are most interested in.
The legislation will result in the possible displacement of artists who currently occupy some of the space at Building 11. The lease for Building 11 does provide for artist studios as an encouraged use, so some of the artists are likely to be able to remain. The Parks Department will work with those who are unable to remain to identify alternative studio spaces. Almost every other current user will be able to continue to use the two buildings under the new contract arrangements.
The final contracts were developed after a long series of negotiations involving both Arena Sports and Building 27 and the future of Building 11. The Council had rejected an earlier proposal for Building 11 which did not meet the Council’s criteria for public benefits, and insisted that the agreement for both of these buildings must be consistent with the covenants ceding the land from the federal government to the city, that public benefits in the form of access and programming be maintained, and that Seattle get a good value from the commercial partners responsible for renovating and managing the facilities.
The final agreements with Arena Sports and Building 11 LLC meet those criteria. They are fair deals for the public, improve the vitality of the park, and provide the opportunity for thousands of people to participate in healthy recreation at a reasonable cost.
For Building 27:
- Arena Sports will invest approximately $6 million to create new permanent indoor athletic fields and maintain and manage the premises for at least twenty years. The agreement contains two five year renewal options.
- In exchange for making this investment in a public facility, the City will defer 77% of the base rent of $255,000 per year plus inflation based on a market study of comparable space.
- Arena Sports can earn an additional credit of up to 13% on their rent obligations by providing pre-approved public programs beyond those required.
- The City will collect 10% of the gross receipts of any commercial event that takes place in the building.
Arena Sports will provide public benefits valued at $500,000, which include giving non-profit organizations preferential status for reservations and use of the facility at a reduced rate during summer months, 500 hours of no-cost access to the facility each year for youth and senior organizations, an additional 150 hours each year for at-risk youth organizations, 30 additional hours for disabled youth soccer, 336 hours of no-cost access for small university soccer teams, and a 25% discount for 500 hours of use each year to be managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
For Building 11:
- The lease has a 30 year term with three 5-year extensions available to the lessee.
- Roughly 60% of the building is reserved for recreational purposes including artist studios, a daycare facility, and other services supporting recreation including restaurants.
- The Lessee will pay an annual base rent of $235,000 indexed to inflation or the growth rate of the overall building rents, whichever is larger.
- The City will also receive a 10% share of rents on the commercial portions of the building.
- 25,000 square feet, or about 40% of the building, is set aside for commercial purposes; this is primarily existing office space.
- Building 11 LLC may not sell the lease without the express consent of the Superintendent of Parks before the completion of year ten of the agreement. After year ten, the lease may be sold.
Building 11 LLC and Sail Sand Point have signed a 10 year sub-lease agreement which guarantees that space will be available to Sail Sand Point, a key point for the Council. Building 11 LLC must also provide public benefits equal to at least 10% of the annual rent. In order to qualify for the contract extensions, Building 11 LLC must provide additional public benefits totaling at least 23% of the total rent payments. Restaurant use is limited to a combined total of 10,000 square feet of the building with a maximum of 4 tenants and 2,500 square feet each. The lessee may offset a share of its capital expenses each year, but the offset is capped on an annual basis to ensure that the Parks Department receives net revenue each year.
Careful scrutiny and the Council’s determination to get a better deal for the City has resulted in a significantly improved agreement which both helps maintain public benefits and recreational purposes in the Park and results in a good economic deal for the City. It’s a true win-win result. These are great models for true public-private partnerships that benefit both sides and serve the public interest.
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OPEN SPACE AND AGRICULTURE DRAINAGE RATE ADOPTED
On Monday, September 29, the Council unanimously adopted a new rate structure for properties that are certified as agricultural or open space under the state’s property tax exemption program. The new rate slashes the drainage fee for such properties by some 90%.
The Council acted on this issue in response to concerns raised by the owners of Sferra Farms, a fifteen acre farm located in South Seattle. The revised drainage fee structure adopted a year ago, which was designed to better match the drainage fee to the actual impact on the drainage system, had resulted in an increase for Sferra Farms from less than $200 to more than $7000 annually. Unfortunately, the new rate structure had not taken into account the few large property owners who are helping the environment by maintaining green space and large tracts of undeveloped land that reduce the strain on our drainage system.
Fortunately, the Council was able to identify a way to determine which parcels in the City are dedicated to long term open space conservation, and design a rate that specifically applies to those parcels. Sixty-eight parcels in Seattle will receive drainage rate reductions through the new rate based on the state’s certification of use for agriculture or open space. The Sferra family farm will see its drainage rates fall from $7,616 a year in 2008 to approximately $665. Another agricultural property near the West Seattle Reservoir will see its drainage rates fall from $2753 a year to an estimated $853. All of the 68 parcels are currently enrolled in the "current use taxation" program authorized by the State of Washington and administered by King County to maintain agricultural, timber and open-space lands.
Drainage rates are based on a property’s impact on the drainage system. This impact is measured by the estimated amount of stormwater runoff which flows off of a property. Stormwater runoff is a function of the size of a parcel and what is covering it. Different types of cover absorb more water than other types. For example, an undeveloped landscaped piece of land will infiltrate more stormwater than a paved parking lot of the same size. Similarly, a 20,000 square feet parking lot will generate more run-off than a 10,000 square feet parking lot. To capture these differences, properties are assigned to rate categories which group properties with similar sizes and/or cover types. This new "open-space" drainage rate more accurately reflects the properties’ impact on the drainage system.
Our hope is that by relieving some of the fiscal burden of maintaining large undeveloped lots, we will be able to preserve the open space and agricultural uses for those properties.
A copy of Council Bill 116352 can be found here.
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PLASTIC BAG LEGISLATION UPDATE
King County Elections has certified that enough petition signatures have been gathered to require that the Green Fee on disposable bags go to a referendum vote. The 15,000 signatures were collected by paid signature gathers at a cost of $180,000. The signature gathering campaign was funded by the plastic industry through a lobbying arm called the American Chemistry Council.
Under the Seattle Charter, the legislation is now suspended, and will not go into effect on January 1 as planned. The Council is required to place the issue on the ballot either at the August primary or the November general election next year.
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REMINDER: CELEBRATION OF LOCAL FOOD OCTOBER 20
Local food activists will host a celebration of the growing abundance of our local food economy on Monday, October 20 at 5:30 PM at the Palace Ballroom in Belltown. Chef Tom Douglas will present a locally crafted 5-course menu, and speakers (I will be one of them) will briefly talk about the opportunities taking place in our region.
This is an opportunity to enjoy connecting with local farmers, community organizations and policy makers who are helping to revive local food and put initiatives forth to protect our farmland. It’s also a chance to share your ideas and learn how you can participate in the growing local food movement.
Seating is limited. Please purchase your tickets early to secure your reservation at Brown Paper Tickets. Tickets are $75 each.
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"Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth - more than ruin, more even than death… Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man."
-- Bertrand Russell
"The word 'experienced' often refers to someone who's gotten away with doing the wrong thing more frequently than others."
-- Laurence Gonzales
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.
Your Seattle City Councilmember
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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