The HALA attack on Eastlake

August 7 deadline to comment on draft environmental impact statement about the Mayor’s proposed increase in building heights for Eastlake and other neighborhoods To review the environmental impact statement or to comment on it on-line, click here. Notably, its Exhibit 2.8 (page 2.25) is grossly mistaken in claiming that Eastlake residents have a low risk of displacement. Most Eastlake residents are renters whose buildings are more likely to be demolished under the Mayor’s plan, to be replaced by luxury buildings likely beyond their means. The housing fees the Mayor would charge for this additional development capacity will build subsidized housing elsewhere–and only for the poorest. The middle class who find Eastlake affordable today would be driven out by the Mayor’s proposal.

For other weaknesses in the EIS, click here for ECC’s Sept. 9 letter with suggestions for the EIS that the City largely ignored. Also, see the report by InvestigateWest on tree loss in urban villages like Eastlake and how “Livability” (the L in HALA) is being ignored.

City Council members, and the candidates for Mayor and Cit7y Council, need to hear your views on the current Mayor’s proposal to increase building heights on every residential and commercial land lot in Eastlake.

Whatever your views, it is important to exercise your rights as a citizen by communicating with our elected Mayor and City Councilmembers. And please send a copy to the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org. Doing so alerts ECC to your concerns so we can keep you informed and involved about follow-up.

Mayor Ed Murray does not accept comments from the public by e-mail, requiring that electronic communication be via a web site, http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/get-involved/contact-the-mayor; the system will reject any message of more than about 500 words. You can also reach Mayor Murray by letter (which can be longer!) at 600 Fourth Avenue, 7th floor, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749, or by fax at 206-684-5360. The Mayor’s reception phone is 206-684-4000.

Be sure to communicate with the nine City Councilmembers individually, rather than by a group e-mail or letter (which is far less likely to be heeded). The City Council e-mail addresses are as follows: sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov, tim.burgess@seattle.gov, rob.johnson@seattle.gov, bruce.harrell@seattle.gov, lisa.herbold@seattle.gov, mike.obrien@seattle.gov, lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov, debora.juarez@seattle.gov, and kshama.sawant@seattle.gov.

You can also reach the City Councilmembers by letter at 600 Fourth Avenue, 2nd floor, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025, or by fax at 206-684-8587. Each Councilmember also has a voice mail number listed at http://www.seattle.gov/council or by calling 206-684-8888.

Affordability and livability could both be trashed in Eastlake

Over strong opposition from the Eastlake Community Council and other groups (in column at right, see section on land use in Eastlake for some of the history), Mayors and City Councils in recent years have increased allowable building height and bulk and eliminated yard requirements, inviting rapacious growth that is destroying affordability and livability. Mayor Murray and some City Councilmembers now are pushing this process to a destructive new level with a proposal to impose on Eastlake and other urban villages an increase in allowable building heights by up to two stories .

For the City’s specific zoning and height increases proposed for different lots in Eastlake and other “urban villages” (released on Oct. 19, 2016), click here. For a collection of links on the HALA upzones and their background, click here. For a one-page citywide summary released in 2016 of the proposed increases in height and floor-area-ratio for different zones around the city, click here. The Eastlake Community Council is analyzing these proposals and welcomes your input about them, to info@eastlakeseattle.org.

In November, 2016, the City of Seattle released an analysis purporting to show the economic feasibility of its proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability program (click here. In fact the report shows the opposite. The City report is lengthy (28 pages) and in writing it the City was loathe to acknowledge how its own report uncovered serious flaws in the MHA program. Thus a citywide public interest committee of neighborhood leaders and local developers (including Linda Alexander, Cindi Barker, Bill Bradburd, Marty Liebowitz, Anna Nissen, Dennis Saxman and Irene Wall) conducted an independent analysis of the program; click here for this critique, which was released in January 2017. It distills the City report down to 6 major flaws showing that the program will not perform as projected.

Eastlake renters will be particularly hard hit, receiving little or none of the resulting subsidized housing–which in any case would go only to the very poorest and would be located in parts of Seattle far away. No one with a moderate income would receive subsidized housing. Fees collected from developers in cash-cow Eastlake would subsidize rents in other parts of the City, while the frenzy of development attracted to Eastlake by the increased building size would not be affordable and would cause the destruction of most of Eastlake’s remaining older buildings with currently affordable rents. The results would be neither affordable nor livable, and would worsen an already unsustainable parking situation.

Background In the Mayor’s “Grand Bargain” deal with private and non-profit developers, cooked up behind closed doors without involvement or even notice to neighborhood advocates or the press, a small fraction of the profits from this growth juggernaut would allow developers to buy out of having to build any affordable housing. Their modest housing fee (far less than in other cities using this scheme) would become a slush fund for non-profit housing developers to build subsidized housing for available only to those with incomes 60 percent or below the Seattle median income). But little or none would be built in Eastlake because most projects would still need county, state, and federal money that is conditioned on keeping per-unit construction costs lower than is feasible with Eastlake’s high and growing property values.

The proposed FAR and height increases are part of a supposed “grand bargain” that was cooked up behind closed doors and pushed through the Mayor’s so-called Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee. Contrary to that committee’s name, the proposals would undermine Eastlake’s affordability and livability—not surprising considering that the committee was ludicrously overloaded with development industry sympathizers who will profit from that result.

The only concession that the Mayor and City Council have made to public outrage over this unseemly process has been to promise not to change to multifamily zones any of the single family zoned land that is not located in a designated urban center or urban village like Eastlake. This cynical departure from what has otherwise been portrayed as an indivisible “package” should have invalidated any “grand bargain,” but of course the advocates are choosing instead to push the additional development pressures on Eastlake and other multifamily zoned neighborhoods that are not equally protected.

Central to the HALA proposals from Mayor Murray and some City Councilmembers would be a major increase in the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) allowed in “residential urban villages” like Eastlake. FAR may seem arcane, but the proposed increase would translate into height increases of at least ten feet and possible twenty feet or more in the multifamily and commercial zones that comprise most of Eastlake’s land. These changes could destroy much of Eastlake’s remaining affordability and livability–and yet were proposed by a “Housing Affordability and Livability” advisory committee (nicknamed HALA). To see the map that has all Eastlake land proposed for much bigger buildings than currently allowed, click here. For background from the City’s point of view, click here.

On August 15, 2016, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance authorizing these “affordability” requirements–but the gesture will mean nothing unless a zoning ordinance allows the increased building heights and footprints. (For the official line, see the web site of the City Council’s Committee on Planning, Land Use & Zoning (http://www.seattle.gov/council/committees/planning-land-use-and-zoning).

It may never happen, because the City is embarking on a required environmental impact statement (EIS) that will examine whether affordability or livability actually would benefit. Go figure: Whatever large trees still exist on private land would be wiped away as boxy new buildings take over. Eastlake’s remaining moderately affordable rentals would fall to up-scale development as our neighborhood becomes a sacrifice area and cash cow for building subsidized housing elsewhere for those on lowest incomes. Let us hope that the EIS is thorough and not politically driven.

City’s EIS is now in progress on whether to allow increased height and footprint of new residential and commercial buildings for the claim of affordable housing

Under the State Environmental Policy Act, the City of Seattle is required to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) about the Land Use Code ordinance that some City officials and some in the development industry want as a way toward highly profitable increases in height and floor area of new residential and commercial buildings.

The legislation would impose on urban villages or centers like Eastlake (which is classified as a residential urban village) a height increase of one or two stories and an increase in building footprint (reduced “setbacks” — no longer yards of any meaningful size). In exchange, new projects would either provide some affordable units on site (don’t bet on it) or would buy themselves out with a modest housing fee into a City fund to help non-profit housing developers build subsidized housing (available only to those with incomes 60 percent or below the Seattle median income). On Sept. 9., 2016, ECC sent to the City a four-page letter with HALA EIS scoping comments. To see it, click here. We will provide progress reports here about the EIS as they become available.

Contacting the City Councilmembers

As mentioned above, the City Council needs to hear from you. Be sure to communicate with the nine City Councilmembers individually, rather than by a collective e-mail or letter (which is far less likely to be heeded). The e-mail addresses are as follows: sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov; tim.burgess@seattle.gov; lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov; bruce.harrell@seattle.gov; lisa.herbold@seattle.gov; rob.johnson@seattle.gov; debora.juarez@seattle.gov; mike.obrien@seattle.gov; and kshama.sawant@seattle.gov. You can also reach the City Councilmembers by letter at 600 Fourth Avenue, 2nd floor, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025, or by fax at 206-684-8587. Please cc the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org, so we can keep you in the loop as these debates continue to heat up.

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