Land Use -- background and issues
Aegis assisted living tower proposed for SE corner of Eastlake Avenue and E. Newton Street.
Aegis, a large company that operates assisted living and memory care facilities, is proposing a large project at the SE corner of Eastlake Ave. and E. Newton Street. The current height limitation of 40 feet would be increased by ten feet using a City incentive for being a “living building” that conserves energy, water, etc. To see a preliminary proposal, click here. A presentation by Aegis was featured at ECC’s public meeting on Wed., Nov. 9. Following the meeting, ECC received a Nov. 15 message from Aegis (click here).
Eastlake’s affordability livability, and character threatened by unbalanced City policies done in league with developers .
The Eastlake Community Council thanks Seattle Times’ Pacific Magazine for its sensitive Sept. 15, 2016 article about how the current frenzy of development is blocking views in Eastlake. While the article focused on how homeowners and renters are losing their own views, we would emphasize that also being lost are public views from parks and sidewalks. And of course, the loss of views is one of many consequences of hyperdevelopment. As outlined in this section and the sections in the column at right about parking, HALA, and the Comp Plan, there are many other losses: in the sacrifice of affordable rentals are being sacrificed; the loss of yards and large trees; the loss of street parking from overbuilding and because the City no longer requires parking in new residential or office buildings. And so on.
How City land use policies affect new projects in Eastlake, and how you can get involved
City policies are fueling a land rush more destructive than any in Eastlake’s 130-year history. How did they get so bad? Not by accident–in fact mayors and city councilmembers have wanted this result. The claim is to increase housing affordability and reduce car ownership and use, but the impact is to reduce affordability and upset the transportation balance. What are these reckless changes and how to reverse them?
All residential land in Eastlake has been zoned low-rise multifamily since the first zoning in the 1920s. (Houseboats are single-family zoned). Multifamily projects can also be built on some commercially zoned land. For the current zone of any lot: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Research/Zoning_Maps/default.asp. While Eastlake has experienced a steady expansion of multifamily housing, until the past few years the pace of growth was kept within reason by stable City laws and regulations.
In recent years, the Mayor and City Council (almost all of whom live in single family zoned areas insulated from these changes) have increased allowable building height, bulk, and scale and reduced required yards, fire safety, elevators, on-site parking, and public and environmental review, and eliminated limits on the number of living units for each lot. The Eastlake Community Council rallied the neighborhood and worked with others across Seattle to fight these changes (see, the Sept./Oct. 2010 Eastlake News, in the section at right), sometimes staving off worse ones.
In these changes, our elected officials ignored and undermined neighborhood plans they claim to support (Eastlake’s plan, also on our web site and the City’s, seeks to preserve our scale, character, and diversity and to re-use existing structures rather than wipe them away). They turned Eastlake’s “low-rise” designation almost into a “mid-rise” zone without admitting it. The speculative frenzy they encouraged is eating up Eastlake’s most affordable units, its older apartments. It is blocking views, eliminating trees and open space, and endangering on-street parking.
Parking . Eastlake’s land rush is worsening the already fierce competition for on-street parking places. Eastlakers are among the highest users of transit and bicycles, but motor vehicle parking isn’t just a frill. Whether or not one owns a car, visitors’ and service vehicles need a place to park; and our local businesses can’t survive without on-street parking. Eastlake is inherently short of on-street parking, hemmed in by Lake Union, the Ship Canal, and I-5. There are few parking spaces on Boylston Ave. E., and Eastlake Avenue has a peak-period, peak direction parking restriction.
Over the objections of ECC and groups in other neighborhoods, in 2011 the Mayor and City Council eliminated a generations-old requirement for new residential buildings to include on-site parking. They claimed that our bus service allows excellent alternatives to driving, and that the real estate market will ensure that new buildings have enough on-site parking. It did not matter that Eastlake’s bus service is not all it should be, and is vulnerable to cuts from King County Metro’s ongoing budget crisis; or that developers have a short-term profit motive to free ride on the common resource of on-street parking and exit with their windfall before the insufficiency of parking becomes most dramatic.
For much more detail on parking issues in Eastlake, please click in right column on this web site’s parking page.
Ditching public and environmental review. State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requirements for transportation and environmental analysis and for public notice, comment, and appeal have helped ensure that new building projects are sustainable for Eastlake and acceptable to the public. So of course the Mayor and Council have exempted ever-bigger projects from these requirements, including projects in the maximum residential zone (L-3) that have 8 or fewer units despite their very real impacts on the fragile streetscape.
Housing goals: bait and switch. Eastlake’s overheated construction is sacrificing human scale, open space, views, and affordability despite our long ago having reached the housing targets agreed to with the City. Seattle’s 1994 Comprehensive Plan and the 1998 Eastlake Neighborhood Plan, established a 2014 target of 380 additional housing units, and we reached that target 15 years early–faster than any neighborhood except Wallingford. The Comp Plan promised neighborhoods reaching their housing targets a pause to allow parks, streets, and other improvements to catch up and for consultation between the City and neighborhood about whether further housing increases would be sustainable.
By the time Eastlake reached its adopted housing targets, the Mayor and City Council (of course!) had repealed the promises in the Comp Plan, and without public participation or livability improvements, have steadily raised our housing targets so we never catch up, with no pause to weigh the sustainability of future increases. The City is like the Peanuts character Lucy who snatches away the football whenever Charlie Brown (Eastlake) is about to kick it. Until an honest system of housing targets is established, the moving targets will continue to damage our neighborhood’s livability and its trust in government.
Towers threaten lake views. Over the opposition of ECC, other community groups and our iconic ally the Space Needle, the City Council in 2013 largely passed Mayor McGinn’s vast increase in allowable building heights south and southeast of Lake Union to 400 feet on Denny, 240 feet north to Mercer, 160 feet between Mercer and Valley, and a 40 foot increase to 125 feet near the Lake Union shoreline along Fairview Avenue North south of Galer Street. Views and sunlight have been privatized, with heights near the lake higher than along much of the downtown waterfront! The Mayor and City Council failed future generations that their predecessors had thought of in protecting to this point visual access to our precious lake amidst the city.
Mixed results in 2015 from City Council in responding to needed adjustments in how Land Use Code addresses low-rise housing development
In October, 2014, thanks to the efforts many neighborhood advocates including ECC, the Department of Planning and Development proposed to the City Council excellent reforms to the Land Use Code that would roll back disruptive “unintended” changes that (over opposition from ECC and others) the City Council had adopted regarding the low-rise zones (townhouses, apartment and condominiums). Unfortunately, DPD worked with Councilmember Mike O’Brien (chair of the planning and land use committee) on what they characterized as “tweaks” or “minor” changes to the October 2014 proposals but turned out to be poison pills that thwarted needed protections for neighborhood livability and character.
Following are the citizen proposals that, for the most part, the City council turned down, some of them narrowly: (1) Eliminate exemptions for additional 4’ of height allowance for a partially below grade story; (2) Require minimum 3.5’ side setback (so there is a meaningful side yard); (3) Set a standard for height of street-facing façade to ensure that the structure is no higher than 44’ above the sidewalk within 12’ of the street; (4) Include unenclosed exterior stairs, hallways and breezeways in the floor-area-ratio calculation, with no exemptions allowed; (5) Include floor area of loft spaces, or any finished interior space with a floor-to-ceiling clearance greater than 36” in the gross floor area calculation; (6) Establish a 0.85 rounding threshold for density calculations for all LR zoned lots regardless of lot size; (7) Require design review (streamlined or better) for all new developments that include at least three units; (8) Require minimum 15’ setback at front of property; and (9) Require minimum 17’ setback at rear of property (reduced setbacks are reducing yards to a point when only the smallest of trees are feasible.
Micro-housing. The Eastlake Neighborhood Plan supports affordable housing, but in in a way that is safe and sustainable, such as with the “small efficiency dwelling units” allowed under the Land Use Code and regulated by DPD Director’s Rule 6-2004. Instead, in the past few years, two Mayors and the City Council were promoting “micro-housing” (trademarked by one developer as “apodments”). Per square foot, these buildings have much higher rents and profits than apartments but they lower the actual rent often with inadequate or no kitchens, substandard bedrooms, no on-site parking or loading, and inadequate fire exits. Too often, residents absorb additional costs because of the need to dine out, and because of the lack of on-site laundry facilities.
Some microhousing projects exploited a loophole (created by the Department of Planning and Development in consultation with developers and cleared with the Mayor and some City Councilmembers but not brought to public for discussion). It misused the Land Use Code’s allowance of boarding houses with up to eight separately leasable units and a shared kitchen, by combining many such “boarding houses” into one building but claiming only one official housing unit per “boarding house.”
The effect of this charade was to evade a whole range of important requirements by getting in under thresholds that would normally apply to their dozens of separately leasable units: (1) SEPA requirements for environmental and transportation analysis and for public notice, comment, and appeal (2) design review based on citywide and neighborhood standards; (3) the requirement that each unit in a building over three stories have two fire exits, not just one; (4) the requirement for an elevator, ensuring accessibility by people with disabilities; (5) sufficient bicycle parking, because they are required to have only one bicycle parking space per official housing unit, not per each separately leasable unit; (6) far more separately leased units were resulting than the moderate increases that the Mayor and City Council (who refused to do an environmental impact statement to back up their claims) said would occur after their 2011 changes in the multifamily portions of the Land Use Code; and yet (7) these increases were not counted toward the neighborhood’s housing target, which is based on official units, not separately leasable units.
The developers were piling on these projects because the loophole greatly reduces their requirements; but these requirements are needed for livability and public safety. The City Council began to consider public concerns, but it refused to pass a moratorium on these projects while it looked at improved regulation. Worse, the legislation it was considering from two Mayors and the Department of Planning and Development would have cemented into place the existing misguided microhousing policies, and would have worsened them in important ways. DPD ignored extensive public input that objected to earlier outlines and drafts of its proposed legislation.
On Oct. 29, 2013 along with other organizations and individuals citywide, ECC appealed to the City’s Hearing Examiner the very weak reasoning and even weaker legislation that DPD was proposing to address the negative neighborhood impacts of microhousing. For documents about the appeal, go to the Hearing Examiner’s web site. While this appeal was not ultimately upheld by the Hearing Examiner, it uncovered crucial documentation that helped convince the City Council to reject the DPD legislation and craft its own. ECC was able to work with a coalition of other neighborhood groups throughout Seattle to turn the City Council around on microhousing.
Coalition gets City Council to curb some congregate and microhousing abuses
A citywide coalition of neighborhood groups including the Eastlake Community Council prevailed against a developer coalition to stop Mayor Murray and the Department of Planning and Development from exempting microhousing and congregate housing projects from land use and public health rules that apply to apartments. The City Council on Oct. 6, 2014 unanimously passed Ordinance 124608 which prohibits boarding houses with tiny, kitchenless sleeping rooms such as in the controversial 2371 Franklin Ave. E. project.
The new law redefines microhousing units as being “small efficiency dwelling units” which are not allowed to be less than 220 square feet (compared to the previous average of 150 square feet). Each must have a kitchen area with a sink, separate from the sink in the bathroom (a requirement called for by the King County Board of Public Health). Existing boarding house units and the new efficiency apartments would each be allowed only one restricted parking zone (RPZ) permit for on-street parking. The projects would no longer be exempted from design review or from public notice, comment, or appeal under the State Environmental Policy Act when the same size as a proposed apartment or condo building.
The new law continues to allow “congregate residences” with smaller sleeping rooms and shared kitchens, but greatly increases the square footage required for the kitchens and other common features, including bicycle parking. It also prohibits congregate housing in the low-rise residential zones (including all of Eastlake’s residential zones) unless owned by a college, university, sorority, fraternity or other non-profit, or unless licensed by the state to provide on-site supportive services for seniors or persons with disabilities. Projects like the controversial 2820 Eastlake Avenue congregate housing project that is now under construction cannot be repeated in Eastlake and other neighborhoods. The new law also limits RPZ on-street parking
permits in congregate housing projects to one per sleeping room.
It was not a good sign that Mayor Murray refused to sign the ordinance; he did not attempt a veto because the City Council passed it unanimously and would easily have overridden it. Murray recently appointed a Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee with inadequate representation
from neighborhoods. In the past, affordability has been the excuse for weakened regulation and for redevelopment very destructive for Eastlake and our remaining affordable rentals. ECC will be watching this situation very closely, as developers are already trying to undo what we have achieved. ECC is supportive of efforts to expand affordable housing and believes that these efforts will be most successful if they involve early and continuous cooperation with neighborhoods.
The October 2014 reforms in microhousing policy show what is possible when the Eastlake Community Council works with other neighborhood groups across the city. Without these changes in the law, projects like 2371 Franklin and 2820 Eastlake (both of which became poster children citywide for the abuses under the old law) would have been repeated in Eastlake and elsewhere. ECC thanks its board member Linda Alexander, who is also a developer and attorney, for her key role on an advisory committee that convinced the City Council to make these historic changes. And we thank all who contributed to ECC’s land use fund, which is crucial in supporting our efforts to promote wise land use policies and projects. Donations are more needed than ever and can be made on-line at http://eastlakeseattle.org or by check to the ECC and mailed to ECC at 117 E. Louisa St. #1, Seattle, WA 98102-3278.
Proposed redevelopment of the Red Robin site, 3272 Fuhrman Avenue East
Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development is now considering a master use application for a primarily residential building on the former Red Robin site at 3272 Fuhrman Avenue East, extending downhill to Portage Bay Place East and abutting the University Bridge. The Eastlake Community Council hosted a public meeting (at ECC’s invitation, the Portage Bay/Roanoke Park Community Council was co-host) about the project on Feb. 2, 2015 featuring a presentation by the project’s architect, Bradley Khouri, who can be reached at email@example.com or (206)297-1284. At the meeting, many adjacent residents expressed concerns about the project’s potential impacts.
The City on July 30, 2015 received a petition signed by 152 people stating: “we oppose the project as currently proposed and urge that it be redesigned and resubmitted to reduce its scale and impacts.” The petition also requested that DPD hold a public meeting in the neighborhood about the project. DPD held that meeting on Sept. 17, and virtually everyone who spoke found the project wanting in many respects. The City has also received an unusually high number of written public comments, many of them critical of its potential impacts and questioning the quality of the analysis offered in its defense.
An organization, Portage Bay Place Neighbors and Friends, has been formed by those who are concerned about the future of Portage Place East, a narrow country lane with shoreline views that is much-loved by many who know it. The contact person is Margaret Chon, firstname.lastname@example.org, (206)755-3101, and the donations coordinator is David Black, email@example.com, 206-322-1015. In a July 30, 2015 letter to DPD which was also sent to the Eastlake Community Council, the organization writes: “We want to make clear at the outset that we are not anti-development. We are pro-safety and community. We welcome change for the better in our neighborhood, but we are concerned that the proposed project will make a challenging situation in our neighborhood far worse. Portage Bay Place East is a fragile and often congested dead-end roadway, accessible through a narrow entry point under the University Bridge. We are very worried and concerned about the safety not only of the homes themselves in case of fire, but also of pedestrians, bicycllsts and vehicles along Portage Bay Place East. … We reiterate that the revised project proposal currently under review affects the very viability and safety of the surrounding neighborhood, and is not substantially different from the initial proposal.”
ECC encourages everyone to inform themselves about this important project, to provide their comments to the City, and to get involved in other ways. ECC also welcomes suggestions on what its own position and role should be regarding the project proposal. To view the project documents (which include more than 150 individual comment letters or e-mails), click here and type in the project #19844. On how and where to send a comment, click here.
ECC gets improvements in 2820 Eastlake Ave. project
While the October 2014 improvements outlined above that ECC helped achieve in microhousing regulation are most heartening, it was disappointing that the City Council waited several years to make them and in the meantime refused to adopt a moratorium, allowing oversized and ill-equipped projects to go forward unregulated. Faced with this situation, and with the legal help made possible by many generous donors, the Eastlake Community Council in May 2014 launched administrative and court challenges to a seven-story project at 2820 Eastlake Ave. for 113 “congregate” bed-bath units (none with its own kitchen, and with only two undersized “shared” kitchens) on a site that would otherwise allow no more than 14 apartments. ECC filed a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) appeal and a Superior Court filing regarding the project.
But donations did not keep up with the legal costs, and ECC found that a loophole in City law (closed by the October legislation, which was not applicable to this project because it had applied under the old and inadequate laws) allowed outright these bed-bath units without their own kitchens or on-site parking–even unlimited legal spending could not stop the project. So ECC got proactive, negotiating a favorable deal for dropping the cases, with the developer agreeing to the following enforceable improvements: (1) convert five bed-bath units to apartments by adding their own kitchens; (2) convert four bed-bath units to shared kitchens, including three new ones and an expansion of one of the two originally proposed; thus there will be a shared kitchen on each floor except on the fourth (alley level) floor where it is a “wet bar” (no stove); (3) provide tenants three covered parking places around the clock in the Eastlake Center building across the street; (4) provide an on-street loading zone on the north side of Hamlin St. and (5) move mailboxes from the 4th floor (adjacent to alley) to the first floor entry courtyard (adjacent to Eastlake Avenue).
While not earth-shaking, these changes were the best the neighborhood could get without the stronger law, now adopted, which will apply to future projects. (The developer refused ECC’s efforts to add kitchens to all the bed-bath units and to provide at least some on-site parking and loading spaces.)
Your donations are needed to keep ECC strong and active. The legal battle over the 2820 Eastlake Ave. congregate housing project cost almost $20,000. To continue ECC’s unmatched program of community service and events, and to be ready for the next land use battle, we must rebuild our treasury. Checks made out to ECC can be mailed or hand delivered c/o Lake Union Mail, Box #1, Seattle 98102-3278. Or please donate online by going to the column at right. Thank you!
Two other projects that escaped the Oct. 2014 microhousing reforms: project at 2371 Franklin Ave. E. was built despite ECC objections, while proposed project at 2719 Yale Terrace East was changed to eliminate microhousing aspects
While the Eastlake Community Council was working with the ultimately successful citywide coalition that got needed changes in microhousing regulation (see above articles), the project at 2820 Eastlake Ave. was not the only microhousing proposal rushing to exploit the loopholes were were trying to get the City Council to close. On June 28, 2012, ECC wrote the director of Seattle’s Dept. of Planning and Development a letter that can be found by clicking here, opposing the project at 2371 Franklin Ave. E., just two doors away from TOPS-Seward School. Click here for the August 2, 2012 letter that ECC received in response from Diane Sugimura, the director of the Department of Planning and Development. Despite our efforts, the 39-unit project was built, and became a poster child in the successful effort to adopt better legislation.
ECC was successful in helping to ward off another microhousing project proposed for 2719 Yale Terrace East which sought to exploit the loopholes that were later closed by the City Council. ECC submitted the 100+ signature petitions that required DPD to hold the Wed., Sept. 25, 2013 public meeting about the project . And on Oct. 2, 2013, ECC paid $2500 for up to ten hours of work by Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and committed to pay for more hours if needed to produce a Land Use Code Interpretation regarding the number of units in the proposed project. The developer claimed only 8 dwelling units but ECC believed that DPD’s Code Interpretation staff would rule that the project had 40 dwelling units, and hence be subject to the many regulations that they were trying to evade. . proposed for 2719 Yale Terrace E The project became frozen while the developers contemplated the likelihood that their project would be invalidated
The numbers are important because of requirements that apply only to projects with more units (especially the State Environmental Policy Act’s requirements for public notice, comment, and appeal, and analysis of transportation, parking, and fire safety; design review by a citizen board also kicks in at the higher numbers). In the only Code Interpretation so far issued about a microhousing project (on Capitol Hill), DPD ruled that the proposed project has 56 dwelling units rather than the 7 claimed by the developer. That developer is challenging DPD in court, and ECC is ready to help DPD fight such a challenge if it rules as we expect here.
ECC’s land use efforts also address other projects, and seek more reasonable City laws and rules than now govern. and the Oct. 29 public meeting about the microhousing project proposed for 2820 Eastlake Ave. (#3014488). To view comments by ECC and others about the original project proposal and compare that proposal with the revised proposal announced on Jan. 8, 2015, click here and type in #3015227.
ECC is a volunteer organization, so donations go far. Checks made out to ECC may be hand delivered or mailed to ECC, 117 E. Louisa St. #1, Seattle, WA 98102-3278. Or donate by credit card or debit card at on this web site by going to the section at right on “How to join, donate, or volunteer.” For your donation to go specifically to ECC’s land use efforts, please write “land use” on the memo line of your check or in the “suggest something new” box on the web site. And your suggestions and energy are always welcome. Volunteers are particularly needed to help review the many projects that developers are proposing nowadays; and to write and lobby the City Council. Please volunteer via the web site (no membership dues or donation needed), or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Transit Communities” Comprehensive Plan amendment. Adding insult to injury, in 2013 the City Council adopted an amendment to the Comp Plan to encourage further increased building height, bulk, and scale in “transit communities”–neighborhoods deemed to have excellent transit. Will Eastlake suffer this designation and its consequences?
L3 zone building heights. Despite fervent opposition from ECC and other neighborhoods, the City Council in 2012 adopted height increases for L3 zones (much of our neighborhood east of Yale Ave. E.) that, for example, allowed the grossly overheight 5-story microhousing project at 2371 Franklin Ave. E. The citywide backlash has been so great that the City Council is considering modest reductions in the previous increases, but the proposed changes would not have been enough to prevent the 2371 Franklin disaster. For information on the City’s proposed revisions in L3 zone building heights, see the DPD web site at http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/codesrules/changestocode/lowrisecorrections/whatwhy/default.htm.
Ensuring shops, restaurants, and other customer services on Eastlake Avenue. An important bolster for the Eastlake business district has been the Neighborhood Commercial zoning along Eastlake Avenue which under the Land Use Code requires that the first floor facing the street be built for and occupied by shops, restaurants, or other customer services. While these spaces are not always occupied, the required supply has helped keep rents affordable for these businesses. Developers and building owners want these requirements dropped and the City Council almost did drop them in 2012 before ECC joined with other neighborhoods to ask for a study which is now in progress. Dropping the requirement would allow developers and building owners to line Eastlake Avenue with office buildings and apartments/condos with no few shops, restaurants, or other customer services at street-level.
The Eastlake Community Council seeks your input on this issue. The only parts of Eastlake Avenue currently required to have on-street shops, restaurants, and other customer services are the blocks between Lynn and Edgar Streets, between the University Bridge and Allison Street, and the corners by Boston Street and by Hamlin Street. Should those areas continue to be required to have on-street shops, restaurants, and customer services, and should this requirement be extended to any other sections of Eastlake Avenue? Should on-street businesses be encouraged all along Eastlake Avenue, or should zoning seek to confine them to a few “nodes?”
At this point, the City is not considering any expansion of the current required locations for on-street shops, restaurants, and customer services, so it is urgent for us to recommend such study if it is warranted. Background is on the City web site at http://bit.ly/19Tb4Rc. Please let ECC know your questions or wishes by writing to email@example.com.
Conclusion. What can be done to reverse the City’s recent blows to Eastlake’s livability and affordability? Three steps seem clear.
(1) Change the minds of the City Council. Oppose the “HALA” proposals (see top of this section) that would dramatically increase the allowable height and bulk of new commercial and residential buildings. Urge rollback of recent expansions in the height, bulk, and scale of buildings and recent reductions in required yards, fire safety, elevators, and on-site parking. Councilmembers (write them individually, not as a group) can be reached by e-mail; by U.S. mail at PO Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025; and by fax at 206-684-8587. Names and e-mails are firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org. Please share with ECC your message and any City Councilmember’s reply–send to ECC at email@example.com, or c/o ECC at 117 E. Louisa St. #1, Seattle 98102-3278.
(2) Change who’s in public office. The officials who destroyed the safeguards that made Eastlake’s growth sustainable shouldn’t get off easily. They–and we–can do better. Please get involved and whomever you support, urge reversal of the policies fueling Eastlake’s destructive land rush.
(3) Volunteer with the ECC. Help the Eastlake Community Council comment on land use projects and get improvements in the law and regulations. Volunteer at ECC’s web site, http://eastlakeseattle.org, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by U.S. mail to ECC, 117 E. Louisa St. #1, Seattle, WA 98102-3278. Questions and suggestions are welcome and needed.