The Urbanist was founded in early 2014 in order to examine and influence urban policies. We believe that cities provide unique opportunities for addressing many of the most difficult problems we face. Our website serves as a resource for promoting and disseminating ideas, creating community, and improving the places we live in.
In this piece, we are circling back to cover significant housing and land use bills that passed and those that came up short. We will have one final piece focusing on environmental bills to round out our coverage of the busy legislative session.
House Bill 1219 gives an option to cities and counties fully planning under the Growth Management Act to use a portion of the real estate excise tax (REET 2) for affordable and homelessness housing. Through January 1, 2026, a city or county may use $100,000 or 25% of available funding, but no more than $1 million to fund homelessness and affordable housing projects. The limitation on funding does not apply if homelessness housing is to be provided prior to June 30, 2019.
House Bill 1377 will require cities and counties fully planning under the Growth Management Act provide a density bonus for low-income affordable housing residential development on properties owned by religious organizations. Certain conditions apply to when the density bonus is applicable.
House Bill 1406 creates a new set of local sales and use taxes that cities and counties can impose to fund the creation of affordable and supportive housing. The additional maximum tax rate ranges between 0.0146% and 0.0073% depending upon when and what jurisdiction imposes the tax. The local tax option will be imposable for up to 20 years after enactment.
House Bill 1462 requires landlords to provide written notice to a tenant at least 21 days before termination of tenancy whenever the tenant’s unit or premises will be demolished, substantially rehabilitated, or change use. The bill does not apply in jurisdictions that have a relocation assistance program for affected tenants meeting RCW 59.18.440 and requiring at least 120 days notice.
House Bill 1923 allows qualifying cities to more easily enact a spectrum of urban residential housing options and increase development capacity. The bill modifies the Growth Management Act and State Environment Policy Act, reducing appeals and process of local jurisdiction seeking to reform zoning and land use regulations that fall within the scope of encouraged density increase approaches. Cities will not be able to block permanent supportive housing wherever multifamily housing is permitted. Local jurisdictions are also eligible for grants from the state when enacting laws that implement the bill. See our earlier reporting on the bill by Natalie Bicknell last month.
Senate Bill 5334 modifies the condominium liability laws in such a way that it could induce interest in multifamily condominium developments again.
Senate Bill 5025 will create an exemption from the real estate excise whenever an affordable homeownership facilitator of self-help housing sells such real estate to a low-income household. Self-help housing is considered to be housing where members of the low-income household provided labor in the construction of the housing.
Senate Bill 5183 deals with mobile home park policies. It expands relocation assistance allowances for households displaced from mobile home parks, extends a real estate excise tax exemption for the sale of mobile home parks to affordable housing providers, preemptions cities and towns from prohibiting mobile homes on existing lots solely on the basis of noncompliance with separation and setback requirements, and makes minor updates the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act.
Senate Bill 5383 is designed to encourage tiny houses. Cities and counties will be able to allow the division of land through the binding site plan process in authorizing sites for tiny houses. Cities and counties are also preempted from requiring tiny houses to remove wheels, provided that there is sufficient access to shower and toilet facilities. Tiny house community owners are required to comply with the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act.
Senate Bill 5600 makes significant changes to the Residential-Landlord Tenant Act. Under existing law, a landlord may serve notice to a tenant that they have three days to pay or vacate a unit if missing the rent due date. This bill will extend that grace period to 14 days, giving extra time to the tenant to come up with finances to pay the rent. Landlords will also be obliged to apply any received money from a tenant first to rent and then to other charges due. Collectively, these changes could reduce instances of “unlawful detainer for non-payment of rent” under the law and thereby preempt a large share of evictions. The eviction process through the courts will further be reformed to turn the tides on judgments more favorably toward tenants for good cause shown by tenants subject to unlawful detainer. As compensation for these changes, the state legislature has authorized creation of a “mitigation” program from which affected landlords can draw upon.
In larger counties, providing a longer timeframe for enactment of any resource designation removal, urban growth area expansion, and establishment of limited areas of more intensive rural development in comprehensive plans;
A growing chorus is calling on the City of Seattle to build social housing atop some of the 528 acres of public land that we currently dedicate to golf courses and operate at a loss. But already that movement has attracted some illustrious detractors. Former Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata posted a takedown on Sunday proposing further subsidizing golf to keep the courses afloat and he chastised urbanists for questioning golf-hegemony.
“Another writer Mike Eliason in his article Unlike Seattle, Golf Really Is Dying, which appears in [The Urbanist], focuses specifically how golf is dying in Seattle,” Licata wrote. “He notes that ‘golf green fees are falling like a rock, 16% in just two years’ from 2015 to 2017. But making statistical projections from just a couple of years is fool’s gold.”
The old “Lefty” on the city council of the oughts then proceeded to take some liberties with his own statistical analysis.
“Looking at those same two years, Seattle Times columnist Gene Balk writes in his piece, Bike Commuting is Down in Seattle, that the number of bike commuters who live in Seattle fell 26%, 16,000 to 12,000,” Licata wrote. “Both downward trends were due to an excessive rainy 2017.”
Eliason took to Twitter to point out Licata’s weather misdirection. Although the winter of 2017 was particularly wet, the summer (the prime golfing season) was remarkably sunny and dry–even setting a record for 55 straight dry days, Eliason said. Even with favorable summer weather, golf declined in 2017. And, meanwhile, whatever its struggles in 2017, biking rates shot up 12% in 2018 and continue to rise.
Time will tell if golf managed such a dramatic turnaround in 2018, but it seems highly unlikely since the downward trend for golfing has been more persistent that one bad weather year. Plus, Trump’s well-known obsession with playing golf and cheating at it isn’t exactly helping the sport’s popularity.
As we face a climate emergency, gaping wealth inequality, and an affordable housing crisis, treating the traditional sport of the aristocracy as sacrosanct doesn’t seem like a viable option. Plus, droughts associated with our climate emergency will make golf courses even thirstier and more costly to maintain as time goes on. While the ‘golf is actually somehow my priority’ crowd are trying to greenwash golf courses as eco-friendly, they are actually bad for the environment, unlike real parks.
One thing Licata generally got right is that urbanists are pretty interested in improving land use on golf courses. Rachael Ludwick first kicked around the idea in January 2018 as a way to address the housing emergency. Natalie Bicknell wrote about Share The Cities, a group seeking to lay the community engagement ground work in North Seattle and envision options for the light rail station areas. Recently with the belated release of the City-commissioned study of public golf courses interest has picked up. Mike Eliason penned the aforementioned “Golf Is Dying” piece, Michael Maddux supported repurposing some acreage, and several city council candidates have endorsed the idea.
But urbanists also value parks and green space, so Licata pitting urbanists and “park advocates” as separate factions diametrically opposed on this issue of adaptive reuse of public golf courses rubbed some the wrong way.
“Share The Cities has held a series of events and community canvasses over the last year, most recently a three-hour Open Space Visioning and Golf Course Analysis event,” said Laura Loe, founder of Share The Cities. “We invite Nick Licata to watch the livestream of that before making assumptions about urbanists, our views on open green space and golf courses, and our vision for the future of Seattle.”
Of course the coalition interested in studying adaptive reuse of golf courses is broader than only self-proclaimed urbanists. Plenty of people think golf is boring and wasteful without ascribing to an urbanist ideology.
While Licata and Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat were acting like they were revealing something advocates didn’t know when they cited Initiative 42, Ludwick brought up this point in her 2018 piece. Licata framed Initiative 42 as proof that golf courses couldn’t be converted because they count as park land and the initiative barred park land from reuse for another purpose unless it is replaced in a one-for-one fashion. Laws are made to be changed though–golf courses need not continue to be mislabeled public parks when they’re reserved for paying customers. Or another option would be a land swap to spread parks more equitably through the city as portions of golf courses are converted to social housing.
Licata, who has been out of office since 2015, claimed to still have his finger on the pulse of the city as he dismissed these alternatives.
“Although, the council could overturn the initiative by a vote, that is not likely. The council unanimously adopted the initiative before it got on the ballot because they knew voters would pass it overwhelmingly,” he wrote. “You could bet that if the council voted now to overturn I-42, the voters would release those councilmembers from their duties.”
On the contrary, I expect most people would commend a city council that converts a publicly-owned golf course that most of their constituents do not use (due to cost or disinterest) into a high-quality, highly-used public park and much needed social housing. Recent polling has confirmed affordable housing is a top priority in this city. Golf clearly isn’t for most people.
Without fees-to-play or the barrier to entry of a stodgy old sport with a steep learning curve, a history of exclusion, and expensive equipment, many more people will use a public park than a publicly-subsidized golf course. The park would host sports with rising rather than dwindling popularity, like soccer. And unlike many great parks in Seattle, this one could be next to a dense mixed-income neighborhood rather than detached single-family homes, many of them million-dollar mansions.
And of course Nick Licata never mentioned light rail, but the impetus for converting Jackson Park Golf Course in particular to a multi-use park and social housing is the arrival of light rail in 2024. With the addition of a station at N 130th St, Jackson Park will border two light rail stations at its northwest and southwest corner. At 160 acres and 27 holes, it’s the most sprawling course of them all.
Light rail will arrive to the doorstep of West Seattle Golf Course in 2030, making it another contender for reuse. One option is convert the 18-hole golf course to a 12-hole course, allowing the northern edge near the Avalon station to become housing. It just so happens the last six holes are the northernmost, bordering Genessee Street. One solution golf experts are kicking around for saving the sport has been to offer shorter courses anyway since playing a full 18 holes is such a time consuming endeavor–plus larger courses are more expensive to maintain.
Meanwhile, Interbay Golf Center is slated to get an adjacent light rail station in 2035 with Ballard Link. However, as Eliason pointed out, Interbay is the only of Seattle’s four public golf facilities that appears profitable, and anyway it’s a smaller site that is built on an old landfill–and also happens to be at risk of both liquefaction in a big earthquake or inundation from sea-level rise. Not exactly a prime site to build up.
Jefferson Park Golf Course isn’t scheduled to get new light rail, but it’s close-ish to existing light rail. The clubhouse is about a mile from Beacon Hill Station and some of the course is closer. Shaving off the closer corners of the course is an option here, but so is keeping it as Seattle’s 18-hole course as West Seattle is downsized and Jackson Park is converted.
Let’s not forget that there are dozens of golf courses throughout the region. We don’t have to pretend converting a course or two in Seattle is really going to hinder access. We may be doing the industry a favor by reducing the oversupply of golf courses.
We can balance our need for affordable housing and truly public park space with the desire to offer the luxury of golf on public land. With 528 acres to play with, doing both is clearly an option. So let’s keep the conversation going.
Party of Trump: In Oregon, Senate Republicans have fled the capital and state, some with the aide of armed right-wing domestic terrorists to avoid a vote on a climate emergency bill and one senator threatening murder of state police.
Last month, in response to videos documenting dangerous motorist behavior on the newly redesigned 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood, the three members of the Seattle City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee sent the new transportation department director, Sam Zimbabwe, a letter expressing concern and asking how the department would be reacting to what was happening on the ground.
The letter’s response was delivered last Tuesday, just one day after a fourth councilmember, Sally Bagshaw, publicly raised concerns about the safety of the street at a council briefing attended by most members. Director Zimbabwe, scheduled to meet with the transportation committee on the Bicycle Master Plan that same day, evaded attempts to directly outline the response in-person, but did address some of its points in his presentation. 35th Ave NE was officially deleted from the Bicycle Master Plan when Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to implement an alternate striping plan that removed bike lanes in favor of a center turn lane. That turn lane is now being used to pass bikes, buses, and other vehicles–often at speeds higher than the posted limit.
The councilmembers on the transportation committee wanted to know how the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is viewing the new design through the lens of Vision Zero–the City’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030–and what revisions, if any, the department intends to make to fix shortcomings. Heidi Groover of the The Seattle Times obtained a copy of the response to council questions. The letter doubles down on insisting that the implemented design is perfectly fine. Director Zimbabwe defends the street design by saying that 35th Ave NE “meets the project objective and furthers Vision Zero goals.” Let’s break down some of the details that are mentioned in the letter.
Speed is the critical factor in the severity of collisions, contributing to 25 percent of traffic fatalities citywide…
We collected speed data on 35th ave NE in early June as we had previously committed to doing after project completion.
Sam Zimbabwe, SDOT Director
The speed data detailed by the director shows that vehicle speeds on 35th Ave NE are virtually unchanged compared to speed studies that were completed before the project started. At NE 50th St, 85% of vehicles in both 2016 and this month were traveling 35.4 mph or below. The speed limit there is 30 mph. At NE 77th St, in the heart of the business district, that 85th percentile speed was down a tiny amount from 32.2 to 31.8 mph.
SDOT plans to revise the posted speed limit in the heart of the corridor between 65th St and 89th St to 25mph. But because speeds are influenced by design as well as speed limit signs, it should actually be worrisome that a extensive design change to the street did not significantly change actual vehicle speeds.
The first traffic fatality on the street since the redesign happened in early June, following a serious injury between a driver and a bicycle rider last month.
A recent crash at 35th AVE NE and NE 75th St between a motorcycle driver and the driver of a pickup truck on the evening of June 10 resulted in the death of the motorcycle rider and is currently under investigation by SPD.
The crash should not be viewed as indicating that the project is not meeting goals or furthering vision zero.
Sam Zimbabwe, SDOT Director
OK, the argument that the street design is so new that we should wait until there is more information on collisions seems reasonable. I think the question that the councilmembers were getting at was do the collisions indicate something about the roadway design that would recommend further changes.
SDOT will consider the crash and any relevant data in considering any potential future modifications. Preliminarily, it appears that a left-turning driver turned into an oncoming motorcyclist. At this time, we are not aware of information suggesting that the roadway might have caused or contributed to the crash.
Sam Zimbabwe, SDOT Director
What? The information that the roadway contributed to the crash is outlined in the same paragraph. The street redesign did not include protected turn signals that would prevent a driver from making a turn into an oncoming vehicle they did not see. The city’s own commissioned study on safety practices for pedestrians and bike users suggests this type of maneuver is responsible for a disproportionate share of serious injuries.
It’s one thing to say it’s too early to tell what impact street design is having on collective injuries and fatalities on 35th. It’s another thing to seemingly separate, as this letter appears to do, the city’s goal of zero fatalities and injuries from any individual incident.
Reading this it’s impossible not to be reminded that Sam Zimbabwe’s boss, Mayor Jenny Durkan, has never publicly recommitted the city to Vision Zero since taking office in November 2017. Seattle continues to stagnate rather than make process toward this traffic safety goal, which makes the ‘everything is good here’ tone of SDOT’s response truly baffling.
The letter also asked about the Complete Streets Checklist. The Director’s response attaches the original 2016 checklist, completed when the project still included bike lanes in the design. “After the decision to implement the current design, the checklist was not repeated as none of the modal plans had changed.” What?! Removing any bike facilities from the project did not require a reassessment with the complete streets checklist? He continues: “The new design remains consistent with the policies of the Bicycle Master Plan, which provide guidance for the project delivery process”. In other words, the fact that the project design does not in any way reflect the Bicycle Master Plan designation for 35th doesn’t mean it’s not consistent with it. Apparently.
In addition to the planned speed limit reduction, SDOT plans to install posts (the kind that might be installed on a protected bike lane project) between left turn pockets and the center turn lane to reduce illegal passing. It evaluated intersections to add marked crosswalks and found that not enough people were crossing the 30+ mph street to warrant any additional ones. However, Director Zimbabwe says that the “design is an improvement over the pre-project roadway cross section.” An improvement for whom is pretty clear: drivers wanting a road where going fast is encouraged and crossing pedestrians are few.
The director’s letter to council is fairly bold in its obfuscation around both Vision Zero and the Complete Streets ordinance. Whether or not the City Council will take any action to improve the implementation of either remains to be seen.
New York is building a wall to hold back the ocean - YouTube
New York City has plans for a new sea wall on Staten Island. The sea wall is in response to the global climate emergency that threatens worse tidal events and higher sea levels. The approach to the sea wall is sensitive to the existing urban environment and includes a boardwalk and riparian enhancements.
That’s University of Washington Professor Jeff Shulman on the right, whose influential podcast has been featured on The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. Dr. Shulman interviews various local luminaries about what Seattle’s economic and population growth means to them. He’s talked with everyone from Attorney General Rob McKenna to KC Executive Dow Constantine to musical artist Draze to Stu Tanquist, a resident in Tent City 7(!).
So that’s who Jeff Shulman is. You’ve probably heard of the guy, honestly. As for that guy on the left, I have no idea…
The name “Electric Coffin” may not immediately inspire whimsy, levity, and brightness, but those are exactly the sentiments the art collective Electric Coffin is hoping to seed across Seattle through their exhibit, DISCOVER + DISRUPT at the Center for Architecture and Design on Western Avenue, currently on view through August 31st.
Mindful of urban planning, the exhibit examines Seattle through an art lens. The different concepts presented all funnel back to the same question: how can cities spark wonder and inspire people to question what is possible?
Public art is a vital component of urban placemaking. The presence of art can dramatically change the feeling of a place by bringing unexpected shapes, colors, textures into an otherwise uniform and utilitarian environment. But according to Electric Coffin’s artist statement, art is “often corralled into commercial spaces such as advertisements or limited public art initiatives, unable to infiltrate the rest of city life.”
“So much of the world is trying to sell you things. If you are moving through a city almost every surface has product and a comment on what you should be doing and where you should be going,” said Allie Jones, account supervisor for Electric Coffin.
Artist Stefan Hoffman, one of the founders of Electric Coffin, at work at their Georgetown studio. (Photo by author.)
Through four different movements, or chapters, the DISCOVER + DISRUPT exhibit presents concepts for how art can infiltrate more of city life. Ideas include altruistic billboards, symbolic road signs, shifting perspectives by disrupting linear patterns, and integrating visual unifiers into the landscape, such as multistory knitted installations or yarn bombs.
A sketch showing a potential yarn bomb installation on high-rise buildings in Downtown Seattle from Electric Coffin’s Discover + Disrupt exhibit at the Center for Architecture and Design. (Photo by author)
But those seeking a prescriptive approach to how to build a more whimsical city might be disappointed. “We have more questions than we have solutions and answers,” Jones said. “We are looking for partnership. Our hope is that people will take these ideas and run with them.”
Applying an art lens to urban growth
Electric Coffin is a Seattle based collaborative art studio that explores the intersection of art and commerce. The name comes from founders Duffy De Armas and Stefan Hofmann’s interest in reanimating dead things, a theme that has appeared throughout the collective’s body of work, which often brings new life to discarded objects.
Based in Georgetown, the collective has found inspiration in the industrial, yet neighborly landscape that surrounds their studio. While Georgetown has not seen the same level as gentrification as some other arts focused neighborhoods, like Capitol Hill, it has experienced significant changes, notably a sharp influx in the number of RVs on its streets.
Part of a series of animals with things on their backs, the image of a raccoon with an RV was inspired by Electric Coffin’s Georgetown location. (Photo by author)
Georgetown’s RVs served as inspiration for one of the exhibit’s most stirring images: a raccoon with an RV on its back. Part of a series Electric Coffin calls, “animals with things on their backs,” the raccoon stirs up questions, indirectly referencing the problem homelessness and economic disparity that has complicated the narrative of Seattle’s recent growth.
The raccoon image is one of the few that feels fully grounded in contemporary Seattle. Many of the ideas put forth in the Discover + Disrupt exhibit are presented in a manner that is more theoretical than tactile, inviting viewers to question how they could be applied in cities.
For readers interesting in learning more specifics about the artist’s vision, on July 16th, Electric Coffin will hold a panel discussion focused on the intersection of art and urban planning. The panel discussion, which will be held from 5pm to 6pm at the Center for Architecture and Design, will also include Matthew McMurray of Treason Gallery and representatives from SDOT.
Seattle-based Bellwether Housing has announced the launch of its Building Opportunity Fund, the nation’s first crowdfunded impact investment that funds the development of affordable housing. From now until September of 2019, Bellwether hopes to crowdfund $4.5 million dollars of investments to support the construction of 750 units of affordable housing in Seattle and Tukwila.
And if the idea of investing in affordable housing captures the public imagination, there is always the opportunity expand the fund’s reach. “We have a pipeline of 750 more homes,” said Susan Boyd, CEO of Bellwether Housing, to an enthusiastic crowd of tech professionals and affordable housing advocates at the fund’s launch party in the Amazon Spheres. Event speakers also included Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Cameron Keegan of Tech 4 Housing, and Alex Hudson of the Transportation Choices Coalition.
Tech 4 Housing and Bellwether Housing hosted the launch party for the Building Opportunity Fund at the Amazon Spheres. (Credit: Claire Magula)
According the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), impact investments are intended to generate positive social and environmental impacts alongside financial returns, which range from below-market to market-rate, depending on investors’ strategic goals.
While affordable housing development is not new territory for impact investment, using crowdfunding as the fundraising tool is new. That’s because until 2016, only accredited investors were able to invest through crowdfunding platforms.
After Seattle-based Tech 4 Housing got wind of the changes to federal securities rules around crowdfunding and investment, they approached local nonprofit housing developer Bellwether Housing with an idea. Why not use crowdfunding to raise funds to invest in affordable housing production?
“[The Building Opportunity] fund is not just about raising money, it’s about engaging an entire community directly and powerfully in the creation of a more affordable and inclusive region,” Boyd said.
Susan Boyd, CEO, Bellwether Housing. (Credit: Claire Magula)
Amazon has also thrown its financial support behind Bellwether’s efforts. The tech giant has pledged to match employee investments dollar for dollar through September of 2019. This announcement comes at the heels of the news that Amazon, Microsoft, and Connie and Steve Ballmer plan to contribute $48.8 million to the Seattle nonprofit Plymouth Housing, which specializes in building supportive housing for people exiting homelessness.
“There’s a big difference between showy gifts—with no apparent promises of more—and consistent revenue that governments can count on and plan with,” Katie Wilson argued in Crosscut.
Further underscoring the importance of public funding, Bellwether Housing has estimated that for every $1 invested by impact investors another $29 of funding has been lined up from state and local investments, traditional housing financing sources, and a Bellwether organizational contribution.
In fact, the actual cost of constructing 750 affordable homes is pegged at $257 million.
(Credit: Bellwether Housing)
What Should Potential Investors Know About the Building Opportunity Fund?
In terms of investor risk, the first $200,000 raised by the fund will be held in escrow, meaning that if the fund fails to meet that threshold all investments will be fully refunded.
For them, while all investments carry a level of risk, Bellwether Housing, the largest private, nonprofit affordable housing provider in Seattle, will guarantee all impact investments as loans. Bellwether Housing is a nonprofit corporation with annual revenues of approximately $29 million and assets of $300 million. More details about Bellwether’s revenue, expenses, and debt is available on the campaign page.
The impact investment loans will have 15-year terms. However, investors will have the opportunity to cash out every five years. At the end of the 15-year term, investors will also have the opportunity to roll their loans over into a new fund.
Bellwether Housing has used impact investment to help fund two previous projects, the Parker Apartments in North Queen Anne and Anchor Flats in South Lake Union.
What affordable housing will the Building Opportunity Fund create?
According to Claire Magual, Communications and Grants Manager at Bellwether Housing, rents at the four planned projects are aimed at residents earning 30% to 60% of area median income (AMI), and higher levels of impact investment from the Building Opportunity Fund will enable the production of more 30% AMI units.
Many of the units are family-sized units offering two to three bedrooms. Benefitting from Sound Transit’s mandate to include affordable housing in its transit-oriented development (TOD) plans, all developments are located walking distance to planned light rail stations or frequent bus service.
(Credit: Bellwether Housing)
Here’s a brief overview of the planned developments.
The Confluence: 103 affordable units for veterans, seniors, and at-risk families, located steps from the Tukwila light rail station. Opening 2021.
The Confluence. (Credit: Bellwether Housing)
Cedar Crossing: 255 affordable homes next to the Roosevelt light rail station developed in partnership with Mercy Housing Northwest. The site will also include affordable childcare, a public plaza, and ground floor retail. Approximately 20 apartments will be set aside for families with chronically ill children who are experiencing homelessness after seeking medical treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Opening early 2022.
Cedar Crossing. (Credit: Bellwether Housing and Mercy Housing Northwest)
Madison/Boylston: Built on land transferred from Sound Transit at no cost, the project creates 368 homes on First Hill in the Seattle’s first nonprofit affordable high rise. Bellwether will operate 253 apartments and Plymouth will operate 115 studios for seniors who have experienced homelessness.
Madison Boylston. (Credit: Bellwether Housing)
Rose II: 174 family-sized units, including some four-bedroom units, adjacent to the Bellwether’s existing Rose development in Rainier Beach. The site will also offer nonprofit office space, affordable childcare, and programming to meet community and resident needs.
In this month’s Wonkabout Washington, we’re diving into amendments to four of Pierce County’s subarea plans. Specifically, we’re examining the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for amended Community Plans for South Hill, Mid-County, Frederickson and Parkland-Spanaway-Midland, which make up the central unincorporated urban growth area (UGA) in the county. Unfortunately, we believe that the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for these plans is insufficient in addressing development impacts in the county.
Planning and Climate Change: Concentrating Growth to Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions
If you are like most Washingtonians, your largest contribution
to the global climate catastrophe is the greenhouse pollution emitted from
driving around every workday. But we have a plan for that. The Puget Sound region
is working to focus growth into existing cities and towns and to invest in
local and regional transit and walking and bicycling. This strategy will
shorten trips and allow many Washingtonians to walk, bicycle, and take transit
more often, reducing our carbon footprints.
Unfortunately, the subarea plan revisions go the wrong way.
Rather than focusing growth in Tacoma and other Pierce County cities where we
have invested billions on light rail and commuter rail, the subarea plan will
direct more growth onto greenfields, polluting streams and the atmosphere. Here’s
an overview of our top concerns about the proposed subarea plan revisions.
Concerns About Impacts on Regional Growth in Pierce County
Community Plan areas due for an update. (Pierce County)
Overall, the draft EIS is inadequate in addressing impacts on regional development in Pierce County, including growth patterns and alignment with the Regional Growth Strategy. The Regional Growth Strategy is part of VISION 2040, approved by Pierce County, the cities in the county, and the cities and counties in the four-county region.
The draft EIS claims that “Alternatives 1 and 2 would generally
focus the majority of future growth into compact areas around major
transportation corridors, which are characterized by improved access to
services and potentially redevelopable parcels.” This is not the case.
Alternatives 1, 2, and 3 will
disperse growth over large parts of the community plan areas within the urban
growth area (UGA).
In each of these alternatives, the capacity of lower density zones will be
increased by thousands of housing units. These rezones are spread over larger
This is not an effective growth focusing strategy and will lead to more
greenhouse gas pollution.
Additionally, Alternatives 1, 2, and 3 upzone land uphill from the Puyallup Valley farmland north and east of the study area. There have already been adverse impacts from uphill development on the agricultural valleys, including increased runoff and land use incompatibilities from uphill uses. But the draft EIS contains no analysis of these impacts. The EIS claims that “[n]o significant unavoidable land use impacts are anticipated under any Alternative” but given the many inadequacies of the land use analysis, the statement is not accurate.
Finally, the draft EIS did not analyze whether any of the four alternatives is consistent with the Regional Growth Strategy considering the growth already allocated to the other unincorporated UGAs in the county. The VISION 2040 Regional Growth Strategy allocates 21% of the region’s population growth from 2000 to 2040, 81,000 people, to the unincorporated Pierce County urban growth areas. However, “Alternative 1 is assumed to result in approximately 2,646 additional housing units beyond the 18,180 housing units expected by 2040 under current zoning” and “Alternative 2 is assumed to result in approximately 3,426 additional housing units beyond the 18,180 housing units expected by 2040 under current zoning.” So, unless there will be reductions in capacity elsewhere in the unincorporated UGAs, those alternatives are not consistent with the Regional Growth Strategy.
Brighter colors indicate areas for proposed zoning changes. (Pierce County)
The draft EIS claims that “[t]here are no significant adverse impacts resulting from any inconsistency with adopted state, regional, countywide, County Comprehensive Plan, or community plans policies.” This is false. The EIS is inadequate for failing to analyze consistency with the Regional Growth Strategy and failing to disclose the results of that analysis. More importantly, it is dangerous to increase growth where people will have to drive more and longer distances. This will create more greenhouse gas pollution and undermines our goals to fight climate change.
The Draft EIS Does Not Explain Development Capacity of the Alternatives
We are concerned about the lack of data to support the draft EIS’s determination of the capacity of the alternatives. In a few places, the EIS generally describes some changes in capacity. However, the draft EIS never discloses the residential and employment capacities for the changes and the alternatives as a whole. Instead, Alternatives 1, 2, and 3 are analyzed based on assumed levels of growth. This lack of data on the changes in zoning capacity is a major flaw in the draft EIS. To rectify these flaws, the EIS needs to disclose the changes in zoning capacity and document using actual data how the assumed levels of growth were determined. Again, more growth in areas without transit undermines the regional plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.
Gaps in Transportation Funding for Upzoned Areas
The draft EIS relies on a long list of currently unfunded transportation projects for the traffic and transportation modeling and analysis. Pierce County’s current transportation element has a $151,400,000 deficit. Given this deficit and the many projects proposed in the community plan amendments, the EIS needs to substantiate that these projects can be funded. Here there is no data and no basis for the opinion that all of these projects can be funded especially in the light of the current $151 million transportation element deficit. In fact, the draft EIS does not include any analysis of revenues to fund the transportation projects. This is a significant deficiency of the EIS.
Other Environmental Concerns
Finally, the draft EIS needs to better account for potential environmental impacts of the subarea plans. The draft EIS must analyze the greenhouse gas pollution generated by the alternatives but fails to do so. Additionally, we have serious concerns about development impacts on Chinook Salmon runs.
A 2018 analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ranked the fall Chinook stocks that originate in the Puyallup River highest in importance as food sources for the southern resident killer whales. In Futurewise’s scoping comments we identified impacts on the Chinook and orcas as impacts that need to be analyzed in the EIS. No such analysis was included. This is a significant deficiency in the Draft EIS. EISs matter because they include the environmental information the Pierce County Planning Commission, citizens that advise the county on land use plans, and the County Council will use to decide whether to approve these amendments.
The EIS needs to be accurate and to clearly explain that the proposed amendments undermine our regional goals to concentrate growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For more details, please read our comment letter to the Pierce County Planning and Public Works Department and stay tuned for future updates on these amendments.
An extended transit-only lane is the planning process for Wallingford. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is proposing a small rechannelization of N 45th St between Midvale Ave N and Stone Way N, which could reduce dwell times in the westbound direction for Route 44, a workhorse in the King County Metro system.
The existing bus lane in the neighborhood picks up a half-block west of Stone Way N as N 45th St bends north and turns into N Midvale Pl. That westbound bus lane extends as far as the Green Lake Way N intersection and includes a queue jump, the result of earlier corridor improvements for transit implemented several years ago.
“We estimate that the N Midvale Pl transit lane extension will lead to time savings for about 44% of bus trips,” said Ethan Bergeson of SDOT. “In addition to time savings, the transit lane extension will also have safety benefits because buses will not need to merge into the same lane as cars.”
General changes planned for the street. (City of Seattle)
The vehicle-to-vehicle conflicts would be reduced in several ways:
SDOT plans to partially eliminate an intersection point on N 45th St by removing the westbound lane west of the street bend where the street turns into N Midvale Pl. Currently, vehicles can stay straight on N 45th St to reach Midvale Ave N instead of following the bend, but that means crossing a lane of traffic heading the opposition direction on N 45th St. SDOT would remove the stop sign at this intersection and convert the north side of N 45th St between the bend and Midvale Ave N into angled back-in on-street parking.
The new bus lane on N 45th St means that buses will not need to pull in and out of traffic, further reducing that potential conflict.
Rechannelization, as proposed, does mean changes for pedestrians. The existing midblock pedestrian crossing at the awkward bend-intersection would be moved back a half-block west. This configuration realistically could result in safer crossings since the intersection is more obvious to people driving. SDOT would also install a pedestrian crossing connecting the south side of N 45th St to the triangle island, which strangely is missing the marked crossing.
Under the preliminary schedule, improvements are planned for installation in winter 2020.