A crowd of mostly homeowners gathered at the Miller Community Center on Tuesday to hear more about proposed upzoning in the Madison-Miller Urban Village and workshop their frustrations with the city.
The Office of Planning and Community Development is proposing zoning changes in all urban villages throughout Seattle as part of the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, which will require multifamily and commercial developers to either include affordable housing units in new developments or pay into a fund for the city to construct its own.
John Howell with Cedar River Group, a consulting firm contracted by the city, told residents at the Feb. 28 meeting that zoning changes are needed to increase building capacity and offset the cost of the affordable housing requirements.
Under the MHA, the maximum allowable rent for a one-bedroom unit would be $1,009. Income-restricted development would have to stay as such for 75 years, even if it is sold.
The program is planned for implementation in about 44 percent of the city.
Many mixed-use zones in Seattle will allow an additional story of construction under the MHA program, said Nicolas Welch with OPCD, while the city has taken a “harder look” at single-family neighborhoods.
A residential urban village, there are no proposed changes to the Madison-Miller boundary, Welch said. There are proposed zoning changes from single-family to Low Rise 2 and 3 in residential areas around the Miller Playfield, as well as additional upzoning southeast of East Madison Street. For LR-3 zones between East Thomas and Madison streets, the 40-foot height limit is proposed to increase to 50 feet. Welch said 152 single-family parcels in Madison-Miller are proposed to change to lowrise zones.
A number of residents opposed to the upzones said they would prefer the city just develop affordable housing, some suggesting developers in their neighborhood will simply pay the fee. One resident said she didn’t think the set fees developers would have to pay are high enough.
A 14-unit apartment building in an LR-3 zone, for example, would need to have one income-restricted unit for 75 years, or the developer would pay $228,000.
Another resident said she believes developers will see the affordable housing requirements as a lien on a property, which would make it hard to offload new developments in the future, thus disincentivizing new construction.
Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda project manager Sara Maxana said she’s heard concerns from residents in single-family neighborhoods across Seattle.
She’s also heard requests for more upzoning along bus rapid transit lines. The Madison BRT project, creating dedicated bus lanes from First Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Way, is expected to be completed in late 2019. Maxana said focusing multifamily development along arterial streets can have unintended consequences for low-income renters of color in terms of noise and air pollution.
Many longtime residents that feel the city’s upzoning changes will force them out of the neighborhood believe increased new development will result in major increases in their property taxes. Maxana said the King County Assessor’s Office found no change in property valuations after lowrise zoning changes were made in the Roosevelt neighborhood in 2011. There also has been no significant development there. Maxana added the city also has an annual 1 percent levy limit on increases in property taxes.
Resident John Berry said he thinks the city should focus on building affordable housing rather than expecting private developers to do it. Maxana said the modeled goal for the MHA program is for 50 percent of affordable housing units to be constructed on site while the city creates the other half through its own projects. Seattle can focus on family-sized housing units where private developers will likely just create one-bedrooms, she said.
A draft environmental impact statement that assesses what effect upzoning will have around Seattle is expected to be completed in May, at which point there will be a 45-day comment period. A final EIS is expected in July. Once it goes to the city council, Maxana said Councilmember Rob Johnson expects to spend at least seven months soliciting resident feedback across all districts. Johnson chairs the council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee.
Residents participating in group workshops Tuesday marked up MHA rezoning maps while sharing their thoughts with volunteer facilitators, not all being knowledgeable of the neighborhood or the proposed changes.
“I think the greenery is important,” said resident Amal Alfaiz. “It’s why we live here.” She added increases in multifamily development makes more sense along arterials.
Resident Cathy Holliday said she feels the city has done a poor job communicating with neighborhoods about the MHA program, proposed zoning changes and past meetings. If multifamily development is going to be allowed in current single-family zones, Holliday said parking needs to be a requirement for new developments.
Resident Jim Carroll said he doesn’t understand why the city can’t focus on the lowrise zones that already exist.
“We have the zoning capacity available,” he said, “it’s just not being used.”