Mayor Ed Murray called a lunch hour press conference outside the University Heights Center and championed the City’s plan to implement zoning and urban design changes in the University District. The Mayor stressed that the plan links the rezone to measures to boost affordable housing and improve livability by setting aside open space and improving pedestrian access and comfort.

Several other stakeholders offered their support for the U District growth plan including Councilmember Rob Johnson. (For more check out our live tweets here.) Murray didn’t get into the details—which The Urbanist covered here, here and here—but judging by the brochure they’ve released this month, the City Council will consider and likely pass a zoning map that looks something like this:

U District zoning will see some significant increases in capacity in the center while tapers off to the edges of the urban village.
U District zoning will see some significant increases in capacity in the center while tapering off to the edges of the urban center. (City of Seattle)

When Mayor Murray asked for questions, a journalist posed a question about the protesters who’d gathered in neon green scarves and brought signs with various slogans against the proposed zoning changes. Mayor Murray got in a few words before they began shouting him down citing Displacement Coalition talking points. Murray said, “People can have their own opinions but you don’t get to have your own facts.” After continued heckling and yelling, Murray declared the press conference over and opponents and proponents tried to get themselves in front of cameras for interviews. Audio of the verbal altercation is below.

 

Those protesting the zoning chances claimed enough capacity existed in current zoning, skirting the issue of affordability and better design.
Those protesting the zoning chances claimed enough capacity existed in current zoning, skirting the issue of affordability and better design. (Photo by author)

Meanwhile, Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien issued a joint press release supporting the increased capacity but also calling for increased affordability requirements in light of the larger than anticipated capacity increases.

We are especially interested in reviewing how the executive will address displacement in the new proposed University District upzone legislation as intended by the MHA-R bill. Because this upzone increases zoning capacity beyond what was anticipated in the MHA-R bill, we look forward to working together to ensure increased affordability requirements for the neighborhood. From the MHA-R legislation: ‘The Council intends to consider whether to include higher [affordability] performance and payment amounts … (b) [in] areas where the increment of increased development capacity is greater than the standard MHA-implementing zone change; and (c) … to increase affordable units sufficient to offset the affordable units at risk of demolition as a result of the increase in development capacity due to MHA.’

Whether the rest of the Council will take up O’Brien and Herbold’s idea to boost the affordability requirement in the U District is not certain. As it stands, the City’s brochure boasts that “[t]he proposed zoning for the U District incorporates Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements, which will further increase the supply of affordable housing over time by an estimated 620-910 units.” In addition, the City projects that 4,000 to 5,000 market rate units would be produced in the U District under the proposed rezone.

The crucial thing is that zoning changes themselves are enacted to permit growth in an already popular neighborhood getting a light rail station within five years and channeling resources into affordable housing, open space, and multi-modal improvements.

The City promises increased park space will come hand-in-hand with new development.
The U District Urban Design plan promises increased park space will come hand-in-hand with new development. (City of Seattle)

With a newly installed protected bike lane on Roosevelt Way, light rail access and RapidRide service coming soon, and Brooklyn Avenue likely becoming a festival street, the U District is poised to be a neighborhood many, many more people want to call home. Let’s plan like it.

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, the U-District is destined to become a neighborhood more and more people want to call home, but unless the plans prioritize the development of more 2+ and 3+ bedroom units the neighborhood won’t be accessible to those who may want to move here. Affordability is only piece of the livability puzzle; we also need to make sure the U-District is affordable for families. For the single mom, who works at the UW Medical Center and isn’t going to be buying a million dollar home any time soon. For the senior couple who wants to downsize and be able to have their grand kids stay overnight once in a while.

    As a long-term resident of the U-District, I look forward to growth. I just want to make sure that growth isn’t only in the number of small efficiency dwellings.

  2. For-profit developers could challenge the MHA program and break it in state court. Roger Valdez, Smart Growth Seattle, writes about this often and optimistically. What then? Roll back the upzone? How likely is that – if Murray, Johnson et al. even cared about affordable housing, they would have done what the Displacement Coalition did, and inventoried it in the University District. It isn’t about affordable housing, or really about housing at all. A new high tech skyscraper district like a second SLU – just what we all needed.

    • Hi Donn,

      You can make an argument that you think MHA will be invalidated by a court. Many people disagree with you on this, including affordable housing professionals. If a lawsuit happens, we’ll find out. You can also make an argument that you personally don’t want skycrapers or you don’t like SLU. Opinions are welcome here.

      However, please don’t imply that city council and mayor have a conspiracy to upzone neighborhoods under the guise of affordable housing and then have the affordable housing law rolled back by the court. Conspiracy theories and misinformation aren’t welcome in this corner of the internet and will be edited/deleted.

      Thanks,
      Owen

      • I don’t believe, and didn’t say, that they intend to have the ordinance struck down – I’m asking only whether the upzone will remain in effect if it does. As for misinformation – Murray says “you don’t get to have your own facts”, but you sure can, as the city has done, fastidiously avoid knowing the facts in question about the inventory of existing affordable housing, and that shows what matters at city hall, minus maybe one council member.

        Housing affordability was negatively impacted by the first SLU, and we should expect the same with this one.

Comments are closed.