Low-rise Zoning Development examples from MHA FEIS attachment. (City of Seattle)

On Friday, Seattle Hearing Examiner Ryan Vancil issued a pre-hearing ruling largely in the City of Seattle’s favor, taking some wind out of the sails of the homeowner groups that brought a lengthy appeal of the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezones. The various appeals sought to poke holes in the MHA Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)–the Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity (SCALE) alone tried to poke 43 holes–but the Hearing Examiner has already taken some issues off the table.

The appeal of Seattle’s marquee housing affordability program that would enact inclusionary zoning as it rezones the city’s urban villages is far from over with several days of testimony slotted for the summer and a ruling expected in the fall. However, the rest of proceedings will be focused on smaller set of topics rather than the longer rambling list the homeowner groups original brought. SCC Insight broke down the case highlighting the following seven issues that are still in dispute:

  • “whether the FEIS alternatives analysis is adequate (the city asked for summary judgment on this issue, but lost);
  • whether the analysis concerning historic resources is adequate;
  • whether the analysis concerning the tree canopy is adequate;
  • whether the analysis concerning the impacts of zoning changes outside urban villages is adequate;
  • whether the analysis of the proposal’s consistency with all Comprehensive Plan policies is adequate;
  • whether the analysis concerning open space and recreation is adequate;
  • whether significant impacts would result from the expansion of the Roosevelt Village into the Ravenna neighborhood. The Friends of Ravenna-Cowen argued that there would be impacts, but failed to explain what those impacts would be.”

The City of Seattle filed numerous pre-hearing motions for summary judgment that convinced the Hearing Examiner to close the book on several of the challenges. Areas where the the City prevailed include the following, again explained by SCC Insight:

  • “The Hearing Examiner agreed with the city that prior environmental reviews are not relevant for judging the adequacy of this FEIS.”
  • “He also agreed with the city that amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan may be considered as part of the proposal studied by the FEIS.”
  • “He agreed with the city that the FEIS doesn’t need to study the adequacy of mitigation measures–though it does need to provide adequate analysis of those mitigation proposals.”
  • “He agreed with the city that the FEIS does not need to address impacts not directly attributable to the proposed action. The Beacon Hill Council had argued that the high noise level in their community due to being on the Sea-Tac Airport flight path was an issue that needed to be addressed in the FEIS if the city intended to increase housing density there; the Hearing Examiner disagreed.”
  • “The Hearing Examiner found that it was acceptable for the city to use a “phased review” approach to the FEIS, and that the city correctly followed the requirements for doing so.”
  • “He ruled that as a matter of law, the FEIS is not flawed because the city wrote a “programmatic” instead of a “project-based” EIS.”
  • “He also ruled that the city met its public notice requirements under the law. The appellants argued that the notice process could have been better and more inclusive, but failed to show that it was not legally compliant. The law requires that notices be published in the “official city newspaper,” which is the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, not the Seattle Times.”

Three weeks of hearings are scheduled in late June, late July, and late August, respectively. Likely, the Hearing Examiner’s ruling will come in September at the earliest. The Seattle City Council appears poised to move fairly quick to pass the MHA rezones once the appeal is settled, since the City has been carrying out the public hearing process unabated.

The featured image is a low-rise development example by the City of Seattle from the MHA FEIS Appendix F.

Homeowner Group Coalition Sues to Block MHA Rezone

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. 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 in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.