In my Sightline piece from May, I described how homeowners in Wallingford have worked for decades to block housing via downzones, increasing development burdens, and dominating the inequitable and anti-tenant neighborhood planning process. Just last year, the Wallingford Community Council (WCC) proposed a comprehensive plan amendment that would have removed over 50 blocks and the only park out of the already gerrymandered Wallingford Urban Village.

Of course, nearly all areas eliminated were zoned single-family, which will see a nominal uptick with Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) Program rezones. The inequitable aspect here is that Wallingford is majority renter with a median age of 33. Per a colleague, the proposed gerrymander wasn’t even put to a vote (oops), unsurprisingly the WCC board’s demographics are the complete inverse of the neighborhood. This gerrymander would have increased development pressure on existing buildings in the urban village, placing existing businesses and multifamily housing at greater risk for redevelopment — all the while removing a sizeable chunk in future MHA units or in lieu fees.

The city council summarily rejected the proposed comprehensive plan amendment, and I kind of assumed classist tactics like that wouldn’t be tried again. So I was a little surprised to see that the Phinney Ridge Community Council put out a survey to test the waters about removing a significant portion of the (already inequitably gerrymandered) Phinney/Greenwood Urban Village. The survey is titled, ‘Should we change the boundaries of the Greenwood-Phinney Urban Village If doing so means developers would provide more on-site parking in the future?’

Ah yes. Parking. I should have guessed it.

A handful of residents spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to kill the Phinney Flats project in this part of the urban village. This project will provide homes for those that can’t afford million dollar homes. It also won’t provide parking. Local homeowners appealed the project to kill it by requiring parking. The path they used was on a technicality, which the city council courageously and righteously modified in a package of sweeping reforms, so that car-free buildings could continue to be built near transit. In the midst of worsening housing and climate crises — the city council action was a step in the right direction.

With the city council modification, the homeowners opposed to the project could no longer kill/delay it, and so they agreed to dismiss their suit. In the most recent update, the residents wrote, “We hope you will stay involved as we move on to the next steps of restoring parking sanity in Phinney Ridge and throughout the City.”

What the survey says.
What the survey says.

The path the Phinney Ridge Community Council (PRCC) is proposing would be to remove over a quarter of the Phinney/Greenwood Urban Village. New development located outside the gerrymandered border would only be eligible for a 50% reduction in required parking, instead of the current 100% reduction.

The result of such an inequitable action would be an increase in rents and development pressure on existing properties within the urban village. It would also raise the cost of development for those projects along the Greenwood Ave N between N 65th St and N 75th St — a highly bikeable, walkable, and transit accessible location where parking should not be required. Furthermore, it would reduce MHA units produced on site, or in lieu fees collected. They also suggest the boundary could maybe be moved up to N 80th St.

Greenwood-Phinney Ridge Urban Village. Some folks want to remove everything south of N 80th St. (City of Seattle)
Greenwood-Phinney Ridge Urban Village. Some folks want to remove everything south of N 80th St. (City of Seattle)

This isn’t really surprising. The ‘neighborhood planning’ for Greenwood was dominated by homeowners (because zoning). The city proposed a sizeable boundary for the urban village, but homeowners were having none of it. They gerrymandered 32 blocks out of the urban village, and all of the open space at the time. Seems pretty democratic and equitable, right?

City-proposed Greenwood/Phinney Urban Village boundary versus what could have been. (City of Seattle)
City-proposed Greenwood/Phinney Urban Village boundary versus what could have been. (City of Seattle)

Unfortunately, Wallingford and Phinney/Greenwood Urban Villages aren’t unique in this aspect. The history of the ’90s neighborhood planning in Seattle is one of inequitable outcomes and those opposed to new housing dictating where new housing could go, and how expensive it would have to be. There was no Race and Social Justice Initiative — if there had been, the outcomes would have likely looked incredibly different. Furthermore, according to Shelterforcejust 12,000 people participated in Seattle’s neighborhood planning process, just over 2% of the population then (and just 1.6% today). The neighborhood planning process was neither equitable nor democratic.

Seattle’s land use and zoning both need a major re-boot, and maybe one day we’ll see it. Until then, I hope the city council continues to ignore these undemocratic, classist, anti-tenant proposals which will only exacerbate our housing crisis. Given how broad and deep it is — we should be expanding urban village boundaries (bigly). If you’ve got a moment, click the PRCC survey and let them know you support housing sans parking, and increasing urban village boundaries.

This is a cross-post from Mike Eliason’s blog on Medium.

Bring on the Clusterwohnungen

13 COMMENTS

  1. Parking is needed in Wallingford. It’s impossible to go there and park most of the time. Again, parking is vital for a business like Dick’s Drive In. Dick’s is a destination spot for many, who get there by car, who would like to eat at Seattle’s #1 hamburger spot. This is true for many spots on Greenwood Avenue. No parking, no business.

    • Dick’s has ample parking on site, as should any business that is heavily dependent on customers driving in from afar. I live in northeast Wallingford and usually walk or take the bus when I visit local businesses, but when I do drive I have never once been forced to turn back and go home due to lack of parking. Proper management of the street parking (including time limits and/or meters as needed) should ensure that this remains the case even as we grow denser.

    • Hey, everyone, look who has never actually been to Dick’s in Wallingford!

      1. Dick’s has an enormous off-street parking lot that is the scourge of anyone walking on the south side of 45th.
      2. Hardly anyone arrives at Dick’s by car, they mostly arrive by truck, with lifted suspensions producing bumper heights way beyond street-legal.
      3. Street parking on and near commercial strips is time-limited. Even if we razed Dick’s and Golden Oldies and replaced them with a 50-story parking-free superblock apartment building there would be literally no risk of residents choking out customer parking.

    • I can’t speak for Greenwood, but I can for Wallingford. There is not a parking problem. My block and the nearby ones always has ample street parking, except on the 4th of July. My observation is the same for virtually all blocks, except 45th which is a commercial arterial. People will walk a block to three blocks easily to patronise a business. But considering the neighbourhoods of Wallingford and Greenwood seem very similar, I have to doubt that even Greenwood has a parking problem. It didn’t when I lived there five years ago.

      Also, I have to say as a moderator that your constant concern trolling over parking is in bad faith. Please consider contributing to future discussions here in a constructive way.

  2. Downzoning has real consequences. If ‘plexes were legal on our street (as they once were – there’s a grandfathered duplex on the corner) it’s highly likely a single family detached house that Zillows today for $1.1M would be a 3-4 plex being rented by teachers — we have relatives who teach; when it came up for sale a number of years ago we might have ‘plexed it and rented it in perpetuity to them and their friends in the same want-stable-housing boat, but the numbers only work with 3-4 homes. But apartments have been made illegal.

  3. I wonder if there are any scheming NIMBYs. If I was a calculating NIMBY, this would be my strategy. I would keep some of the common fights, like no cottages and limits on how many unrelated people can live in a house and, like they are doing in this article, try to shrink the urban village so it includes no single family housing. But here is what I would do different. I would argue for starker difference in zoning inside and outside the urban village. This would help argue for the smaller villages and help argue to keep the single family housing not dense. Further I would argue to ban parking for new apartments. Then I’d turn right back around and that argue my single family neighbourhood needs an RPZ. This would force all the apartment dwellers into even smaller slices of the city, and more importantly, a smaller slice of the on street parking. With no offstreet, and limited on street, all these new apartment dwellers will not have the option to get a car because they will have literally no place to park it. I keep my single family neighbourhood and home, I keep my parking, and all the new people can’t even make traffic and impede all my NIMBY driving that I just can’t do without

  4. You should check your numbers. According to Jim Diers, who was the head of the Department of Neighborhood when the neighborhood plans were made, 30,000 (not 12,000) people participated in making the plans. Show me any other piece of legislation that was made with bottom-up planning involving 30,000 people. That’s about as inclusive as you can get.

    Here’s more from Dier’s blog:

    “Many other local governments are empowering citizens to develop their own neighborhood plans. The City of Seattle even made money available so that neighborhoods could hire a planner accountable to them. Rather than start with the City’s budget, this process starts with diverse interests coming together to develop a shared vision for the future of their neighborhood and developing recommendations for actions that will move in that direction. Unlike traditional planning, these bottom-up plans tend to be more holistic, get many more people involved (30,000 in Seattle) and leverage the community’s resources as well as local government’s.”

    Jim Diers was there during this planning, I’m guessing the author of this piece was not.

    It’s too bad the city has completely abandoned this inclusive model of bottom-up neighborhood planning.

    Source: http://blog.neighborpower.org/uncategorized/building-21st-century-community/

    • It’s not my number, if you had clicked the link, it’s a number that shelterforce was given from a Seattle council member.

      Regardless, it’s not an impressive number at all – even at 30,000 (I’ve seen no data backing this up) we’re still talking just 4% of Seattle’s population dictating where 100% of new population is allowed to live, and how wealthy they have to be to live there.

      Given the overrepresentation of homeowners looking to keep apartments away from them and preserve zoning rooted in racial and class exclusion – it isn’t a far leap to realize that the urban village strategy was a grand bargain with homeowners that put a bulls eye on existing affordable housing by severely constraining where new housing could go.

  5. A couple years ago, someone who is now one of your The Urbanist columnists wrote an article for a local blog surveying N 45th, the main commercial axis of the Wallingford Residential Urban village, lamenting its underdeveloped state. A few projects have come along since then, but it’s still quite sparsely developed.

    When the urban villages were created, i’m told that the communities were explicitly promised that the boundaries weren’t for upzones. Neighborhood plans that were adopted at the same time included language that protected the included single family areas, when there was any. The point of the urban village model was to focus urban infrastructure in areas with higher density development – as the Greenwood survey puts it “It was expected that the city would prioritize public investment inside urban villages so infrastructure would keep pace with development.”

    With changes in city politics and policies since then, culminating in the MHA proposed rezones, the urban villages have become, simply, upzone territory, and the same batch of comprehensive plan amendments includes some that have to be adopted to put MHA in compliance with the comprehensive plan. The neighborhood planning that came with the original urban villages is history, along with for that matter any apparent vestige of respect for the surrounding neighborhoods.

    The proposals coming from the neighborhoods call for more focused development. Does it make sense that a “village” would be a narrow strip well over a mile long, as Phinney/Greenwood is today? Does Wallingford want to go the way of Ballard, with development dispersed all over – without first developing an urbanized core, like Ballard has? The revised boundaries just bring the intent of urban village designation back into alignment with current policies, in order to continue to develop distinctive, walkable neighborhoods while retaining their desirable character.

    • No, it doesn’t make any sense that a “village” would be just one property wide on either side of a long street. It never did. The boundary should not be contracted to the north, it should be expanded a couple blocks down the ridge east and west to allow for some medium-density housing to complement the higher-density commercial strip.

  6. You can’t gerrymander something that isn’t a voting district. Please learn to use words properly.

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