Greenwood neighborhood, 2001 (from Seattle Municipal Archives)On Monday, April 1, the City Council unanimously approved Council Bill 117723, a rezone of the area west of Greenwood as recommended by the neighborhood plan stewardship group. The rezone applies Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zoning to the area between Greenwood and NW 3rd Avenue south of NW 87th Street and north of the alley between NW 84th and 85th Streets.

It’s a relatively small rezone, with modest implications for housing and pedestrian access, but it has a long and complicated history. The rezone adopted by the Council has the support of neighborhood leaders. It does not include a controversial provision that would have rezoned additional areas to the west and north of this area. This proposal was opposed by single family property owners in those areas.

The rezone adopted by the Council received strong support from property owners in the rest of the rezone area, with the exception of the owners of the Fred Meyer property adjacent to NW 3rd Avenue.  This property owner applied for a permit for a new, more auto-oriented building in contravention to the intent of the neighborhood plan during the time that the rezone proposal was making its way through the legal process to get to the Council. Unfortunately, under Washington State law, once a permit has been applied for under the existing zoning, new zoning requirements cannot be applied to the property. So, the Greenwood community will have new, pedestrian-oriented, mixed use buildings east of the Fred Meyer site, where the property owners have embraced the zoning, but not on the Fred Meyer site for a considerable period of time in the future.

The owners of the property argued that the Council should not proceed with the rezone, because it will make the existing building non-confirming and not allow it to be replaced in its current form. The Council, however, respected the vision of the long-term plan developed by the community.

When the rezone was initially proposed, the property owners north and west of Fred Meyer opposed it because their properties would have been upzoned to low-rise residential. They were also concerned about the upzoning of the edges of the Fred Meyer site to 65 feet, suggesting that would lead to shadow effects on their residences. The property line pattern on the Fred Meyer site would make it difficult to rezone the edges to a lower height than the rest of the site. Fortunately, even though the entire site is rezoned to 65 feet, the density allowed on the site will require some setbacks, and the City has suggested that these setback requirements can be used in design review to mitigate any future shadow effects. Most of the property owners did not pursue their opposition to the rezone.

More recently, the owners of the property south of NW 85th requested some different development standards, in order to build a development that provided significantly more housing and could accommodate a grocery store. Their request reflected the difficulty of providing parking for a grocery store and residential development in an area where the underlying peat soil makes underground parking difficult, and the sites lack of depth and poor alley access made alley ingress problematic as well. The Greenwood Community Council reviewed their proposal, and agreed that these development standards should be modified. The site will have more flexibility in configuring driveways and will be able to build some 30 additional housing units as a result.

Creating the kind of walkable residential urban environments envisioned by the Comprehensive Plan and our neighborhood plans can be challenging, and the details make a big difference. In most cases this is made easier because property owners ultimately embrace the development potential that neighborhood commercial zoning offers and agree with the vision. The Greenwood rezone was a long and difficult process because that was not the case here. Ultimately, however, this legislation does respond to the community’s vision and moves it a long way towards the desired outcome – even if it will be many years before the Fred Meyer site is redeveloped in conformance to the community’s wishes.