This past Monday, June 23rd, Council Bill 118111 was approved by the Full Council. Specifically, the legislation does four things:
1. Rezones land in the North Rainier Hub Urban Village;
2. Expands the Mount Baker Station Overlay District;
3. Amends development standards; and
4. Implements incentive zoning obligations for affordable housing and open space.
I heard the concerns of citizens, many of whom I personally have known for years, who were concerned about the negative impact this change would have on their community. They wanted to preserve jobs in their community while still preserving its residential nature. While some, including myself, opposed the surface light rail project through Rainier Valley that battle is over. It is now a reality and I don’t see how it can be ignored. The light rail station represents a huge investment. Let’s use it to attract development that will cater to residents or employees in this area.
In order to make it work, I think we need development around the light rail station to attract more residential development with a pedestrian environment and attract businesses to employee local residents. Those objectives have been discussed for a number of years as the goals being pursued through the rezone, the expansion of the Mount Baker Station Overlay District, the new development regulations, and incentive zoning provisions. All were called for in the updated Neighborhood Plan approved by Council almost four years ago and are consistent with the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan’s recommendations for the area, recognized by City Council in 1999.
Some have expressed concern that the rezone of the property in North Rainier will lead to the loss of jobs through the redevelopment of property currently leased to Lowe’s yet they have not indicated that they intend to leave the area in the near future. And if and when they leave, I believe the new Seattle Mixed zoning provides the best opportunity for seeing the objectives listed above being realized. The designation should encourage a mix of housing types and affordability, together with commercial development, including retail and office.
The current commercial zoning does not match the neighborhood’s vision for a more safely walkable area. The Council could wait for a rezone proposal from a private party. I believe that “setting the table” for the kind of development we want is part of good economic development. Appropriate zoning will not guarantee that development occurs in a way that is consistent with the neighborhood vision; yet it makes it more likely.
Ideally, a campus-style development would create potential for more job opportunities than now present by attracting an employer or education provider. I agree that we need to continue to work to attract the appropriate development, including the jobs necessary to sustain the community members living in these neighborhoods.
The incentive zoning provisions of the legislation are important to help provide open space and affordable housing alongside. These incentive zoning provisions are best advanced by sufficient height maximums. This is why I did not support the amendment proposed by Councilmember Harrell to limit the maximum height for the Mount Baker Overlay District Special Standards Area to 85 feet, instead of 125 feet. Reducing the height maximum for the Special Standards Area would have reduced potential gains in affordable housing and open space accompanying development.
I also did not support a second amendment proposal, from Councilmember Clark, to prohibit allow residential uses above 85 feet. It is unlikely that housing will be built at this location to this height. The cost to build high-rise housing in this neighborhood would very likely be prohibitive because the rents that could be charged at this location would have to be higher than the market would support. Nevertheless, if it were to pencil-out, I would support a housing development of 125-feet and I see no reason to legislatively prohibit it.
What steps led to the passage of the bill?
The purpose of the legislation is to implement the actions called for in:
• Council passage of Resolution 31204, outlining specific actions, deliverables, and a schedule for completing neighborhood plan updates for North Beacon Hill
• North Rainier Neighborhood Plan Update, an update the goals and actions of the 1999 Neighborhood Plan
• North Rainier Neighborhood Action Plan, a work plan of strategies and actions to achieve these goals.
• The Council passed Ordinance 123575 recognizing the completion of the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan Update and incorporating the goals and policies into the Neighborhood Planning Element of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
• The Department of Planning and Development made a Director’s Analysis and Recommendation on North Rainier / Mount Baker Town Center Rezone Proposal in June of 2013.
• The proposed legislation was introduced on November 25, 2013 and discussed on November 27, 2013.
• The Planning Land Use and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee held a public hearing on May 1, 2014.
• Later that month, on May 20, 2014 PLUS discussed and passed amendments to the legislation that are incorporated into the final bill: