Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s plans call for a denser neighborhood with more high-rise buildings. Some residents like the idea, while other say it's no good.
Mayor Ed Murray’s vision of a denser University District sprouting high-rise buildings and a campus-powered innovation hub drew more than 100 people to a public hearing in the Seattle neighborhood Wednesday night.
Fans and foes of the Murray-proposed zoning changes under consideration by the City Council, which the mayor says will help create affordable housing, packed a Hotel Deca banquet room.
There were only enough chairs for about half the crowd, so dozens stood shoulder-to-shoulder.
One U District resident said the proposed changes are an example of why many people don’t trust their government.
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She called the upzone “too big, too sudden … and too disruptive” and said it would leave her neighborhood “as characterless as Ballard.”
But another woman, who described herself as a third-generation Seattleite and a U District homeowner, said the changes are needed in order to increase housing options for ordinary families.
Homes now sell for $800,000 in the neighborhood, she said: “That’s not the Seattle I grew up in.”
A U District renter asked the council to encourage construction rather than to allow Seattle to become as costly as San Francisco and unwelcoming to poor people.
Councilmember Rob Johnson, who chairs the council’s land-use committee and who represents District 4, which includes the U District, said the changes he supports are the result of years of study.
And Sam Assefa, the mayor’s head planner, said officials have engaged U District neighbors about the changes on more than 90 occasions.
The neighborhood is slated for changes that would allow taller buildings — up to 320 feet in some locations — partly because a light-rail station is coming to Brooklyn Avenue Northeast and because the neighborhood is one of six so-called urban centers designated to absorb much of booming Seattle’s population growth.
The University of Washington wants to see technology and other startup companies cluster in the area as it evolves.
The zoning changes would trigger new affordable-housing mandates, Assefa noted. Developers would be required to either include some rent-restricted units in their projects or pay into the city’s affordable-housing fund.
The planner said that would help create 600 to 900 affordable homes in the U District, many more than would be lost to development. Some opponents of the changes scoffed at that.
Though teardowns are happening already, several people said they worry the changes would lead to more replacement of modest houses and small apartment buildings with expensive high-rises.
The requirements for developers would vary across a range, but for some projects, the mandate would be 9 percent of a project’s units, or $20 per square foot.
Some unionized UW employees said they want more input, while neighborhood nonprofit leaders backed the changes.
Johnson said the council expects to vote in January.