A coalition of local organizations says it intends to appeal the environmental review of Seattle’s new plan for neighborhood growth, which would upzone 27 neighborhoods across the city while requiring developers to help create low-income housing.
A coalition of local organizations announced Friday it intends to mount a legal challenge against the environmental review of Seattle’s new plan for neighborhood growth, which the City Council is set to consider next year.
Though a goal of the plan is to make the city more affordable, the groups — including the Eastlake Community Council, University District Community Council, Wallingford Community Council, Magnolia Community Council and the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Association — argue it will have the opposite effect.
“It will make Seattle far more unaffordable and also make it more difficult to live here due to more traffic, not enough schools, more pollution, fewer trees and a loss of the diversity of residents we currently have,” said Ravenna resident David Ward, president of the newly formed Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity, in a news release.
The coalition says it will file its challenge Monday, starting the latest battle in a long-running war between density proponents who point out that a growing Seattle needs more housing and dissenters who say too much development can change the city for the worse.
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The city’s plan, which officials have been working on since then-Mayor Ed Murray proposed the concept more than two years ago, would allow denser construction and taller buildings in more than two dozen neighborhoods while requiring developers to help Seattle add thousands of apartments affordable to households with low incomes.
Mayor Tim Burgess unveiled the details this month as the city completed its environmental review.
With City Council approval, the plan would upzone 27 urban villages, such as Lake City, Capitol Hill and Rainier Beach, and would expand the boundaries of 10 of those areas to connect development with transit.
Seattle’s urban villages are neighborhood nodes designated since the 1990s to accommodate most of the city’s growth.
Though the changes would affect all blocks now zoned for apartments and commercial buildings, along with some blocks now zoned for single-family houses, the vast majority of blocks zoned for single-family houses would not be affected. Historic districts also would not be affected.
The changes would trigger requirements for developers to build low-income housing as part of their projects or pay fees for the city to pass on to nonprofits creating such housing elsewhere.
Officials call the requirements the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, while Murray called the arrangement recommended in 2015 by his Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory committee a “grand bargain.”
The requirements are already in place in the University District, downtown, South Lake Union, the Chinatown International District and Uptown.
The council upzoned each of those already-dense areas in a sequence of unanimous votes this year.
Resistance may prove somewhat stiffer in the remaining neighborhoods, which include more longtime homeowners. But some growth advocates will describe the opponents as NIMBY (not in my backyard) obstructionists.
“We all want to keep Seattle a welcoming, affordable city for families and people of all incomes, now and into the future,” Councilmember Rob Johnson said at a Nov. 9 news conference with Burgess, promising the MHA program will yield at least 6,000 low-income units over 10 years.
The coalition opposing the growth plan says it will appeal the city’s final environmental-impact statement to the Seattle hearing examiner.
The environmental statement concluded that the plan, by boosting Seattle’s supply of market-rate and low-income apartments, would help combat gentrification and displacement in a booming city where housing is becoming more expensive.
And the statement said the plan’s negative impacts on transportation, public services, open space and air quality could be mitigated.
Lawyers Claudia Newman and David Bricklin were still working Friday on the coalition’s notice of appeal, said Susanna Lin, a Wallingford resident and spokeswoman for the coalition. Newman and Bricklin are well-known Seattle environmental and land-use lawyers.
They’ve recently represented clients seeking to block the MHA upzone of downtown, an apartment building in Pioneer Square, a cellphone tower in Medina, the demolition of a University of Washington nuclear-reactor building and the condemnation of a Montlake grocery store.
In its news release, the coalition described the environmental-impact statement as inadequate and said the plan’s impacts should be analyzed neighborhood by neighborhood.
Officials say they’ve already solicited feedback on the plan through 200 community meetings and 20 open houses, as well as over the phone, on doorsteps and online.
Last year, the Queen Anne Community Council blocked a city plan that would have allowed more and larger backyard cottages. Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner sided with the group by ordering a more thorough environmental review.