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Neighborhood Groups Want Seattle To Provide More Analysis On Upzone Plan

Simone Alicea
Cacima Lee and representatives from 25 other neighborhood groups gather at Seattle City Hall to announce their appeal of the city's upzoning plan.

A group of 26 neighborhood organizations wants Seattle to reevaluate a plan for upzones in many parts of the city.

Under the name Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity, the group is appealing the final environmental impact statement for the city's Mandatory Housing Affordability plan released a few weeks ago.

In the appeal filed with the city hearing examiner Monday afternoon, the coalition called the final EIS "inadequate" on several counts. The group is mainly concerned with outlining the individual impacts in each neighborhood where changes would occur.

"They only talk about the vague idea of 'neighborhood impact,'" Beacon Hill Community Council member Cacima Lee said.

"They don't think about how they're going to impact Beacon Hill's traffic. They don't talk about how they're going to impact the air and noise quality here and they don't talk about how many people they're going to displace in the Beacon Hill community specifically," Lee said.

The city has been working on Mandatory Housing Affordability requirements for about two years. The pinch point is in what former Mayor Ed Murray dubbed the "grand bargain."

The bargain goes like this: Zoning would change in many parts of the city to accommodate for more density to encourage developers to build more. In return, those developers would have to guarantee a certain percentage of affordable housing on-site or pay into a city fund to build that housing elsewhere.

Criticisms range from worries about how upzoning might affect the look and feel of neighborhoods to concerns the plan gives doesn't require enough from developers to calls for even more aggressive upzoning in some parts of the city.

The idea of zoning and building changes to deal with a housing crisis is a sensitive subject in Seattle.

At a press conference announcing the coalition's appeal Monday, one onlooker began to call out to the presenters, claiming that some were lying about the effects of potential upzones and saying they represented only their "rich white neighborhoods." Several coalition members took issue with the characterization, and arguments began to ensue.

Representatives from many of the organizations that are part of the coalition said they don't expect the appeal to stop the plan altogether. But Seattle Fair Growth president and one-time City Council candidate Jon Lisbin said he hopes the process will raise awareness about upcoming changes.

"I was just at a meeting with 12 people and I asked them if they heard of Mandatory Housing Affordability, and not one could raise their hand," Lisbin said. "So we're in our little bubble where we know about this, but the public does not, and that's one thing we definitely want to come out of this process."

The coalition is asking the hearing examiner to order the city to complete a supplemental EIS that looks at individual neighborhood impacts.

The City Council has already planned a series of public hearings and open houses on the plan, which will still happen. However, the council can't vote until the appeals process is over.

In an emailed statement, Councilmember Rob Johnson welcomed the appeal.

"It's what ensures we have good information and affords everyone the opportunity to 'check our work,'" Johnson said.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.