by Tami Jackson
- The Capitol Hill Times -
With population growth expected to skyrocket in the next two decades, our city is already in construction upheaval. It’s hard not to notice when so many sidewalks are blocked for heavy equipment. Yet Seattle expects 120,000 new residents and 115,000 new jobs to fill downtown to the rim by the year 2035.
Fortunately, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development has taken deliberate action to keep Seattle residents informed during the outlining processes and is sharing the 20-year plans with Seattle neighborhoods. To prepare Capitol Hill residents, the city hosted a comprehensive planning meeting called “Seattle 2035″ on Monday night at Miller Community Center.
More than two dozen neighbors showed up to read the display boards with charts, maps and explanations. Residents also met with DPD staff who were available to answer questions.
Urban Planning Manager Tom Hauger was discussing the topic of construction on Capitol Hill with a local resident when Lana Blinderman approached. Blinderman expressed concern that she currently pays double the rent that she planned to afford when she first rented her studio apartment on Capitol Hill. That’s after she looked really hard to find a more economical place to stay.
“What the developers like to say is that they make housing more affordable by building more, but it’s not true,” Blinderman said.
“I understand exactly what you are saying,” Hauger said. “New construction is expensive.”
“And it drives the old construction rent up as well because then they can charge more.” Blinderman said.
“Without new construction, that would make everything even more expensive,” Hauger explained, inferring how population growth and scarcity of housing always increases housing costs.
“But then the city needs to think about rent caps,” Blinderman said.” There’s got to be something that doesn’t displace the people.”
Her primary concerns were about gentrification. Blinderman had personally observed a trend where she saw folks who she called “the most interesting people,” such as artists and the working class, being displaced and having to move away due to rising rent. These were the people Blinderman believed created the character of this neighborhood.
Hauger said that Seattle had tried to pursue rent caps 30 years ago at the state legislature but housing laws mandated that cities cannot enact rent control.
As that topic seemed to conclude, Tom pointed to the chart and began to explain some of the plans already on the table for accommodating growing housing needs. That’s when Beth Olszak, another Capitol Hill resident, piped in.
Olszak worried that none of the current plans addressed any design review processes. There wasn’t any information on how the construction would fit in with existing neighborhood structures or characteristics. She also wanted to know if the public would be allowed to participate in the decision-making processes and worried the developers would have full and exclusive control over what happens on Capitol Hill and city-wide.
Hauger said that construction projects typically involve a public process where commercial proposals go through the usual city design and review processes and suggested that anyone who wants to influence the way things are done can get involved on that level.
Then Blinderman raised questions about metro. “It’s always somewhere in the horizon that they’ll be moving the bus route,” she said. “Light rail, unless it goes everywhere, will not accommodate people who have given up their cars to take mass transit.”
She made a point that’s understandable to anyone who parks on the streets in Capitol Hill. Parking here is a tedious affair at best and relentless nightmare at worst. Not only are street parking spots scarce, but bumpers often get scratched and damaged from parallel parking. The high rate of parking tickets and cost of having to park in a commercial lot when street parking cannot be found means that some residents, including Blinderman, have considered getting rid of their cars.
Problem is, light rail travels north and south, not east and west. Blinderman wondered how she would get everywhere that she needs to go if she relies on mass transit and the city eliminated the bussing system as planned.
Andrew Taylor, who has lived on Capital Hill since 1982 and was at the open house, said that his primary concern with all of the planning proposals is that the city intends to force all of the population growth into relatively small residential areas that are already too densely populated.
Taylor referred to New York as a perfect example for what planning for dense populations should look like. He said that New York, not including Manhattan, is where multiple family dwellings are all built only three stories high. The boroughs only require a half-mile walk to the subway. In stark contrast, Seattle’s planning involved the construction of high-rise buildings in just a very small portion of the city.
“Just go on Google-search ‘maps’ and look around and you’ll find two or three-story road houses there. Almost none of the dwellings in New York are taller than that,” Taylor said. “Yet over 50 percent of the land in Seattle is designated for single family dwellings only.”
Taylor waived his hand over the outer regions to the larger white areas on the map. “This space is all designated as single family properties,” he said.
Taylor figured residents of single-family lots were powering up the city’s plans to build more skyscraper-like residential buildings downtown. He felt that single-family dwellers didn’t want their neighborhoods changed.
According to Taylor, by refusing to sprawl out with huge population growth, the city would have serious livability problems. He wants Seattle to plan ahead for quality of life, not just condensed quantities of people.
A pamphlet that the planning committee members circulated doesn’t seem to address Taylor’s concerns. It states that “focusing growth in these places makes it more predictable and efficient for the city to provide important support services.”
All of Seattle 2035 comprehensive plan information can be found on the Internet, including the maps and charts that were on display at the open house. According to the planning brochure, construction ideas currently on the table include three primary alternatives for building the most functional city. One plan has an urban center focus, another an urban village focus, and the third has a transit focus.