I believe it is important to shed some clarity upon the charges leveled by Justin Allegro in his Op-Ed originally published on Nov. 21, 2018 entitled, Embracing zoning changes to welcome more family-sized accessory residences.” Justin has attended meetings of the Queen Anne Community Council (QACC) and respectfully voiced his opposition to our appeal of the city’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) issued in early October. However, in doing so he ignores the foundation of the appeal and instead mischaracterizes the appeal itself and the QACC in particular.

The city is moving legislation now to eliminate all single-family zoning and convert every existing single-family property and every neighborhood citywide to multi-family triplex zoning.

Most importantly, the QACC appeal (www.queenanneappeal.org) lawfully challenges the City’s assertion that every Seattle neighborhood is exactly the same absent any differentiation. The EIS advances blanket opinions subjecting every Seattle neighborhood, property, street and yard to identical significant land use changes that eliminate single-family zoning throughout the entire city without regard to, or mitigation steps for, the resulting significant impacts. Contrary to the law, the EIS is deficient in recognizing even one difference between a lot of 3,200 square feet or 15,000 square feet; between streets 30 feet wide or 60 feet wide; between infrastructure and shared utilities installed in 1908 vs. newer neighborhoods platted in the 1950s, among many others. The QACC supports tweaking current regulations but unlike Councilmember O’Brien’s “Preferred Alternative” to eliminate all single-family neighborhoods, we favor instead an accountable, thorough and transparent city commitment to environmental analysis and neighborhood-centric representative alternatives.

The QACC appeal in no way represents an effort to restrict increased density or support a status quo, which Mr. Allegro suggests aligns with a history of racist zoning — redlining. Indeed, the QACC has always supported growth in a respectful and transparent manner. During my 16 years serving on the council and the Land Use Review Committee (LURC), I cannot remember one suggestion from any community member that Queen Anne limit growth or restrict diversity in any way. In fact, we have thoughtfully encouraged it — just look around Queen Anne and you will see a multitude of projects in which the QACC played an active role in bringing to pass.

For those looking for a boogieman, Queen Anne and other neighborhoods often get singled out unfairly as cloistered and resistive to change. Is that you? Certainly not me or my colleagues on the QACC. Unfortunately, Mr. Allegro’s opinion fails to identify what the QACC is actually appealing and why we remain so steadfast in our effort to hold the city accountable. 

It is easy to criticize, and give voice to opposition spin, but all one needs to do is read the legislation and then consider the history behind its birth, drill down into the EIS, and then ask yourself if the EIS offers a thorough, objective and comprehensive assessment of the full range of impacts from the proposed legislative changes as was required by the decision of the hearing examiner that required this EIS two years ago? We, along with citizens throughout our city, think not. Indeed, after the EIS was released on Oct. 4, 2018, I and hundreds of others around Seattle reviewed the study and found it to be woefully incomplete, non-responsive to obvious serious impacts, and deficient in adequately addressing many clear alternatives.

So, I will briefly fill in the facts, which Mr. Allegro chose not to discuss (a more thorough explanation can be found at www.queenanneappeal.org).

For example, the new legislative changes would eliminate all single-family zoning citywide and instead encourage three residences on every property over 3,200 square feet everywhere throughout Seattle and allow 12 unrelated people to occupy each property without an owner-occupancy or on-site parking requirement. Perhaps newer neighborhoods that have wide streets, large lots and newer infrastructure could more easily accommodate more density and cars, but early Seattle neighborhoods like Queen Anne, Capitol Hill and two dozen others near downtown have much different challenges. The EIS failed to study any of these inner-city neighborhoods! Could your street easily accommodate this tripling of density and 12 unrelated people living on one property and parking on your 30-foot-wide street?  The EIS suggests Queen Anne and your older neighborhoods are exactly the same as newer outer neighborhoods like Wedgewood, Morgan Junction, or Blue Ridge that all have average lot sizes and streets two to three times as large. Councilmember O’Brien’s ideological one-size-fits-all approach to urban planning and complete disregard for disparate impacts runs counter to every universal professional planning convention.

Proposed changes would also eliminate the owner-occupancy requirement. Since 2010, the current code allows mother-in-law apartments or backyard cottages throughout Seattle provided the property owner retains ownership and resides in one unit or the other. Absent this requirement, developers and investment speculators will be able to convert family homes throughout every neighborhood to portfolio rentals without any stake in your community. The EIS suggests that this will not happen.  Really? The city’s own developer witness proved otherwise in our appeal hearing two years ago. And this EIS simply holds once again that this will not happen without evidence! Really? 

What does our appeal really mean? We feel strongly that the city has a responsibility to lawfully complete the EIS and identify alternatives that mitigate obvious impacts. Instead, this EIS cherry-picked outer lying neighborhoods, ignoring over 20 inner-city older neighborhoods like Queen Anne, and held that there would no citywide impacts. Neighborhoods like Queen Anne and the other 30-plus in Seattle deserve thoughtful consideration, not a one-size-fits-all conversion of every single-family property to triplex zoning.  Some properties that are 3,200 square feet on one-lane streets with no available parking should be evaluated much differently than a 10,000-square-foot property with wide city streets and sparse on-street parking. Instead, the EIS treats every one of Seattle’s 135,000 single-family properties as though they are all exactly the same.

Like Mr. Allegro, we agree that current regulations can be amended to make it easier to build one other unit on your property. I have expressly suggested to Councilmember O’Brien that many neighborhoods could support elements of his proposal but many others will be significantly impacted due to their unique predominant property size, street widths and infrastructure challenges, among others. For instance, it is common in older neighborhoods like Queen Anne for properties to share sewer lines designed originally to accommodate one house and family. Can you imagine sharing such a line installed in 1910 and have your neighbor convert their home to three residences occupied by 12 people? The EIS failed to address this issue and many more like it. Councilmember O’Brien would not consider even one alternative compromise I proposed.

In sum, the reason we appealed is because the EIS is incomplete and deficient in adequately studying the impacts and identifying responsible alternatives. I feel strongly that councilmembers should be facilitators, not autocrats strictly beholden to their own narrow ideology. One size does not fit all!

Martin Henry Kaplan is an architect and member of the Queen Anne Community Council, where he serves as chair of the Land Use Review Committee.