Uptown residents speak out at zoning hearing

With an impending decision looming on the future of building heights and density in Uptown, the City of Seattle’s Office of Planning & Community Development heard from residents of the neighborhood last week, as part of an open house and public hearing at the Seattle Center Armory.
A standing-room only group of approximately 150 gathered to hear from representatives from the city about the potential zoning changes that could come to the area.
Sam Assefa, the new OPCD director, told the crowd during brief remarks that the purpose of the current process is to study the impact of a range of potential heights in the neighborhood, and will help the city understand the tradeoffs that would come with any recommendation. At a time when the city is growing quickly, Assefa emphasized the need to control looming changes to get the best possible outcomes.
“The question is how do we shape that change for better results,” he said.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement discussed on Thursday night considers three alternatives.
The “no action” alternative retains the current building heights and zoning for parcels expected to be redeveloped, and does not include design and development standards specific to Uptown to guide that growth.
The “mid-rise” alternative would include new neighborhood design standards, and buildings spanning five-to-seven stories with mandatory housing affordability requirements.
Finally, the “high-rise” alternative also includes the affordability requirements and design standards, but with taller, thinner, 16-story buildings in areas of the urban center.
But Assefa noted prior to the public comment session that the final recommendation will most likely be a combination of elements of all three alternatives that have been studied, rather than a complete recommendation of one.
The biggest concerns among speakers from the neighborhood were protecting views of residents on the south slope of Queen Anne, and addressing both traffic and infrastructure problems that would come with the addition of thousands of new residents.
One resident of Uptown said unless they leave their house between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., it’s impossible to get out in their car. Another commenter expressed their frustration getting across Mercer or Denny already, with the impending move of Expedia to the former Amgen campus, the construction of the Alaskan Way tunnel and increased density.
One speaker expressed worry over the “canyonization” of the neighborhood with new buildings far less than the potential maximum of 16 stories in the high-rise alternative already casting large shadows on neighborhood streets, remarking that they, “don’t want Uptown to look like Belltown.”
Among the stakeholder groups to be involved throughout the process was the Uptown Alliance, which originally brought the issue to the city as the only urban center left to not go through the city’s urban design framework.
“We helped really design the guiding principles that everybody came and put their own and ideas and own vision, so we had to figure out a way to circle the wagons around some of it,” said Debi Frausto of the Uptown Alliance.
Jim Holmes, senior planner with the city, stressed the need for having public comment sessions like this.
“It’s very important,” Holmes said. “There are a lot of issues raised that I think people will find are in the draft EIS already, but we want to have a fully complete of what people need to know before we can talk about this, so it was very useful.”
Holmes said the next step is for the department to prepare detailed responses to the comments and the issues raised, and possibly conduct additional analysis if warranted for the final EIS. A preliminary final rezone proposal will be released for public comment and review in November, and will be revised after that process. Holmes said the final recommendation will likely go before the City Council in February.
Written public comments on the plans can still be submitted via email through Sept. 1 to Holmes at jim.holmes@seattle.gov. Holmes also encouraged attendees to get a group of neighbors together, and set up a time for a representative of the city to come to them to gather their comments and concerns. For this current round of public comment, that request would have to be made by the end of the month.
For more information on the three alternatives, and the process, go to www.seattle.gov/dpd/cityplanning/completeprojectslist/uptown/whatwhy/.
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