Hoopla over HALA

Since its initial rollout in July, the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) recommendations have been scrutinized by some who feel that neighborhood concerns were not properly addressed during the process.

On Monday night (May 15), community members had a chance to voice those concerns to city officials.

Approximately 75 people packed a meeting room at the Queen Anne Community Center to discuss the recommendations that had those on hand concerned over what zoning changes could mean for their neighborhoods.

Between November 2014 and July of last year, a 28-member advisory committee crafted the recommendations, with input from more than 2,700 community members both online and in person. The goal was to create 50,000 housing units in the city in the next 10 years, 30,000 at market rate and 20,000 affordable units.

Marty Kaplan, chair of the Queen Anne Community Council Land Use and Planning Committees, led the discussion on Monday night, and took issue with how the recommendations are being presented by the city.

“This agreement is being sold to us as a marketing and sales pitch that’s going on, and frankly that disturbs me a little bit,” Kaplan said.

That, to Kaplan, is in stark contrast to the city’s “bottom up” planning commitment through the decades, with neighborhood plans, design guidelines coming out of neighborhoods, and grassroots involvement from every corner of the city.

“Those of us that have been involved in planning our communities for a very long time are used to this type of interaction,” he said.

Instead, he claimed that the HALA recommendations are “being written as one-size fits all.”

“Each of us has our kind of culture, and therefore we’ve been used to be able to talk about this with planners at city hall, and come up with some pretty good, respectful partnerships,” he said.

Geoff Wentlandt, a senior urban planner with the city, said officials want the community to be part of the conversations moving forward, and what urban village expansion may look like.

As proposed by HALA, changes in single-family zoning would be limited to urban villages, urban village expansion areas, and areas already zoned for commercial or multifamily development.

Changes in single-family zones outside of urban villages and expansion areas are not being pursued at this time.

Queen Anne Avenue North, between West Galer and West McGraw streets, is currently designated as a residential urban village, while most of Uptown is considered an “urban center.”

Wentlandt said it won’t be until this fall, or later, that the process moves on to mapping exercises, and how zoning changes would look or feel. While the zoning changes were outlined in broad strokes in the initial HALA report, he said, the discussions now are a matter of developing principles, “statements that we all agree to,” that can guide the changes.

When asked how concurrency is being considered in deciding where to upzone, and the timing of such decisions, Wentlandt mentioned the environmental impact statement conducted to evaluate all potential impacts. If there are substantial impacts to the neighborhood that cannot be mitigated, he said, it would imply that changing the zoning of the area may not be the best idea.

“Just because it’s a city-wide study doesn’t mean it will ignore local conditions,” he said.

Questions were also raised in regard to how effective the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirement would be in creating more affordable housing in the city. Under that proposal, developers of new commercial and multi-family residential buildings would have to either include affordable units, or make a payment to support affordable housing in the city.

But Wentlandt stressed that under the current regulations, developers don’t have to contribute at all.

“Today they don’t have to pay anything toward affordable housing,” he said.

Finally, the meeting also drew questions on the construction of accessory dwelling units and detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs and DADUs). One particular concern raised was that under the recommendations, developers could theoretically buy an affordable house, and use the footprint of the site to build a home with a DADU, and a basement apartment.

“Ownership, we thought, was really important,” Kaplan said of developing the city’s original ADU plan while on the planning commission.

However, the discussion on ADUs came before councilmember Mike O’Brien released his compromise proposal in relation to the backyard apartment/mother-in-law apartment regulations. Under that proposal, property owners would have to live on site for 12 months after building one of those units, with the idea that speculators would balk at buying houses to construct secondary apartments, and owners themselves would take greater consideration into how those units fit into the feel of the neighborhoods.

In the coming weeks and months, the city is planning further outreach efforts and community engagement before the city council begins finalizing zoning changes.

For more information on the HALA recommendations, visit www.seattle.gov/HALA.

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