City council member Tom Rasmussen may be leaving office in December, but you’d think he was pandering to the zero-growth faction of the Seattle electorate at this afternoon’s council meeting, when he gave an impassioned speech on behalf of amendments that would have made bad legislation that did pass this morning even worse.
Last week, Rasmussen failed to pass five of eight amendments to a bill, sponsored by Mike O’Brien, that will make it more difficult to build in low-rise zones—areas adjacent to single-family areas where low-density multifamily housing, like townhomes and small apartment buildings, are allowed. The legislation adopted today lowers density by a variety of means, including counting exterior stairways as part of a building’s “density,” limiting the height of clerestories (small additions to allow lofted ceilings), and requiring gaps between “rowhouses” or even row houses that stand alone, which raises a pretty big existential question: How can a row house be a row house if it isn’t in a row?
Even all those new restrictions weren’t enough for Rasmussen, who said the new density restrictions would still allow developers to “bulldoze our neighborhoods” and destroy their historical character with new buildings. “With this legislation, the table is set, and the developers will have a feast,” Rasmussen said.
And then, as if there was somehow a shortage of wealthy white homeowners available to organize and turn out for a daytime meeting from which lower-income folks and renters were effectively excluded, Rasmussen effusively applauded those landowning activists who showed up in scores to testify about how their neighborhood “character” (or at least the character of their property values) would be destroyed if developers were allowed to build four-foot lofts in the third story of their buildings, or if the city no longer forced developers to include parking for studio apartments in the middle of the city.
After assuring the single-family activists that “your voices and your concerns will be reflected in the legislation that I will put before the council” last month, Rasmussen did them one better today and suggested that a group of “developer advocates” were calling them NIMBYs as “a tactic to discourage participation” by scaring them away. (NIMBY, remember, just stands for “not in my backyard,” which is exactly what the folks in council chambers today were saying about small apartment buildings and two-story townhouses adjacent to their properties).
“We must do more than allow everybody to speak for one or two minutes at a public hearing,” Rasmussen, growing increasingly animated, continued. “We must make sure that everyone is allowed the opportunity to provide meaningful involvement in planning and accommodating growth.” At the words “accommodating growth (because growth, remember, consists of abstract numbers, not actual people), the crowd burst into uproarious applause.
Rasmussen, like every departing council member, wants to leave his mark on the city. Six months before his last term ends, it looks like the legacy he’ll leave is a string of failed, increasingly petulant efforts to give a particular class of residents (homeowners, ranked in value according to how long they and their families have lived in Seattle) veto power over what their new neighbors are allowed to do.