Citizens for Livability in Ballard, a group that includes one current and two former presidents of the Ballard District Council, is appealing the proposed Seattle 2035 comprehensive plan update under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), and has submitted a kitchen-sink discovery request that could end up costing city taxpayers $100,000 or more.
Olympic Manor Community Club representative (and current BDC president) Joe Wert, 36th District Republicans representative Kirk Robbins, and Sunset West Condominium Association representative Steve Cohn filed the appeal, which claims the city hasn’t done an adequate environmental analysis of the proposed comp plan update. That plan, which the city council is considering in conjunction with Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (which itself is being appealed by Queen Anne homeowner Marty Kaplan) would expand the city’s urban village boundaries to allow more density around neighborhood centers.
The appeal, which you can read in full here, charges that the city made up its mind about how it wanted to shape future zoning before doing a full assessment of the traffic, parking, and “character” impacts the new plan would have on the city’s neighborhoods, and that the proposal allows “upzoning of all [urban villages] into the highs [sic] density provided for in the zoning code with no guidance from the Comprehensive Plan.” It also charges that the plan fails to consider the “fact” that people will always need to own cars, because they’ll always want to drive to the forest.
“Travel mode choice for work or shopping trips has little effect on the individual choice of automobile ownership,” the complaint alleges. (In fact, countless analyses have shown that people with access to frequent, reliable transit are much less likely to own cars). “One of the attractions of the Pacific Northwest is a variety of year-round recreational opportunities. Most of those opportunities for hiking, skiing and other activities are only accessible by private automobile.” Because as everyone knows, Seattle is the only city in the country with natural beauty within driving distance, making it uniquely necessary for every citizen to own a car.
At any rate, the city has asked the hearing examiner to dismiss Citizens’ appeal because this is the first time the group has ever commented on the environmental statement (you’re supposed to raise any objections when an EIS is in the draft phase), and because they can’t identify any specific harm that will result if the 2035 plan goes forward. (The appeal says, vaguely, that Citizens has standing because “the appellants are residents of Seattle and adversely affected” by the land-use changes in the proposal, but the city’s motion for dismissal argues that living in the city doesn’t give you standing to hold up the city’s entire planning process).
As part of the appeal, Citizens has submitted a laundry list of documents it wants the city to provide in discovery, which, if the hearing examiner decides to take up the case, “is probably going to cost the taxpayers at least $100,000 in additional legal costs, if not more,” according to a local land-use attorney familiar with SEPA appeals. The demands include “any auto ownership studies prepared by the city since 2005,” “All parks demand analysis prepared by the City since 2005,” “All travel time surveys or models performed by the City since 2005,” and “The additional number of residential units or commercial, office or other space provided for in all proposed expansions of Urban Centers and Urban Villages,” among nearly two dozen equally broad demands.
Fundamentally, the 2035 proposal is a plan to make room for the 120,000 new Seattle residents who are expected to move here in the next 20 years. The city’s plan is to give those residents opportunities to live in the heart of thriving neighborhood commercial districts. Homeowners who managed to buy in to single-family neighborhoods when they were still affordable, and now dominate groups like the Ballard District Council, are pushing a very different vision.