Claim: Affordable and Family Housing Proposal Would “Cause Irreparable harm to the Entire Phinney Ridge Neighborhood”

Two Phinney Ridge homeowners—longtime Phinney Ridge Community Council activist Irene Wall and former Seattle City Council central staffer Bob Morgan—have filed an appeal in King County Superior Court seeking to stop a proposed 55-foot-tall, five-story apartment building at 70th and Greenwood. The land use petition claims that a site-specific zoning change approved by the city council earlier this month is illegal and will allow developer Chad Dale to construct a building that is out of character with the surrounding neighborhood. Wall and Morgan filed their petition after the city’s hearing examiner rejected their arguments and recommended that the council adopt the rezone.

The site of the proposed development, where a long-closed Oroweat Bakery outlet used to stand, abuts a single-family area and is flanked by lots where 40-foot-tall apartment buildings are already allowed. Under the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, which would require developers to fund affordable housing in exchange for denser zoning in designated urban villages like Greenwood Ave., the entire site and the adjoining land are supposed to be upzoned to allow 55-foot buildings. That upzone, however, is also being delayed by homeowner litigation—which is why the council granted the contract rezone, allowing the project (in play since 2016) to move forward.

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Although the project isn’t subject to MHA rules, the developer plans to participate in the city’s multifamily tax exemption program, which provides a 12-year tax break to developers who agree to set aside 20 percent of units to people making less than 80 percent of the Seattle median income. Sixty percent of the units would have two or more bedrooms—a rare commodity in Seattle, where most new apartments are studios and one-bedrooms—and there would be less than one parking space per unit. That’s another likely point of contention in a neighborhood where activists have consistently and adamantly argued against developments that fail to provide  far more parking than the city requires, though not an argument Wall and Morgan make directly in their land use petition. Phinney Ridge homeowners successfully stalled a proposed four-story apartment building down the street from the building Wall and Morgan are suing to stop, arguing in appeal after appeal that the new apartments would block neighbors’ sunlight, lead to noise from rooftop parties, and make it impossible for homeowners to park their cars on the street.

 

 

In their petition, Wall and Morgan argue that there isn’t enough of a  height transition between the proposed 55-story developments and adjacent single-family houses directly behind the Greenwood Avenue property;  that the new building would “block Olympic Mountain views from the commercial lots to the east’; that a five-story building would restrict neighbors’ access to “light and air”; and that, furthermore, any building on Greenwood Avenue that’s adjacent to a single-family lot on either side of the street should be kept as small as possible—in this case, the current, pre-MHA 40 feet. “The Council’s approval of the 7009 contract rezone … allows for construction of a five story building right on the property line shared with the single family zone (except for a minimal setback on the fifth floor) when the Code requires a gradual transition between zones and specifies substantially greater setbacks,” Wall and Morgan’s petition says, creating “a structure out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood.”

The argument that mixed-use apartment buildings are inappropriate for commercial corridors located directly on bus lines, such as Greenwood Avenue, is particularly bitter, given that the city kept urban villages as shallow as possible—typically the half-block immediately adjacent to major commercial arterials—specifically at the request of single-family neighborhood groups, which did not want apartments to encroach on the city’s exclusive single-family areas. (This happened during the vaunted neighborhood planning process of the 1990s, whose result was that nearly two-thirds of the city’s buildable land are preserved exclusively for single-family housing.) Now, that decision to ban apartments from all but a sliver of the city’s residential land is being used to justify a legal challenge that would restrict developers’ ability to build apartments on that sliver.

The petition asks the King County Superior court to place a stay on the council’s legislation allowing the rezone on the grounds that, if the project were allowed to move forward (after being on hold for two years, thanks largely to Wall and Morgan’s repeated appeals), it would “cause irreparable harm to Petitioners and the entire Phinney Ridge neighborhood.”

7 thoughts on “Claim: Affordable and Family Housing Proposal Would “Cause Irreparable harm to the Entire Phinney Ridge Neighborhood”

  1. I am one of the appellants of the 7009 Greenwood projects, and would like to respond to your article with my perspective on the custom zoning granted to the developer of this project.

    1) Community Plans and Zoning Tossed Out. I invite your readers to stand at the corner of Greenwood Ave. N and N 68th Street and look to the north with the Fini building on your left and the Hendon Condominiums building on your right. With a little imagination, one gets a picture of where Phinney Ridge is rapidly heading under current zoning.
    Now, imagine fifteen feet added to the height of those structures, not just at the 7009 Greenwood project, but all along Phinney Ridge up to North 84th street; this project prejudges the proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) 55-foot up-zone of Phinney Ridge. I do not find this to be a pretty picture.
    By the way, the 55-foot height of the roof of the proposed building is not the full story. It will be 59 feet to the top of its parapet railing, which is what gives the building it’s apparent height. There will be a solar array on the top of the building rising to 66 feet, a greenhouse up to 67 feet, and the top of the elevator penthouse will reach 70 feet.
    This exception to existing community plans and zoning should not have been granted before the required process for review of the MHA 55-foot up-zone for Phinney Ridge has been completed. It was the choice of the developer to ignore adopted zoning limitations to pursue special exceptions and undergo the delays inherent in such an action.
    The increase in the permitted height along Phinney Ridge by 15 feet will increase redevelopment pressure. Change is happening and will continue, but public actions affect the nature, the speed, and the degree of change. How long will structures like the beautiful 73d Street Building and those housing Herkimer Coffee, the 74th Street Ale House, Red Mill Burgers, the Couth Buzzard, El Chupacabra and many more survive when five stories are allowed on Phinney Ridge? As with the Showbox, I’m sure many residents will be up in arms too late when some of these buildings are proposed to be demolished.

    2) The proposal sets a terrible precedent regarding setbacks: By code, setbacks or buffers are to be provided in the larger scale commercial zone, to protect the lesser intensive zone. Under the precedent of this rezone, any developer with deep enough pockets to buy the single-family lots adjacent to the commercial zone can carve their multi-family/commercial buffer out of the single-family zone rather than provide it on-site. This in effect pushes the single-family zone back one lot without the benefit of a rezoning process.

    3) A false choice between affordable housing and community character. The City Council has chosen to promote “affordable” housing by sacrificing the future character of many areas around the City with a one-size-fits-all up-zoning scheme – MHA. The Council needs to do better than that. Affordable housing should be required without developer giveaways. On Phinney Ridge perhaps this could be required as repayment for the additional story added last time the zoning was increased. How about some real contribution from the 1%?
    The bulk of affordable housing to be provided by the proposed project would result from the Multi-family Tax Exemption (MFTE) program. This program, by the way, would be available whether the custom up-zone is approved or not. Under the MFTE program the units need be maintained as affordable for only 12 years, and the monthly rental rates are $1,141 for a studio, $1,505 for s one-bedroom unit and, $1,918 for a two-bedroom. This is not likely to be much help the people camping at Green Lake and other areas around the City.
    – Bob Morgan

  2. You wrote:”(This happened during the vaunted neighborhood planning process of the 1990s, whose result was that nearly two-thirds of the city’s buildable land are preserved exclusively for single-family housing.) ”
    The percentage of Seattle zoned single-family is 35%, shown in the Comprehensive Plan Land Use Appendix A. By using a different figure for “buildable land,” you are repeating the propaganda of developers. It’s misleading. Please stop. Otherwise, helpful story.

  3. As a long time Greenwood resident and homeowner, I also think the objections raised by this group are ridiculous. C’mon folks, we can’t be immune to change. I only wish it were all low income housing rather than mostly market rate, though I appreciate the 20% of units being reserved for renters earning less than 80% AMI.

  4. Their obstructionist use of process is extremely frustrating for those of us in Phinney/GW who do support additional housing. In an early objection, they claimed that you could not see the mountains if a building went up there. Guess what? You already can’t see the mountains because there’s a house in the way.

  5. Their claims seem ridiculous to me. This is only a few feet taller than the buildings on the same side of the street (on the other side of the church — https://goo.gl/maps/ykNvdti1oEE2). On the far side (away from the arterial) you have houses like this: https://goo.gl/maps/RbNstQsv1XQ2. If anything, that house is way more out of character than the apartment building.

    The whole notion of small houses being overwhelmed by giant apartments is ridiculous. This is not a place where people have small one story houses. They have tall houses on big platforms, all to try and gain a view.

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