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Thursday, May 24, 2012 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.
Council rejects mayor's plan for more stores in neighborhoods
By Lynn Thompson
Seattle Times staff reporter
A Seattle City Council committee Wednesday rejected a proposal to allow commercial development in low-rise, multifamily neighborhoods, part of a package of development-rule changes recommended by Mayor Mike McGinn to promote dense, walkable communities and create construction jobs.
More than two dozen Capitol Hill residents testified against the proposal to allow retail stores on what they described as quiet residential blocks of houses and apartments close to busy shopping districts, a neighborhood that one noted had a "walkability score of 100 according to Zillow."
Councilmembers Mike O'Brien and Richard Conlin, who had both supported the proposal, said they were convinced by Capitol Hill residents that the neighborhood already had what the legislation was meant to encourage.
Both also said they were concerned that the proposal hadn't been adequately vetted with neighborhood groups. Critics of the mayor's proposals said an advisory group that recommended the changes was weighted toward developers and transit advocates and lacked neighborhood involvement.
"I do believe the changes could have been positive and would have had a modest impact," said Conlin, but he added that his viewpoint "clearly hasn't been persuasive."
O'Brien said the city needed to do a better job of engaging with the neighborhoods.
"People who live in vibrant, walkable urban centers like Capitol Hill are the people we need on board to guide the future development of the city. We clearly don't have them on board today," O'Brien said.
The City Council postponed a vote on other parts of the proposed development rules, including eliminating the minimum parking requirement for new development within a quarter-mile of transit and raising the threshold for some environmental review.
Councilmember Jean Godden said the lack of outreach to neighborhoods was troubling.
"Given that many feel they were blindsided by this, I want to see that it's not rushed through," she said.
After the vote, McGinn said other neighborhoods in the city want more small stores within walking distance and the opportunity to start small businesses.
"The corner-store model served us well for a long time. I understand that some neighbors in Capitol Hill didn't see it that way. That's how the process works."
McGinn said he would continue to work with Conlin on other aspects of his development package, arguing that they would "help generate jobs and make sustainability legal in Seattle."
A handful of people at the hearing spoke in favor of the land-use package, including two members of the advisory group.
Ref Lindmark, a longtime Green Lake resident and transit planner, said the group wanted to create special places like Capitol Hill across the city.
He defended the advisory group as "good people, smart people who came with the same intent to improve the city."
But the overwhelming sentiment at the hearing was expressed by Capitol Hill residents urging that the character of their neighborhood not be altered.
Brad Chamberlain described the area as a "diverse ecosystem of apartments, condos and classic homes" and said the proposal favors "developers over existing residents and business zones."
Lisa Kothari said one reason she bought her house was for the "sweet spot of being in a neighborhood," but also having easy access to restaurants, banks and a post office.
To loud applause she said, "We don't need more walkability in our neighborhood."
One of the most moving statements was given by Bruce Crowley, who said he woke up Wednesday thinking it was going to be just another day.
"And then I saw the newspaper. It had a photo on the front with the house I grew up in on 18th and Denny." The house, pictured in The Seattle Times, is slated to be leveled to make room for a four-story, 31-unit apartment building that under the mayor's proposal could have had ground-floor retail.
Crowley said in his youth, he could walk to three mom-and-pop stores, all on nearby arterials.
He contrasted that with his current Columbia City neighborhood, where that morning he walked along South Edmunds to the Columbia City light-rail station to ride downtown for the City Council meeting.
"That's a different story," he said. "Maybe we can create a new designation of pedestrian arterial and add businesses where appropriate."
But Crowley spoke against the package of development changes. "I don't like this whole thing. I think it needs to be rethought entirely."
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.
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