Getting to the point: Roosevelt single-family lobby’s argument falls flat

Newcomers welcome in Roosevelt--up to a point!

There’s an oft stated canard repeated by a mix of anti-growth advocates and single family home owners that says “we’ve got more than enough zoning in Seattle!” It’s another way of saying, “we’re just fine, thanks!” when it comes to density.  The facts point in the other direction. Unfortunately the narrative spun by Seattle Times reporter Lynn Thompson would have you believe that the loudest voices against density aren’t against density at all. She quotes the leader of the group opposing upzones on key properties in Roosevelt:

“We sang the song,” said Jim O’Halloran, former president of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association. “‘Bring the train. We want to make your train the center of our urban village.'”

“Up to a point,” Thompson swoons. The point up to which O’Halloran wants to allow redevelopment on vacant properties isn’t anywhere near what’s needed in Roosevelt to support the more people living and working in the neighborhood.

O’Halloran’s spin works, up to a point; the point where it disintegrates into crypto anti-growth rhetoric parroted by the Seattle Times. There are three reasons why it’s easy to see the NIMBY in O’Halloran’s supposed magnanimity toward growth.

First, the argument depends on the idea that growth is an impact that has to be absorbed. That’s false. All those people, all that traffic, all that height bulk and scale are going to increase the value of property in Roosevelt. The upzone doesn’t just help the property owner who is going to develop, but it also helps all the people living around the new development, especially single-family homeowners. Current homeowners and renters benefit from coming businesses and amenities. Growth isn’t an impact at all, and O’Halloran and his friends will all cry themselves to the bank when the rezones go through and they get a thriving, dense, awesome neighborhood.

Second, O’Halloran believes that it’s his right to decide how much growth to “take.” He and his committee feel that it’s democratic that people who are got to the Roosevelt neighborhood first should determine how many people should come after. It’s a form of reverse red lining based on who lives in Roosevelt now. “We got here first,” O’Halloran is saying, “we decide how many come after us!” That’s a bad way of doing business. Imagine if the first pioneers to the Northwest could slam the door behind them. Seattle wouldn’t exist. None of us would be here. New business, ideas, and jobs come when more people arrive. They have to live somewhere, and Roosevelt is a great place for them to live.

Lastly, O’Halloran and his allies like to say that upzones aren’t necessary. I wrote a post at Sightline a year ago tackling the concept that we “have enough zoning.” It’s a stubborn argument because it uses numbers, and often numbers can be confused with the truth. The fact that Seattle has a lot scattered parcels of land zoned at 65 feet doesn’t mean we can accommodate coming growth. Part of the reason that the market is driving more development in Roosevelt is because people have successfully fought it elsewhere. All those people that could have lived at Waldo Woods, the Goodwill site, and Pioneer Square are going to have to go somewhere. They should go to Roosevelt not Maple Valley. Jim O’Halloran is willing to allow them to come—up to the point it makes him uncomfortable.

The problem with Thompson’s take is that she got spun on the old Lesser Seattle meme: growth is an impact on people here now. Sure, we’re nice people and we’re willing to accommodate these new folks—up to a point. The good news is that Jim O’Halloran doesn’t get to decide. We all do, through our representatives on the City Council. They’ve been spotty on this kind of thing before, but perhaps wisdom and the broader view will prevail, and O’Halloran and his group will get their voices heard—up to a point; the point when the interests of the few people here now get trumped by the many more yet to come.


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4 Responses to Getting to the point: Roosevelt single-family lobby’s argument falls flat

  1. Sarajane Siegfriedt says:

    The current plan has only single-family zoning immediately north of the station (where QFC is now). That’s ridiculously low density for a transit-oriented development. It deprives many low- and middle-income renters who would be attracted to car-free living from close proximity to the station.

  2. andy says:

    there seems to be this fallacy that “density-hawk” bloggers and commenters keep falling into:
    Increased Density is Good; therefore increasing it even more must be Even Better!

    some of the criticism I’ve found seems to follow the line of “….the proposed rezone in Roosevelt is a substantial increase…”, but not enough….

    it seems for some people it would never be enough: Make the sky the limit and let the market sort it out…… unfortunately, this would leave us all living for decades in a jumble of high-rises next to single-family houses — not the sort of livability or quality of life we should aspire to.

    But anyway, to the specific points about Roosevelt an the ReZoning Proposals:

    The neighborhood-generated re-zone proposal in Roosevelt suggested even more up-zoning that DPD put into its april proposal.

    Roosevelt Neighborhood proposal of 2006:

    DPD, April 2011:

    either way, these proposals call for more than doubling the zoned-for residential unit additional capacity, and increasing the available commercial space twenty-fold — in a relatively small community — and this is being spoken of as “woefully inadequate” and a “token gesture”…..
    (it is proposed that the current zoned capacity of 269 units and 10,604 feet of commercial space be increased by an ADDITIONAL 348 residential units and 215,209 commercial square feet….. )

    yep, I realize that there’s going to be a transit station RIGHT THERE…. the neighborhood lobbied for it! and this IS the perfect place for density — just steps from mass transit…. but there’s got to be a limit to the amount you force into a small neighborhood before it becomes no neighborhood at all……..

    the roosevelt neighborhood is, by and large, on the side of development, higher density, and “smart growth”. They’ve worked hard for it, and spent a long time working on creating a plan approved by the consensus of the residents.
    And yes, residents SHOULD have their voices heard — upzoning an area like this is going to be terribly disruptive for the foreseeable future. Developments won’t be created by the wave of a magic wand, and during this transition period of some developments happening, and others delaying for 5, 10, 20 years — well, its going to an awkward and semi-developed neighborhood with almost constant construction impacts.
    some background, and comments:
    please appreciate that this neighborhood has been very proactive all along, with little or no help from the city or sound transit, and they worked up their own station-area-planning effort because they didn’t want to see it happen in a piecemeal, contract-rezone, unplanned, haphazard, last-minute manner. why Sound Transit spends billions on light rail, but doesn’t facilitate station area planning efforts well in advance of station/light rail developments is mystifying (but subject for a separate discussion — thorough “smart-growth” planning efforts YEARS ahead of time (like at least 10) are needed if Sound Transit and the region wants to be successful in the near-term future of the next few decades……).
    Roosevelt recognized this 6-7 years back….. and begun doing something about it.
    with a number of people howling that the neighborhood-endorsed plan of upzones aren’t big enough, I think its worth considering how many areas of Seattle fight all developments…..
    yet here is a neighborhood that fought for the light rail alignment to be moved INTO the center of their community; and then took it upon themselves to organize the public process and created a consensus plan of upzoning the center of their neighborhood. Neither DPD, nor the mayor’s office, nor the city council, nor sound transit was thinking this far ahead and even considering this 5 years ago, and the community –on their own– started pushing for growth & density.
    consider how (unfortunately) rare this is…… its a bloody shame that some of the folks who’ve now come late to the issue are labling the neighborhood as “NIMBY”.
    this is a neighborhood that not only NEVER said “Not In My Backyard” — but actually ran a campaign which stated “YIMFY” (“Yes In My Front Yard”)
    Roosevelt WANTS growth, but recognized early the importance of Smart Growth — not just blindly demanding that everything within a certain distance of the station be zoned up out of scale for an “urban village” or arbitrarily to some the maximum amount……
    The biggest current issue which everyone should rally behind is demanding that the Roosevelt Station be designed by Sound Transit for a complete and integrated over-build. Much of the discussion bouncing around online and in discussions concern whether certain city blocks should be upzoned to 40 vs. 65 feet — not that big an impact.
    A much bigger difference –-many more units of potential housing, creating much greater density–- could be realized if the station were designed with a full build-out of housing above.
    In June the mayor recommended changes to the proposed re-zoning which are out-of-scale and ignore the the structure and layout of the community. The principle reason cited for these new changes is the loss of potential density due to Sound Transit. Their plans call for a station lobby which is the equivalent of an empty airport concourse – a two story tall, 2 block long glass box using up some 50,000 square feet of prime land IN the business core – all for a station which is 70 feet underground!

    This neighborhood successfully lobbied to align the station near the crossroads of the business core – a spot which allows the maximum amount of transit-oriented-development. It is a HUGE frustration that Sound Transit is now limiting the very density which should be accommodated in the business core at the station itself – and therefore development is being pushed out into the surrounding residential areas.

    The University District (brooklyn) station will allow for development, and so should the station in Roosevelt.

    A VERY thorough and VERY public process created Roosevelt’s re-zoning plan. Its a plan which meets the city’s growth targets, and welcomes development and density – but this is being blocked by some preliminary transit station design work.
    This makes NO sense.
    All supporters of smart-growth and higher-density planning should take as a top priority calling for Sound Transit to design the Roosevelt and Northgate stations to be constructed with full-height, max-density “overbuild”. these stations should just be something which is incorporated UNDER a well-designed, site appropriate, mixed-use high-rise…… just like the stations downtown!
    The design of these NorthLink stations is currently still in the early, conceptual stages. Now is the time to change these plans, because once these stations are constructed it will be nearly impossible to build anything above them in the future.

  3. Pingback: Station Area Zoning In Seattle: Legislation or Initiative? - Seattle Transit Blog

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