NIMBYism Distillate: What We Get When Council Coddles Growth Opponents

Here we have what someone has called NIMBYism Distillate:


Distillate is defined as “a purified form; an essence.”

Yes, I think that’s the right word. I need to learn more about the project referenced by this poster, but I already know what I am seeing.

Let these fliers be an ongoing reminder of what happens when the Seattle City Council coddles growth opponents; they grow in strength.

Here’s what Mike O’Brien said about the same ilk when they appeared to squash regulatory form:

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.

Councilmembers’ road to political success is not, however, paved with support from the “neighborhoods.” But it is true that when politicians pander for votes or personal approval, people remember; and they’ll repeat the banal trope, “there was no input from the neighborhood.”

For me, the story of O’Brien’s willingness to cave to the “neighborhoods” opposition to regulatory reform is sad personally. I met with him and asked him how he’d deal with these things. He assured me he’d do the right thing. Instead he’s proven malleable in the face of pressure from “neighborhoods” and remarkably thin skinned to my criticism of him.

But more importantly, when he reversed himself on regulatory reform and talked (wrongly) about the lack of involvement from neighborhood people in that effort he gave comfort to the worst tendency in people, fear.

I hope, notwithstanding his irritation with me, that he’ll change his course, become more bold, and perhaps lead his Council colleagues to listen less and do more. It’s a hope, which, I’ve been learning, is intention without attachment.

“. . . but not in flattery.”

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7 Responses to NIMBYism Distillate: What We Get When Council Coddles Growth Opponents

  1. Sophia Katt says:

    The flyer above is asking for a neighborhood review. That doesn’t seem dreadful to me. And since the state allows developers to be responsible for a building’s construction for only four years, the review process is the only way we who live our lives next to that building for decades to come can encourage some sort of construction and architectural quality control. Nor is it cowardly of an elected official to acknowledge the wishes of voters–it is practical. Because we do vote, and if politicians refuse to listen to our concerns or try to officiously ram policies down our throats without input we un-elect them. Quickly.

    It’s called democracy in action; the process can seem slow or frustrating to angry young men who want to bang their fists on a table and get their way without so much as a “slow down, fella”, but the process works. Go wander around Pike Place Market and ask yourself what that part of town would be like if the “we want our progress unimpeded” crew of 1975 had been allowed to bang their fists and get their mow-it-down-in-the-name-of-progress way. A number of us said, “Slow down!” and saved what has become an essential and iconic part of our city.

    • The problem is that on the scale of smaller buildings, design review does more than slow them down. It kills them.

      If this is an aPodment project, which is likely, then we’re talking about affordable housing for 39 people removed – effectively keeping 39 people from being able to afford to live in Seattle. And this is in order to “save” a forclosed house, not Pike Place Market.

      • Sophia Katt says:

        Do we know that this is an APodment project, and that the downer building is a foreclosure? The flyer doesn’t refer to any of that. And depending on the architectural quality of the existing building, saving it might indeed be better long term for the fabric of the community than razing the house and tossing up a stack of poorly conceived vinyl sided boxes that will start to look seedy a mere decade after their birth.

        I am not clear about your statement that the design review kills smaller projects. Can you give some examples of quality projects that died because of this? Mostly I’ve observed that poorly conceived financing or unpermitted construction choices are the reasons for a project’s halt.

      • 1. We do know it’s a foreclosure.
        2. It’s a standard 1922 single family home, without any special “architectural value”. There are condos across the street, and shops across the alley.
        3. I’d prefer you prove design review doesn’t kill projects. It’s obvious on its face that design review adds significant cost and effort to a project, which is easier to absorb into larger budgets.
        4. Which “poorly conceived financing” projects have you seen design review kill?
        5. “unpermitted construction choices”, by definition, aren’t allowed with or without design review.

      • Sophia Katt says:

        Maybe you knew it was–the rest of us viewers couldn’t tell from the single picture about any of the details you conveniently know. I’d prefer you prove design review does kill projects, since you only cite “obvious on its face” as a reason without further logic, and the costs of design review should be also be netted against the long term cost to the community of an ugly seedy building. Per the request in my response post, it would still be helpful to know specifically what small projects were killed, as well. Asking me to be specific without setting your own example doesn’t result in dialogue that helps the community. The tone of the comment thread ends up being unnecessarily combative, and discourages any sort of genuinely valuable result.

        One of the poorly conceived financing projects that the design review/posting process killed was a proposed teardown of two CapHill classic houses with significant heirloom trees in the 13th Ave. E. block near the park. If neighbors hadn’t known, we would have lost all of those amenities for a standard car court six-plex.

        The extra time and community interaction that design review imposes discourages thoughtless, in-and-out building quality. Observe the process as it keeps a Bellevue based suburb style developer from destroying a classic building that the entire Hill has loved for decades, to be replaced by a standard soulless mixed use box that could be built anywhere. A lot of us are not thrilled about losing Bauhaus Cafe to the new Melrose/Pike development, but at least the design review process allowed us a voice during the finalization of plans for its replacement:

        I’m not anti-development or density per se–I owned a condo in one of the first mid-Nineties density projects and served on that board for years. If you think the process is challenging now, you should have seen what the developer of that project went through. But many of the people who are now insisting that the community’s right to have a say should be ignored seem to be the people who leave three or four years later for another city, and we who have committed long term to Seattle are stuck with the slow degrading of our built environment. The elements that lead you to want “affordable housing” in a “cool neighborhood” end up being destroyed. Part of what makes that neighborhood desirable is that its citizens care enough to object when that character is threatened. Not all the objections made during design review are obstructionist NIMBY comments, but valid points that smart developers take into consideration.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        Wait. We do design review on 6-packs? Doesn’t that show right there the process is ineffective? I’ve never seen an attractive 6-pack, yet they’ve been built all over the city. I wonder if rather than making smaller buildings better, you’re removing everything but high-profit projects since others can’t afford the time and effort to go through this process.

      • Sophia Katt says:

        Maybe an interesting way to think through the smaller vs. bigger/higher question would be to examine the process Sally Clark took on the “six pack” issue in 2010 with design review groups meeting with the public as she plowed through to the Multi Code update then (it’s towards the bottom of one of her citizen updates on her councilmember website. If you have a chance to talk to her, ask her about this issue, as she is quite knowledgeable about the design review process and also strongly believes in citizen discussion:

        As someone who has chosen never to own a car, and did so for only three years after her dad died and she inherited a 1997 Saturn (happily sold!) I can heartily agree with you that those six and eight packs are indeed ugly as sin. The beefed up design review process and citizen activism helped to get the code changed. One of the reasons Ballard got stuck with so many, to the degree that someone started a few arson projects on developing sites in protest, was that Ballard chose to have a less than rigorous design review process–at least, that’s what one of Nickels’ staffers told me then.

        Clark is no longer chairing the building committee, Conlin is, with O’Brien and Burgess following up the rear. You can imagine how thrilled they are when they hear from me!

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