Friday, October 10, 2008

September 25, 2008 Federation Meeting Highlights (Corrected)

NOTE --- These Meeting Highlights have been revised to incorporate additional information and clarifications, and to correct typos. The revisions appear in red boldface in the paragraphs “The Parks Strategic Action Plan”, “Megahouses”, “Magnuson Park” and “Tree Ordinance”.

(These pages are based on the editor's notes --- they are not official minutes)

Land Use issues predominate as communities struggle against special interest legislation. Read on.

President's Report: The Federation sent letters to City Councilmembers seeking amendments to the draft of a revised ordinance on sidewalk cafes to preserve pedestrian passage, and other letters opposing sweetheart leases of two waterfront buildings to developers in Magnuson Park for 30 to 40 years; Anna Nissan testified at the City Council on the MegaHouse legislation (see below). It also sent out e-mail action alerts on public hearings and major events. Our president alerted members to seven September 25, 2008 Federation Meeting Highlights

The Parks Strategic Action Plan is now available at

Pike Place Market Levy: The levy authorizes $73,000,000 in property taxes ($2.16 per $1000 of assessed value) over 6 years to fix-up the Pike Place Market. It would pay for new plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems, roofs, elevators, windows, floors, facades, restrooms, and fire and seismic upgrades. The representative of the Market's constituency said that the fix-up is badly needed; the ordinance provides for genuine oversight by the City through an oversight committee selected in part by the constituency, the City, and the Pike Place Market PDA; that rents are set too low to cover major capital expenditures in order to keep the variety of small business, handicrafts, and artists viable; and the City will have to approve overruns of the budget. The advocates of "No" say the Ordinance is flawed and the amount is more than need be. The rebuttal replied that those critiques apply to almost all levies; this levy tries to address those concerns.
Motion passed to support the Pike Place Market Levy, Ordinance 122737 (Three abstentions),

Parks Levy: The Parks levy (Ordinance 122749) would raise $145,500,000 over 6 years in property taxes ($2.50 per $ 000 of assessed value). It allocates:
(a) $35,697,000 for buying land for new parks ($
(b) $87,292,000 for "development" of existing parks ( $11,500,000 for improving the
the Asian Art Museum and the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, $10,500,000 for renovating four playfields, six million for Jefferson Park and five million for four other parks; and $7,250,000 for trails);
(c) $8,000,000 for the environment on such projects as stream restoration; and
(d) $15,000,000 for an Opportunity Fund. The proponents say that the programs speaks for itself; and the list has a project in almost every neighborhood. The discussion pointed out that the levy appropriates the funds lump sum and the project list is in an attachment. It's a spending plan that lets the City move the money around without notice to the neighborhoods, without a public hearing, and without findings. All it has to do is consult with an appointed Oversight Committee. In the last three levies, the City has shifted 15-20% of the money quite inconsistently to the plan in the levy. In fact, the only money for Magnuson Park in this levy would complete a project promised by the last ProParks levy and not yet done. The list caters to special interests, e.g. the Asian Art Museum and Langston Hughes moneys were put in at the last minute by the mayor and City Council; $1,250,000 goes for skateboard facilities; the playfield money would put in synthetic turf and lights that many neighborhoods oppose, etc. The Opportunity fund has no criteria -- just questions for an applicant-- and resembles a slush fund. The City Council rejected safeguards that the communities sought to secure accountability.
Representatives decided to take no position on Proposition No. 2.

Megahouses: Councilmember Richard Conlin, who had sponsored the legislation as a reform measure, revised it to housekeeping amendments. Megahouses are now 3 story high -- five on some slopes. Conlin dropped the section that would have cut that height to conform with the height limit of the lower three multi-family zones that more closely approximates the pattern for single family housing generally (any 3rd story must be in an attic).The Master Builders Association objected to Sunset Hills' initial proposal and declared this package "benign." The Council passed it along with a Work Plan for further study. In lieu of a lowered height limit, the MBA and several young residential architects have proposed substituting floor area ratios commonly used in commercial and industrial zones. A residential calculation can be subjective about what is included, but includes upper stories as well, not just the "foot print" as does lot coverage. Suburban towns with very small houses on very large lots have been armor plating their already strict setbacks, height limits and lot coverage limits with "FAR" (floor area ratios). This is redundant when FARs are set very close to lot coverage limit, e.g. a ratio of .4 with a lot coverage of 35% (which is similar to Seattle's). And if substituted for traditional limits readily understood by all as is proposed in the Multi-family Update, it is contrary to the predictable compatibility being sought. Community Councils are urged to inform their neighborhoods and write in.

South Lake Union: SLUFAN, the Vulcan-sponsored development-minded association, has proposed a massive upzone of the South Lake Union area. It would allow two towers per block, each up to 400' high -- taller than Queen Anne and Capitol Hill. The Regrade is its model. The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is scheduling a scoping meeting on the upzone. It cites the west end of Vancouver, B.C. as an example, but Vancouver requires set-backs, tree planting, and compliance with strict design standards -- none of which are in this proposal. The Mayor would assist the plan with his Incentive Zoning proposals that doubles height limits; and it would provide tax holidays for including a few "affordable" units in the condo towers. The infrastructure is not there for so many tall towers. The Cascade Community Council, other residents and owners in the area have formed the Lake Union Opportunity Alliance (LUOA) to oppose the plan. LUOA may have to appeal a rezone to the Growth Management Hearings Board.
Motion passed to oppose the upzone as unacceptable; to support the principle that growth should pay for the utilities needed to accommodate it, and to insist on following the regular procedures for a rezone.

Residential Parking Zones (RPZ): The Seattle Department of Transportation wants to limit the number of permits to a maximum of four per address; to replace the one year-round guest pass with day-use coupons abutters may buy; to increase permit fees; to relieve traffic generators of paying to support the program; and to give SDOT more discretion to create RPZ's. The Federation will send a comment letter containing recommendations from member organizations e-mailed to our President.

Magnuson Park: The City is set to pass ordinances granting long-term sweetheart leases of Buildings 11 and 27 at Magnuson Park to special-interest for-profit organizations, including commercial and office space uses. It has to go through more process before passing the rezoning Ordinance. A citizens' group is planning to go for referenda. It will need 16,000 signatures to each petition in 29 days. The City also plans to remove the cap on housing in the zoning overlay, to tear down the fire station in the historic district and to contract with a developer to build an ersatz building there.
Motion passed to authorize letters to the City Council to delay acting on the leases and the rezoning, giving reasons for opposing the action; and to authorize letters to federal authorities against granting the City permission to introduce commercial and office uses into a park conveyed to the City exclusively for park purposes.
NOTE -- The Magnuson Park sweetheart deal has gone down. For the details of Council Bill Number 116313 and Ordinance Number 122814 go to

Children's Hospital: Laurelhurst explained the latest alternatives for building placement on the Children's campus. The gross square footage remains the same. It asks for an accurate up-to-date traffic study, consideration of cumulative impacts with University Village expansion and parking garages, compliance with concurrency requirements, and a supplemental draft environmental impact statement.
Unanimous concurrence to support the requests made by Laurelhurst and authorize appropriate letters.

Air Pollution: Our September newsletter on page 2 summarized a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about an alarming elevated cancer risk in South Seattle linked to air pollution. Eastlake reported that I-5 traffic fouls its air like trucks and traffic do along U.S. 99 and it asked that our call ask for action wherever the problem exists.
Motion passed to set up a special Health Committee under Chas Talbot to recommend action, including proposing a letter(s) for approval at our October meeting.

Noise Ordinance Amendments: Chris Leman is appealing to the Hearing Examiner some sections of the amendments to the noise ordinance. Those sections allow DPD to give contractors carte blanche exemption on any public project for its duration. Instead of doing an environmental impact statement, the City determined that the amendments had no significant impact. Chris has found volunteer experts who will explain that the noise exemption allows noisy nightime construction and that has major impacts. The City moved to have the hearing examiner dismiss the appeal as a matter of law; the motion failed.

"Biodefense" Labs: After the anthrax letter attacks, the U.S. Congress authorized spending about $57 billion for research in protecting the population from biological and genetically modified pathogens and bioterror attacks. It spawned extensive research at federal installations, at pharmaceutical companies subject to federal inspection, and at academic and private sector laboratories that have little oversight. Labwatch asked the Federation to join in a call to appropriate federal authorities to halt development of new "biodefense" facilities and put operational controls on existing programs until serious questions are resolved related to public safety, biosafety and biosurety compliance, laboratory regulation, research focus, select agent use and control, and appropriate locations for high containment labs.
Motion passed to support the call in concept. The consequences of an accidental or intentional spread of such pathogens are great, and when a substantial, informed segment of the population expresses serious concerns, prudence advises that federal officials should pause in expanding the program until the concerns are resolved.

Tree Ordinance: The City Council will consider two tree preservation ordinances. The City now limits cutting "exceptional" trees after an application for development has been filed; no restraints apply beforehand except in Critical Areas (i.e. slopes that are prone to slide). Save Our Trees supports a strong ordinance that defines "exceptional" trees; sets up a process for identifying them; and applies the restraints applicable after an application has been filed to a duration beforehand. The Mayor proposes a much weaker ordinance which would apply to a "stand" of trees i.e. 12 trees or more. "Exceptional" would remain without a definition. So far, DPD has yet to find a tree to be "exceptional" on private land.
Here’s some additional information from Maple Leaf Community Council’s David Miller:

The City Council is considering two different interim tree ordinances, one from the Mayor and one from the "Community."

The Mayor's ordinance effectively closes a loophole that allows trees to be cut on non-single family lots outside of a development permit process. This is the loophole the Seattle School District tried to use before the Save Our Trees group stopped them in court. DPD has also proposed an amendment to their code guidance "Director's Rule" document that defines a tree "grove" as any group of eight or more trees 12" or more in diameter, and call that grove "exceptional." While this is certainly an improvement over current policy that ignores groves altogether (in violation of city code, according to the City Council), the Mayor?s is a hollow proposal.

As an illustration, there are two "Exceptional" trees located on the Waldo Hospital site that the city will allow to be taken out. One is the tallest tree on the site, a 100+ foot tall Douglas fir on 86th that is over three feet in diameter. The second is the western white pine that is at the southeast corner of the Waldo building. Therefore, a designation of "exceptional" does not require the city to preserve these trees.

The Interim Tree Grove Ordinance proposed by the community actually protects trees, preventing any grove of 20 or more trees from being removed or harmed by construction. Importantly, it puts this protection into law (as opposed to a Director's Rule) by amending both SMC 25.11 and SEPA codes.

The easiest way to keep updated on the progress of these ordinances is to join the Maple Leaf Community Council's Waldo mailing list at this link:

Think Tank funds:
Motion passed
to authorize its use by our task force on multifamily rezoning.

Thank you to Dr. Glover Barnes for hosting the August potluck.
Passed unanimously.

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