Sunday, July 25, 2010



The Seattle City Council is considering sweeping changes to all low-rise
multifamily-zoned residential areas, an upzone that, some argue, would make
these zones not "low" anymore.  The L zones cover about 6 square miles in
all parts of the Seattle.  New apartments and condos could be higher, in
some cases by as much as 15 feet.  All could cover more of each lot and have
less setback from property lines.  In some cases, buildings may be right up
against the alley.  Parking requirements would be reduced, and in urban
villages they would be completely eliminated.

With less room for yards, new and old residents alike will have less
privacy, trees will have less room to grow, and runoff will increase.  Many
existing views will be lost.  Allowing more bulk and units will drive land
values higher and increase pressure to tear down affordable housing stock. 

Most residents are unaware of these changes and how they would change
Seattle for the worse.  On their behalf, we are challenging the City's claim
that the changes would not have significant impact.  When it last considered
changes in the L zones (in 1980 and 1989), the City Council insisted on full
environmental impact statements, but this year a "declaration of
non-significance" claims that none of the impacts are significant. 

An appeal has been filed by neighborhood leaders from throughout Seattle,
along with the Seattle Community Council Federation and the Seattle
Displacement Coalition
.  The appeal asks the Hearing Examiner to halt these
upzones until a careful environmental assessment has been done.  There is a
strong case against the upzones and the City's claims, and the appeal
hearing begins Monday.

Members of the public are encouraged to attend any part of the appeal
hearing, which will be held 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the 40th floor of the
Municipal Tower, 700 5th Avenue on the following days:  Monday, July 26;
Wed., July 28 (afternoon only); Thursday, July 29; and Monday, August 2.
For any changes in the schedule, check the Hearing Examiner web site at

The appeal is made possible by legal representation donated by Toby Thaler
and research donated by Anna Nissen and Bill Bradburd, and involves expert
testimony in a variety of fields.  The legislation being challenges is at  For
public interest background on these issues, see  For
questions about the appeal, or to receive the documents, contact Bill
Bradburd at

Financial support for the appeal is welcome and needed.  Tax-deductible
checks may be made out to "SCCF--Legal Fund" and sent c/o Seattle Community
Council Federation treasurer Chris Leman, 2370 Yale Avenue East, Seattle, WA
98102-3310, or call (206) 322-5463.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sisleyville in Roosevelt / Ravenna

Roosevelt-Ravenna Zoning Issues – Interview with Glenn Roberts

What would you like your neighborhood to look like?

Probably NOT like this:


Photo courtesy of Glenn Roberts: you rather see 160-foot-tall buildings? Or perhaps a big box store? Or BOTH?

Ravenna Blog and The Roosevelt Neighborhood Blog (Roosie Hood) have teamed up to try and shed some light on these concerns by interviewing Glenn Roberts, author and administrator of the blog Roosevelt-Ravenna Zoning Issues.

Glenn does not claim to be an expert on all things Sisely property-related, but he’s been following the saga of neighborhood vs. property owner/developer vs. city ever since he moved into the neighborhood (and started talking to neighbors about it in 2005, when then property manager Keith Gilbert was arrested on felony weapons charges). Glenn’s been in the real estate business for 25 years, spending the last 22 with the same brokerage here in Seattle. He and his Realtor wife have been residents of the Ravenna Park area for almost two decades, and his son attended Roosevelt High School.

Ravenna Blog/Roosie Hood: To start off in a place we can all relate to, what the %&$#! are all those boarded up buildings along NE 65th Street and 15th Avenue NE? Do you have an elevator speech answer to that question?

Glenn Roberts: About two years ago, Hugh Sisley offered to lease his properties for a term of 99 years. Another stipulation that the leasee has disclosed is that Sisley can disapprove of the development if the design isn’t to his specifications. What his specifications are has not been disclosed.

You don’t get an elevator speech here.

The buildings are boarded up because the leasee paid off the tenants to leave and then secured the property with the fence. They say they can’t tear them down because if the terms of the lease aren’t met, they will give up their option and return the properties to the landowner as they were when they got them.

I don’t believe them. It costs real money to properly tear down a building and if they were to pay for it, Sisley would surely (IMO) let them. But they both may want them to stay up so that public opinion from Seattle at large will say, “Anything will be better than those buildings.”

The landowner has a bad rep, and he will still be the landowner if any buildings are completed. Our main focus is A) To see that Sisley or anyone else does not own huge multi-unit buildings at this location and B) To allow the neighborhood to develop as needed according to the zoning currently in place.

RB/RH: So, Hugh Sisley owns most of the properties in question, and the Roosevelt Development Group (RDG) is the lease holder. Current tenants at the time got paid to leave, and the buildings are boarded up (“secured”). I’m also seeing this spelled out in a Seattle P-I article from 2007 entitied, “Run-down Roosevelt buildings are goners.

One would assume the next phase would be planning. What does the current zoning for the area look like, and what would the developers like to see there instead?

GR: Most sensible city zoning including the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association (RNA) plan call for the tallest buildings to be in the commercial core and taper down to the single family neighborhoods. The Roosevelt core is between Roosevelt Way NE and 12th Ave NE. It’s a small urban village. What RDG is proposing is Urban Sprawl in the village. This kind of development would wipe out the concept of village here.

As for the tapering effect, putting 160 foot buildings up against 27 1/2 foot zoning of single family is ridiculous, ludicrous and inane. Yet that’s what the RDG plan calls for on the Sisely lots. The current zoning has 40 foot limits.

They also want to up the zoning from Commercial 2 to Commercial 3. That would allow for a Costco, Walmart or other monstrosity here in the neighborhood.

RB/RH: And to go back to that first question, it feels as though there are two sides to that %&$#! coin: Why have those properties been boarded-up eye sores for so long, and what does the owner plan to do with them?


Map of the Sisley/RDG properties (from 2009; shown to highlight properties being discussed) Courtesy

GR: They have been boarded up because of several issues that have to do with city regulations.

1. For a long time now there has been a regulation that you cannot tear down a home on a property unless you have permits in place to build a new on. This was the city’s way of preserving taxes. They reasoned that it was cheaper to remodel an existing house than build a new one, but I think the assessed value of the deteriorated house was always more than that of vacant land. This law changed last year, but the tearing down or not is up to the owner, not the city or the neighborhood.

2. When you have existing low income housing (which Sisley can certainly say his were) and you accommodate the renters losing their homes for rebuilding by giving them money to relocate (RDG did that) you get credit to build more units or to build higher buildings, as long as you replace the buildings within a certain amount of time. So, they want to keep them up until they have permits or they could lose those credits.

RB/RH: Have any of the local neighborhood associations weighed in on the issue? Roosevelt Neighborhood Association? Roosevelt Neighbors’ Alliance? Ravenna-Bryant Community Association?

GR: The RNA has spent years developing a growth plan and it has been accepted by the city and should be sufficient for the next 40 years, light rail or no light rail. It is a good plan. The Ravenna-Bryant Community Association leadership has expressed support for the RNA Plan and opposition to the RDG Comp plan change. I belong to a small group of Ravenna neighbors who oppose the RDG plan and publicize everything we can.

RB/RH: You’ve been following the Sisley/Roosevelt Development Group saga for a while now, most notably at your blog, Roosevelt-Ravenna Zoning Issues. Can you provide us with a general timeline of Sisley’s/RDG’s purchases?

GR: About 30 or more years ago, Hugh Sisley was the janitor at Roosevelt High School. He managed to buy some properties back when Boeing went bust in the early 70s, I imagine. Possibly he learned then that a run down property diminishes the value of the property next door. Eventually his empire grew. RDG has purchased four properties that Sisely did not already own in the zone, in the last two years.

RB/RH: Sisley himself was a member of the neighborhood (perhaps in vocation only), purchased the properties over time, and then left them to rot, essentially, bringing down the value of the entire area? Has the neighborhood or the City of Seattle tried to do anything about this?

GR: The recent City ordinance concerning registration of landlords and inspection of rentals is in part a means to enforce clean up of properties like Sisley’s. You also might notice that three or four of Sisley’s properties were torn down last year. I wish I knew the mechanism that forced that so I could try to make it happen on the others. Neighbors should write to the city council and to the mayor and insist that those unused, never to be used again buildings be removed. There are a haven for vermin, a fire hazard, a location inviting graffiti, and an eyesore. They have no place in the community.

RB/RH: At this time, what would you advise a concerned citizen to do?

GR: Oppose everything Sisley and RDG want to do until they meet the design of the RNA plan. Citizens should go to meetings and let their voice be heard. They should write to the city council and express themselves. They should be involved.

RB/RH: You yourself are a real estate agent and live in the Ravenna neighborhood. What do you say to those who may cry NIMBY over your stand (or others’) on the rezoning issue?

GR: If you own, anywhere, NIMBYism is an important part of making neighborhoods better all across the country. If you are a short term renter, you probably don’t have stake in how towns and cities grow and thrive, or how they fall into ruin.

For my part, I’ll continue to be proactive in the future of my neighborhood and be proud of doing so.

Glenn Roberts is a Seattle residential Realtor residing in the Ravenna neighborhood. He writes and administrates a number of blogs, including Ravenna Park – North and Roosevelt-Ravenna Zoning Issues. You can read much more about the Sisley properties, zoning, Environmental Impact Studies and much much more at both of those sites.

This is your neighborhood. Want to get involved?

Attend the EIS meeting on 7/21 at Calvary Temple (6801 Roosevelt)

Contact your city officials and let them know you want them to DO SOMETHING about the boarded up houses




Regular Meeting

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency), Pacific Marine Center on Lake Union

1801 Fairview Avenue East

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Is Full Accountability throughout City Government a Reality or a Dream?

Featuring David G. Jones, Seattle’s New City Auditor

Seattle's City Auditor primarily conducts performance audits, as opposed to the financial audits conducted by the State Auditor. The City Auditor’s office is charged with providing the Council, the Mayor and City departments with accurate information, unbiased analysis and objective recommendations on how best to use public resources. What does this mean for residents in terms of ensuring efficient management and full accountability? Does the system work?

David Jones will discuss the relation between state and local audits, examples of past and forthcoming audits, and how the office chooses and approaches its audit topics. Information about the Auditor’s office and reports can be found at

Time permitting, the July meeting will also include our monthly Round Robin of issues and projects in your neighborhood. If you have informational materials you would like distributed at the meeting, please email electronic copies or links to Jeannie Hale at

7:00 Call to Order and Introductions


1. Changes to the agenda

2. Treasurer’s report

3. President’s report

7:15 Is Full Accountability throughout City Government a Reality or a Dream? David G. Jones, Seattle’s New City Auditor

8:15 Round Robin

1. Will “Sisleyville” in the Roosevelt neighborhood become a reality? Will Hugh Sisley, touted as Seattle’s “worst slumlord” get his way at DPD?

2. Multi-Family Code Appeal—Update

3. Other—Please bring priorities from your community group

9:00 Adjourn

NOAA is a federal facility on high security alert, so attendees must enter by the security gate and may need to present photo ID. If you haven't attended a recent Federation meeting, please send your name, contact information, and address to to be added to the entry list. No e-mail? Call 206-365-1267. The building is ADA compliant, with ample parking in front.