by Susanna Lin and John Fox
Lawyers for 29 neighborhood groups will convene in Hearing Room 4009 (40th Floor) of the Seattle Municipal Tower, 9am Monday June 25th, to tell the City Hearing Examiner why the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the City’s massive “MHA” upzone plan must be redone. This unprecedented coalition of groups from every corner of the city is seeking a more detailed, accurate and thorough assessment of how the plan affects both the affordability and livability of our city. In doing so, they’ll be asking a very fundamental question: Is upzoning the best way to make Seattle more affordable while growing gracefully in a way that benefits everyone? Their appeal, they say, is in effect an attempt to ensure that City Hall at least will give the community an honest and unbiased look at that question.
MHA, or Mandatory Housing Affordability, is a program that allows developers to build to increased heights and density inside urban villages and multifamily zones. In exchange for the potential to build more lucrative buildings, developers will be required to include affordable units onsite or pay into an affordable housing fund to be managed by the City (most developers will likely chose the fee option).
Because this is a large land use change, the City is required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) so it may identify and mitigate for any negative impacts of this policy. Seattle Coalition for Affordability Livability and Equity (SCALE) has filed an appeal against the City due to the City producing a flawed and biased study and not looking at reasonable alternatives as required by the EIS statute.
The SCALE coalition has grown to include 29 community groups from across Seattle, including TreePAC, West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO), U District Small Businesses and Seattle Fair Growth to name a few. It should be a wakeup call to the City that so many organizations from around the City have decided to join this coalition to stand up to City Hall.
MHA has so far been passed in downtown, South Lake Union, University District, Chinatown International District and Uptown. Prior to upzoning, each of these urban villages received individual Environmental Impact Statements. However, now the City has lumped together the remaining 27 urban villages in an EIS that is insufficient to study the differences between them. Northgate is very different from Othello and they each deserve individual attention such has been the standard so far.
The structure of an EIS dictates that the City must study reasonable alternatives to their proposal in order to determine what is the best way to reach the City’s goals with the least negative impacts. However, the City failed to look at other options and instead only looked at alternatives that were different versions of upzoning. MHA will have significant impacts such as an increase in displacement, loss of communities and historical buildings, undue stress on schools and infrastructure and loss of tree canopy as lots are clear cut to make room for higher density. There is a myriad of other options available to produce affordable housing. A wonderful report written by the Community Housing Caucus in 2015 details pages and pages of possible solutions, but unfortunately this report is mostly just collecting dust on the shelf, while City Hall pushes forward with the increasingly unpopular upzones.
The Environmental Impact Study is an important tool that we have to take a critical look at potential impacts of proposed legislation. It should not be manipulated in order that political pet projects be pushed through without honest evaluation. And in the end, political egos should not be what matters. It should be how do we make Seattle more affordable and more livable with the least negative impacts.
The hearing dates are currently scheduled for June 25-29, July 23-27 and August 20-24. Location: Seattle Municipal Tower, Time: 9AM.
For the most up-to-date information on the schedule, please see the calendar of the Hearing Examiner: http://www.seattle.gov/examiner/calendar.htm
To learn more about the SCALE Appeal or to make a donation to help cover legal fees, please visit seattlefairgrowth.org/appeal
Please write the Mayor and City Council to let them know you support the SCALE appeal and encourage them to work with the residents affected.
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Lorena.Gonzalez@seattle.gov, Lisa.Herbold@seattle.gov, Rob.Johnson@seattle.gov, Debora.Juarez@seattle.gov, Teresa.Mosqueda@seattle.gov, Mike.OBrien@seattle.gov, Kshama.Sawant@seattle.gov