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Seattle group aims to overturn upzoning measure with appeal to state

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity will appeal Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning measure on a state level, hoping to compel the city to rework MHA entirely.

“We are not opposing growth or density,” SCALE President David Ward said in a Tuesday news release. “We are asking that the Growth Management Act be followed when it calls for balance between growth and livability. Each neighborhood has its own needs. Impacts should be evaluated on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.”

SCALE’s appeal will be submitted to the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board by June 3, where the organization will petition for “a true EIS [Environmental Impact Study] that is thorough, transparent, accurate, inclusive and honest, and an ordinance that includes true neighborhood engagement and neighborhood-by-neighborhood planning for impacts and mitigations.”

The organization has long been critical of MHA, and had previously (and unsuccessfully) sought to challenge the measure before it was passed in March.

Business owners and residents also stood in front of Seattle City Council Tuesday, asking that the city reconsider its plan to upzone the University District under its Mandatory Housing Affordability measure.

Seattle council votes to approve upzoning for 27 Seattle neighborhoods

“What in the heck are we doing even considering more upzones for our neighborhood, when our neighborhood is already facing uncontrolled and unmanaged growth?” Seattle Displacement Coalition’s John Fox said during the public comments period.

The concern voiced by many was that existing affordable housing options along University Way Northeast — known to locals as the Ave — would be eliminated, in favor of denser, pricier apartments.

“There are now 27 new projects moving forward under MHA rules that would add 2,800 mostly expensive units in the U-District,” Fox pointed out.

MHA was originally passed to approve the upzoning of 27 “urban villages” throughout Seattle, but exempted the Ave for the time being. That was largely because of the need for a new environment impact study.

Fears remain, though, that upzoning has actually created more affordable housing problems than solutions.

“What’s happened so with MHA, there has been more displacement of affordable housing than there has been housing that’s going to be more affordable,” another public commenter stated.

Heated debate at final hearing for Seattle’s upzoning measure

A draft of the new EIS for University Way is set to be introduced in late-summer, followed by a 30-day comment period, and then the final EIS around October 2019. After that, the full council will vote on whether to take action on rezoning the area.

MHA enacts requirements for building affordable housing and taller residence buildings in select neighborhoods throughout Seattle. It also levies substantial fines on developers who don’t dedicate between 5 and 11 percent of projects to low-income housing.

The concern among many has been that developers will be more than happy to eschew building affordable housing into new apartment complexes, and simply absorb any fines levied by the city.

“To all the firefighters, nurses, and cops who are priced out of Seattle, your income will never be enough for the MHA developers who will opt out of having affordable units on-site,” said one public commenter in February.

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