Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

Archive for the 'Built Environment' Category

Dec 06 2011

The Roosevelt Rezone, Height limits 40 feet or 65 feet around the School?

Published by under Built Environment

On Wednesday, November 30th, the City Council’s Committee on the Built Environment discussed the Roosevelt Neighborhood Rezone. Part of the discussion focused on whether building heights should be permitted to 40 feet or 65 feet on three city blocks just south of Roosevelt High school. The rezone also proposes 65 and 85 feet in other areas around the future light rail station but in dispute are the three blocks immediately across the street from the school. These three blocks are currently underutilized and in significant need of capital improvements. In addition to the height limits, the set back requirements were also discussed which could be a significant component relative to how views can be improved to and from the school and whether certain types of setbacks would be more conducive to producing affordable units because of building configurations. Sidewalk and street widths were also discussed with the intent of making sure this is a very livable, walkable community.

The benefits of permitting heights up to 65 feet are evident and strongly consistent with our goals of maximizing density around light rail stations. Greater heights can also allow incentive zoning and our Central Staff has indicated that the lower height of 40 feet cannot take advantage of incentive zoning. Incentive zoning is another land use tool to produce other desirable elements such as affordable housing or open space when allowing additional height. The design proposals for 65 feet look very appealing and, while not explicitly stated in the discussion, the final housing products within the 40-foot limits may be undesirable and unless the height of 65 feet is allowed, the property may remain in its current unappealing condition.

Current view looking down 66th Street

Neighborhood Commercial (NC2-40) View looking down 66th Street

Neighborhood Commercial (NC2-65) View looking down 66th Street

I continue to question whether we can retain the 40-foot limits and still produce housing that enhances the neighborhood, produces affordable housing and meets our density targets. Why? Because the process that originally established the 40 foot limits were produced after 4 years of neighborhood planning, meetings, negotiations and process. It is my understanding that throughout the long process of neighborhood planning, the surrounding communities consistently made it clear that these three blocks should be protected from 65 foot heights. Can the same aesthetics and density goals be achieved when designing a 40-foot development? An inventory of some 40 foot buildings in the City suggests that some exist, but I would be the first to say that more design flexibility is produced at the 65 foot limit.

Ultimately, I will weigh these issues and vote accordingly. I do believe, from a design standpoint, that 65 feet will actually produce some results that could be very befitting for this great community. But what matters most to me, as in any neighborhood, is that communities are ensured that their local government is truly listening to them when deciding how this city should look in the future. This community has embraced our density goals and has worked hard to be good partners with the City in developing neighborhood plans. Getting it right means making sure we are preparing our neighborhoods for the future, but also that we listen to each community as though we lived next door.

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Jan 18 2010

The Children’s Hospital Expansion Decision-My Recusal

I presume you are aware of Seattle Children’s Hospital’s desire to expand their campus. If you are not, here is the issue in brief: Seattle Children’s Hospital is seeking an expansion for its facilities in the Laurelhurst Neighborhood. The City Hearing Examiner has recommended that the Council deny their request. This type of expansion is pursued under a Major Institution Master Plan or MIMP. For this matter, our role on the Council is what is known as “Quasi-Judicial” in that we are serving as the reviewing appellate body of the Hearing Examiner’s decision.

An appeal in this matter was filed on behalf of the Major Institutions and among them is the University of Washington. Other major institutions who support the MIMP and whose appeal has been filed also include the Swedish Medical Center and Virginia Mason Medical Center. It should be noted that a representative from the University of Washington was also appointed to be a member of the Citizens Advisory Council who also publicly supported the MIMP.

Because my wife Joanne Harrell sits on the University of Washington Board of Regents, an issue can be raised as to whether there is an appearance of a conflict of interest should I participate in this quasi-judicial review. Based on research from the City of Seattle Law Department and because of my strong adherence to the City’s Code of Ethics, I do not want this connection to jeopardize any decision the Council may make on this issue. Therefore, I will recuse myself from voting on this issue. The remedies for non-compliance with this issue should I participate would be a reversal of the Council’s action and I believe this would waste taxpayer money and citizens their time, energy and resources.

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