Opinion: “Post Alley” or empty lot?

Possible development on Beacon Avenue, depicted in the Neighborhood Plan Update.
Are you tired of looking at gravel lots surrounded by wire fencing next to the Beacon Hill Light Rail station?  Do you dream of potential businesses that would be perfect for our community?  The comments on Joel’s post “Beacon Hill’s Post Alley” indicate community support for development around the light rail station.  For any development to occur, the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan Update must be approved.

That plan is being challenged.  A community member has filed a petition with the City of Seattle Hearing Examiner (see the earlier news post in the BHB) calling the update process into question and requesting that the DNS (Determination of Nonsignificance) be vacated. Concerns listed in the petition include construction noise, increased traffic, lack of specific guarantees regarding service improvements, and overall disregard for community opinion and the existing neighborhood plan.

Simply put, it’s a request for DPD to be required to throw away over a year’s worth of community input and other work on this project—essentially starting the entire process over.

“Increased density is a worthy goal… We need housing, employment, and services for our future neighbors.”

Neighborhood, City and transit groups have worked hard to update the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan in a way that respects the core values of our community and includes the reality of introducing mass transit into the neighborhood.  Two critical considerations for an urban neighborhood served by mass transit include increased residential density accompanied by increased employment, service, and other business development.

Increased density is a worthy goal for our neighborhood: people should live and work near transit. We need housing, employment, and services for our future neighbors.  This doesn’t have to/shouldn’t mean increased vehicle traffic—the entire point is that new residents will be using light rail.

If the North Beacon Hill Urban Village is ever to develop, we must move forward as a community.  Change can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to improve.

Get involved.  Learn more about this issue and take action to make Beacon Hill the place you want it to be.  Please attend the North Beacon Hill Council meeting on Thursday, February 4 at 7:00 pm.  Meetings are held at the Beacon Hill Public Library. The full agenda is here and also here.

(Melissa is a columnist for the Beacon Hill Blog and recently wrote about the Neighborhood Plan Update in her column “Walking with Tica.”)

43 thoughts on “Opinion: “Post Alley” or empty lot?”

  1. Hi Melissa, as a Beacon Hill resident and dog owner I really appreciate your articles.

    I don’t think anyone sees the gravel lots as a long term solution, but there is no long term plan that is going to make everyone 100% happy either. I’m hoping that we can hear something from Frederica.

  2. I’d also like to hear from Frederica. From what I know of her, she’s anything but an uncaring naysayer.

  3. I’m not in disagreement with the entire development plan, but I think it is naive to think that new residents will not bring vehicles with them. While the light rail is a great option for commuting to work downtown, for nights out, and trips to the airport – it certainly does not meet the needs for most people. People who currently have have no cars may be interested in living here, but that would be a small percentage of new residents. Beacon Hill is never going to be Capitol Hill.

  4. We’ve heard from Frederica–and the rest of the community. There was an exhaustive community input process that concluded Beacon Hill a)needed and b)supported increased density. Nothing will make everyone 100% happy–but the community was asked and the majority agreed that our current zoning is insufficient for community needs (present and future).

    There’s time to review designs and specific plans even after the update is passed. Long term plans are going to change–the original Neighborhood Plan didn’t take Light Rail into account.

    Scrapping the entire update and starting over shouldn’t be an option.

  5. An appeal does not “scrap” the entire process. This neighborhood planning update was not neighborhood derived, it was driven by the City with a pre-determined outcome. We should respect ourselves to demand a planning update more Beacon Hill centric. The final planning meeting wasn’t even held on Beacon Hill. I have not read the challenge, but if it states that traffic was not taken into consideration, it wasn’t. If it states that neighborhood input was ignored, it was ignored.

  6. Sorry Melissa, but this conversation and your editorial is completely in the weeds in my opinion.

    I’m writing from work so I need to keep this brief as I and still get my point across.

    The DoN is merely a vote of no confidence on the draft of the plan as it stands now.

    It is NOT an effort to suspend planning but rather extend the process.

    Read the draft again. There are parts that are completely boilerplate from other neighborhood plans MLK and North Holly. The street overlay is generic etc. It is not actionable and therefore is merely ‘lip service’ to the neighborhood planning process as I understand it SHOULD work.

    Let me summarize: the neighborhood plan update process should continue until we have a matrix of actionable items that can be acted upon to initiate improvements and most of all a shared VISION.

    You wrote:
    “Simply put, it’s a request for DPD to be required to throw away over a year’s worth of community input and other work on this project—essentially starting the entire process over.”

    Not true. This is an incorrect characterization of the situation on many levels.

    I for one and lots of others on the hill applaud this DoN not because we are naysayers but because we are aware of how this process SHOULD work and is not working as it stands now.

    If we sign off (tacitly by not complaining) and there is no real plan in “the plan” then we will get whatever happens to come along. Do you want Beacon Hill to look like the new parts of Ballard for example? Take your eye off the ball and it will happen.

    Let me back up here…

    Though I’ve lived on the hill for many years I’ve always let others take the lead on planning. In fact the first community meetings in 14 years that I attended were those from DPD on this neighborhood plan update. But I wonder if we are talking about the same meetings? I went to all of them and didn’t break a sweat.

    I work in marketing and the meetings I attended were just like focus groups. What came out of them (though lots of great ideas were fronted) is complete unactionable however because no one has done anything REAL with the input.

    So again the DoN is a vote of no confidence AND NOT a effort to derail and suspend planning but rather extend it.

    So up until last year, myself and I think a lot of other folks knew ZERO about neighborhood planning. But through reading the past plans online and talked to folks about the last 3 (!) rounds of neighborhood planning dating back to the 1990’s. I understand that the only reason we have the great improvements on are because of these plans.

    Beacon Hill is in fact a model for neighborhood planning within the city with the most citizen activism and smart (not NIMBY) well attended city/citizen interaction.

    But I challenge you to read this plan draft and show me where there is one item that is concrete and obtainable. Where’s the beef?

    Whereas our last plan (which I can not take credit for alas) was about 1) Jeff Park creation – check 2) Library sighting – check 3) Improved pedestrian access, 4) Light Rail station, check.

    So I would ask of you a little patience with the process here.

    And if you are frustrated by vacant lots why don’t you find the phone numbers of the landowners and post them here? They we can all call them and complain. That frustration has nothing to with this neighborhood plan – either substantial or as the eye-candy it is in its present form.

    I love, love, love the post alley idea. I love, love that the triangle piece of land just south of the Station could be a plaza. I love extending Festival street another block. I love the idea of making Beacon Hill the most bicycle safe neighborhood in Seattle. I love Micro parks. On and on.

    My point is that ALL this and more could be in our plan and isn’t in this update.

    And they we COULD hold those landowners feet to the fire when they decide to develop the land. The Neighborhood Plan is our only protection if they come in hard and move fast. Don’t we want protection? Do we have protection in its present form? Not a bit.

    So I vote to extend the planning process. And I will continue to give my support to those that are smartly pushing to extend it.

    Apologies for the length and thanks for reading.

    P.S. I don’t think Freddy needs to jump on here and defend herself. In fact I hope she reads this and doesn’t. She’s made her opinion clear and I support (and applaud in fact) her using her rights as a citizen to testify against this plan. She’s off the armchair and away from the BBS complaint culture getting stuff done. Thank god!

  7. Go Melissa! You are right, we absolutely need a completed neighborhood plan update. I hope you join one of the three or four committees working right now on recommendations that can go into our neighborhood plan so we get the concurrency investment into the document with a matrix to hold the City accountable. We also need validation of course. I will bring the 1996 validation guidelines to our council meeting. Finally, we need to use data to design our future, which was in short supply this last year. That looks like growth targets, housing unit numbers, estimated rental rates for new construction, vehicle trips on impacted streets, technical analysis; all stuff we used to produce the first neighborhood plan. I just got some it from SDOT. All the comments collected in March and May are great, we just need to go from there. There is a paradigm shift happening right now, and people are stepping up to the plate. I am seeing large meeting attendance and lots of people willing to work. Hurrah for Beacon Hill neighbors! Look for meeting notices on the blog.

  8. The comments strike me as typical Seattle wishy washy.

    The current vacant weedy lots are zoned single-family. The owners cannot build any sort of post-alley. They could, if they chose, build some single family houses. When the inevitable rezone happens, those nice new single family houses could then be torn down, and something useful constructed in their place.

    Freddy attended all those meetings, and I saw her consistently push for zero growth. When the end proposal wasn’t too her liking – at the last minute – she unilaterally chose to throw a wrench in the proceedings.

    I don’t consider that the actions of a good neighbor.

    If there was all this community support for her actions, she could have floated actual proposals to repudiate the design review. She didn’t do that.

    She writes in her appeal “She and her family, visitors, neighbors, businesses,…. both inside and outside of the boundaries will be directly and significantly impacted by
    * Zoning changes


  9. sigh. apologies for cut off comment.

    Getting a group together last year – BAN or otherwise – to disclaim or repudiate the neighborhood update would have been a responsible thing to do.

    Getting a sizable group together last year to sue would have been confrontive, but she would then be speaking for the neighborhood.

    Instead, she chose to sue at the last possible minute, and is claiming to speak for the entire neighborhood when acting alone. This is very much the nimby thing to do.

    It hurts the landowners, who have property locked up until the rezone, and it hurts the neighborhood stuck with the eyesores.

  10. Hi PSF!

    One, an appeal of a determination of non-significance isn’t a “suit”. You are confused. Two, I don’t oppose upzoning, I oppose a lack of concurrency. Zoning isn’t actually really my thing. What I care about is transportation, open space, scope of work, analysis, and validation. Does that make sense? Good discussion! Keep going!

  11. Hey PSF,

    “The vacant weedy lots are zoned Single family”, well not exactly. The vacant weedy lots on the Transit Block are currently zoned NC-40. That is Neighborhood Commercial up to 40 feet. Prior to the construction of the underground station there was low rise commercial and single family homes on those lots. No one is in support of keeping the vacant lots vacant. Everyone wants either a plaza (not in the updated plan) or something built to 40 (existing zoning) or 60 feet. Practically nothing in the Beacon Hill Transit Area is currently built to the existing zoning, NC-40. This would allow for 4 stories. I can’t think of any 4 story buildings there, but I look forward to the day there will be denser buildings there.

    Finally an appeal of the declaration of non-significance IS part of the process.


  12. El Centro is zoned single family. It hasn’t been used as single family (if ever) in over 90 years.

    It seems to me like there are several separate issues being discussed: zoning, concurrency, and design concerns.

    Fighting against upzoning and then stating that zoning isn’t your thing really doesn’t make sense to me. This is a zoning issue–the primary goal is to set a height limit for buildings.

    Concurrency is required by state law and part of local policy. It’s already protected–what is there to defend or demand? No one has proposed (or could/would even try to get away with) shirking concurrency requirements.

    Concerns about good design are valid, but not part of what the neighborhood plan is supposed to address. There has been a separate push by Council to review design–unrelated to any neighborhood plan. Ballard is ugly in part because existing design and parking requirements encourage ugly condos with ugly retail space underneath and basement garages. It doesn’t matter how tall they are–they’d be ugly at 40 ft, 60ft, or single story. We need to follow up with Council to make sure good design wins–protecting light, air quality, pedestrian access, etc. Restricting parking and encouraging people to walk and use transit.

    Finally–it’s irresponsible and inaccurate to completely disregard all the efforts DPD made to collect public opinion. I received a mailing for the Sept. meeting at ACRS. I received adequate notice in a variety of media regarding every possible opportunity to learn about and share my concerns regarding the proposed changes. It wasn’t a perfect process, the meetings might have seemed “focus group”-y, but there is no perfect process.

    The ACRS meetings were more diverse than any community meeting I’ve ever attended. Interpreters were available for several languages, and large groups of non-English speaking neighbors were given specific attention and the opportunity to learn about the proposal and share their opinion. These were more representational than any small committee could ever hope to be.

    The process was certainly more representational than filing an appeal as a single individual to oppose the results of several meetings.

  13. “Fighting against upzoning..,”

    I’ve not seen this, such as when and where:?

    The point isn’t the upzone (which will happen regardless and rightly so) but what do we get for the upzone?

    As citizens we have very little ‘carrot’ except a detailed neighbor plan to uphold. The detail of that plan is being gutted by incompetence thus paving the way for whatever comes along being quickly and easily approved.

    Or perhaps that IS the plan?…I’m not that jaded yet but perhaps…

    But this anti-upzoning behavior you attribute to her I just haven’t seen. Can you be more specific?

  14. Adam, my reading of the entire appeal is that the entirety of it is fighting against upzoning. Even if you don’t read the whole thing that way, the first seven bullet points are clearly about upzoning.

    Freddie, if you aren’t fighting upzoning with this appeal, can you clarify exactly what it is that you are fighting, and why you think your appeal is the best way to do that?

  15. Now that I’m home I’m going back and reading some of the comments more carefully.

    Is there a history of Seattle neighborhoods suffering from upzoning without concurrency? Can you provide more information on why this is a significant enough concern to fillibuster the plan with an appeal?

  16. I’m all for zoning – without it, we’re Houston – but I also think there’s something to be said for letting things happen organically. You can plan and plan and plan, but at some point you have to let things happen. This neighborhood’s business district has been on life support for years. Maybe it’s time to let it breathe on its own.

  17. Thanks to everyone who’s commented so far. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts so far.

    Am I tired of looking at gravel lots surrounded by cyclone fence next to the new Link Station? Not yet. I have made it through six years of construction fencing (remember the Big Blue Wall?), I think I’ll survive whatever span of time elapses. I hope its not too long till we have some quality development around the station and in the Town Center, but my guess is, it’ll be a while. I don’t think that the appeal to the Hearing Examiner will drastically impact the timeline of development on BH. The real estate market, financing and individual property owners probably have a bigger impact on when anything happens than our Neighborhood Plan.

    Do I dream of potential businesses that would be perfect for our community? All the time, as do many of my neighbors here. We had a series of meetings last year (and even before), and heard all kinds of ideas. Neighbors have made their hopes and wishes known via the BH Blog, BH email lists, etc. None of that will actually open a new business on BH, and neither will a Neighborhood Plan.

    What can a Neighborhood Plan do? It is a tool to guide the City in its land use policy, transportation, housing, capital facilities and utility infrastructure development (Seattle Comprehensive Plan p. 8.4 line N4A, p.8.5 line N10-16). It guides the Comprehensive Plan, which is adopted and amended by City Council. The Comp Plan is law. If I understand correctly, the Comprehensive Plan guides the actual land use code, which is changed either through a regular, public and Council voted on amendment process, or a developer-driven change for a specific property (a contract re-zone). I think we all can agree that what gets built can have a long lasting affect on our neighborhood, so getting the land-use component right is a big deal.

    However, land-use is only one of five topics to be addressed in the Comprehensive Plan and Neighborhood Plans, with Neighborhood Plans given more latitude as to what they may cover, as no two neighborhoods are alike. So what’s been left out of the Draft Neighborhood Plan Update? There is nothing measurable or actionable regarding housing, its all generalities. There are references to existing Bike and Pedestrian Plans made by SDOT, neither of which were featured at any of the planning meetings. Both documents are based on the neighborhood work done 10 years ago. With regard to parks and open space (a capital facility for public use), there are references to improve Beacon Hill Playground and “Beacon Elementary Playground” – it’s the same place. Strategy 2 is: “Work with El Centro to maintain and improve the children’s play area.” Whoever wrote this must not have realized that the play area is part of the daycare facility there; it is not open to the public. This is a demonstration of DPD’s failure to adequately consult Parks and SDOT staff to create this Neighborhood Plan Update.

    Also left out was every geographic area of North Beacon Hill outside of the Town Center. So we had no discussion and no goals or strategies to deal with access to Jefferson Park, a massive, regional park opening this year. There are folks with neighborhood concerns in the area of MacPhearson’s and Columbian Way at Beacon, and at the northern tip of the Hill. Sorry, no time this year.

    Finally, the one section that should be best documented and supported, the land use section is rather vague, referring to “key opportunity sites” to increase height to 65 feet, which I think I can figure out, but ought to be crystal clear. And in the course of the planning meetings of 2009, all discussion was limited to the Town Center; there was no consideration of zoning changes to SF5000 parcels, El Centro the exception. All the growth projections offered during the meetings were 10 years old and took no account of the future Link station.

    For me, the Current Draft Neighborhood Plan Update for North Beacon Hill is incomplete, and without a specific, measurable list of actions, I don’t believe we should endorse it. I support Ms. Merrell’s appeal to the Hearing Examiner.

  18. This is not the first time that I’ve addressed questions directly to Ms. Merrell on this blog, either in comment threads that she was participating in, or in comment threads on posts that wrote. She has never answered any of the questions I have asked.

    If Seattle’s City Council was made up of council members representing neighborhoods, there would be an elected official weighing the needs of everyone they represent so as to try to stay in office. Lacking that, and lacking a variety of other groups with different perspectives on Beacon Hill, it can sometimes feel as though the only neighbors being represented are the small group of people who are able and/or willing to attend meetings. It’s great that some people can put themselves out there to do this, but I do wish the city government provided us with representation that was elected, not self-appointed.

    I see people on the blog praise great ideas like a vibrant street life with lots of shops and food cart. I love these ideas. But they aren’t going to happen with the current density on Beacon Hill, especially if a lack of upzoning is accompanied by efforts to route traffic off of the hill. If the pedestrian-oriented center is going to happen, it will be because there are enough people living on Beacon Hill to support the small businesses people say they want. Sending the message to the city that the neighborhood doesn’t want to be upzoned, or is too difficult to work with, could actually be the thing that keeps the vibrant pedestrian-oriented vision from happening.

  19. Are there examples of vibrant new retail areas in Seattle that were created from whole cloth (as opposed to rising from vibrant old retail areas)? Just trying to imagine what this may really look like. I think part of the charm of Post Alley and Pike Place Market is the funky old space — I don’t see it being created from a gravel lot.

  20. JvA, since all retail areas were once something else, your question is kind of a tautology. But I totally agree that waving a magic wand often produces a less-than magical result.

    The biggest problem with the “Post Alley” concept is that it’s mostly a private property matter. The property owners are no more likely to do something with their possessions just because it’s what some random people commenting on a blog want them to do than any of us would be.

  21. Theoretically I suppose there could be zoning incentives for “active alleys” or something like that. I don’t know if such a thing exists currently.

  22. Sometimes people treat “developer” as though it was a dirty word, but that’s what Beacon Hill needs is people who want to develop property. The current situation clearly discourages it. The trick is to create an atmosphere in which developers see a neighborhood’s vision as something that dovetails with their own self interest. It’s hard enough to work through the maze of zoning and other regulations without also facing opposition from the people who live nearby.

  23. Brook, Since you seem to know so much about what different folks are thinking, why don’t you send some good thoughts over to the folks that own the land around the light rail station. They haven’t responded to city outreach but perhaps you could make some progress with your mad ESP skills?

    Again just because you don’t like your nice neighborhood plan gutted and replaced with drivel, doesn’t mean you are anti-anything…except, perhaps, anti-stupidity.

  24. Adam, I’m not quite sure what I’ve done or said that deserves the personal tone you keep taking in your comments. But maybe ESP is the solution to trying figure out what’s really going on since the questions I’ve asked have gone unanswered, by you or anyone else.

    I’ve read the old plan more than once. I’ve followed reports on the new plan and read every draft iteration. I think I’m what used to be called an “informed citizen.” I don’t for the life of me understand why the new plan is any more drivel than the old plan. I also don’t know why it’s in my interest that the future of the real estate that I hope will be a significant part of my family’s retirement is being held up with a laundry list of objections that run that gamut from parking to migratory birds.

    For the record, I’m a homeowner inside the bounds of the urban village. I work both full-time and freelance on the side, I’m in grad school and I’m a parent. Getting involved in a contentious series of meetings hasn’t worked out for me, but that doesn’t mean my opinion doesn’t count. The neighborhood planning process isn’t just a thing that exists so the people who go to the meetings can feel good about themselves. It has a huge impact on a lot of other people than the ones you know by sight.

  25. Addendum:

    Really, I just want to have substantive conversation. If you think my ideas are wrong, then I’d love to have you address them and explain why. There’s a lot I don’t know and I’d love to be more informed. It might change my opinions.

    If you think my ideas are wrong and instead you attack me personally, then no one’s getting anything worthwhile out of it. I sincerely hope that’s not the tone of discourse at the in-person meetings, although the reports of them on this blog do make it sound like that’s the tone some have taken in representing my neighborhood.

  26. I hope that you’re sharing your thoughts with the City Council and the Mayor’s office, Brook. You’re absolutely right that there need to be a variety of ways for people to share their input–in person meetings don’t work for everyone, for a variety of reasons.

    The recent round of neighborhood planning was substantively different in process than the old processes. Meetings were held in a variety of venues on and off Beacon Hill. Interpreters were hired. Feedback was solicited online.

    While it wasn’t perfect, nothing is. I’m frustrated with the plan being held up because a vocal few who have the language skills, time, and personal ability to show up in person and manipulate the system outside of neighborhood planning are unhappy with the process. It’s the perfect example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater just because it’s possible.

  27. Speaking of City Council, did anyone attend the meeting Monday night? I think the neighborhood plan was on the agenda.

    Regarding the delay to the approval of the plan; I’m not sure Freddie’s request is valid or will have a significant effect on the schedule as it addresses the DNS and not the actual plan approval. I think the problem many people have is that the plan as it stands has little specificity. That also would seem to mean that environmental review would be done on a project basis, which probably also means the current DNS is valid. The arguement that increased density as a result of the proposed upzoning is environmentally damaging isn’t going to hold up, in my opinion.

    I think the point was to simply stall the process, which I think has some merit. Some obviously don’t like this because it may stall development. But, I would argue that if developers are lined up ready to design/build as soon as the upzoning is approved then that is all the more reason to delay the plan for several months to work through some of the specifics that have been proposed and incorporate them in the actual approved plan. I don’t see that as being anti-developer and don’t see a delay of several months as more than a hiccup for a project of the scale that would be waiting for the upzone anyway. Remember that construction on the station block can happen right now if it is within the existing NC-40 limits, or the developer could actually petition for a preemptive upzoning.

    Regarding the original subject of the post, a post alley or empty lot, I don’t think so much emphasis should be placed on filling those lots as soon as possible. We just spent several years enduring an ugly blue wall (even though Cap Hill apparently gets theirs covered with art) and before that, the block was full of parking lots, a run down and ugly (subjective, I know) Chinese restaurant and several single family homes. A few clean and maintained empty lots don’t bother me because I believe something great will be built there.

    Melissa says lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater; I say lets not put the cart before the horse. It sounds like there are ideas that have been floated that could incorporate site specific design restrictions and allowances to make the alley that splits the Station block into an active and pedestrian-friendly space. Those changes may even be favorable to the developer/owner by eliminating some of the typical requirements and allow the most value to be gained from their investment. Personally, I think it would be beneficial to be able to incorporate these additional design guidelines, or similar mechanisms, into the plan so that the new guidelines and the upzoning are approved at the same time. I’m not convinced that Freddie’s complaint will accomplish that, though.

  28. Chris, your points are reasonable and thoughtful. You bring up one of my primary questions/concerns: how do we have our voices heard when it comes to design? I’m less worried about height/zoning/setbacks than I am about whether the building will be ugly.

    Yes, ugly is subjective, but there are some specific design components that make buildings more approachable/attractive to pedestrians: windows at street level, scale (is the building intended to be approached by a person or a car?), signage, etc.

    I don’t see any of this addressed in any neighborhood plan. Design seems to be a completely separate issue, and I vaguely remember some Council work to change design guidelines & encourage more attractive/pedestrian friendly development. Any ideas where I could look this up?

    And no–I didn’t make it to the Council meeting. For some reason I thought it was focused on the First Hill Streetcar.

  29. Beacon Hill Pedestrians worked on Design Guidelines for Beacon Hill, these were passed by council in 2006 and can be found on DPD’s website. However, ugly is still subjective! The neighborhood plan should be addressing all the parts of development that should be concurrent: open space, transportation, view corridors, history, culture, affordability, etc. Upzoning alone will not do that…it might just bring us even bigger ugly buildings.

    That said, i love the “post alley” idea–we developed that concept some originally in the first charettes we held about the festival street. The bigger question is how to ensure that it happens. The plan update, as it is currently, has nice generalities about walkability, but very few specifics. And yes, i have in fact tried to contact the property owners there, with limited success. If and when a developer buys those lots, i fear their bottom line will be the bottom line: how much can they make. That won’t include a “post alley” design with lots of small local businesses, unless we can have that explicitly in the plan.

    Most encouraging of all is that lots of people are now questioning why we’re in this situation, and what is to be done about it, and putting forth great ideas. Let’s keep the discussion going, and put ideas into action!

  30. Melissa, the link below will take you to the NBH-specific design guidelines that Robert mentioned. I think the design guidelines are intended to address specific issues that the neighborhood plan only touches upon.


    In the Neighborhood Plan as it stands, Goal 4 includes provisions for updating the design guidelines document in the future. If there weren’t vacant lots surrounding the Station that are ripe for develoment, the process of modifying the design guidelines could be delayed until the final Plan has been approved. My feeling is that there is some urgency to somehow add some specificity to the generic neighborhood plan components by either including an ammendment to the guidelines in the Plan or preparing a revised guidelines document to be approved in conjunction with the Plan. If the Plan is approved as it stands, with upzoning of the Station block to 65 feet and no additional design guidelines, I think it is likely that the owners will come in quickly with projects and the community will have missed an opportunity to provide a bit more direction to the projects. The same can be said about the El Centro property.

    On that subject, there is a project coming up for review that would be good to follow with respect to the design review process. It is an 18-unit residential constructed on a corner lot at 14th and Bayview, where a single family home now stands (zoned NC-40, I believe). The initial design review presentation is on 2/23. These guidelines don’t automatically get implemented, but rely on comments from the community. Below is a link to the project.


  31. Melissa, I have commented on early drafts of the Neighborhood Plan via email to (if I recall correctly) Steve Louie. I’ve sort of been holding off on sending comments to the city until I get some clarification on what exactly about the plan is being objected to because it harms environmentally sensitive areas. I could make assumptions on what things like that in the appeal refer to, but I’d prefer to know exactly what was intended because there’s always the possibility that if I knew I’d think they had merit.

    Robert, I don’t necessarily agree that developers focusing on their own bottom lines is always a bad thing. I lived in Columbia City in 1992 and I have a deep appreciation for what a few landowners accomplished there, in the interest of making money for themselves. I’m concerned that any developers who want to make money by making a vibrant neighborhood will be taking away the lesson that any development on Beacon Hill will face the same fight that is facing El Centro’s development plans with this appeal.

  32. Frankly, it would be refreshing to have a property owner or developer who is seeking to maximize their bottom line rather than just maintaining the status quo through not maintaining or improving their facilities as so many Beacon Hill property owners do. There are too many Beacon hill property owners, both commercial and residential, who are happy simply owning property thinking of it as a nice nest egg for their kids or whatever. They don’t invest in it and it creates a barrier for businesses. Thus, we get what could be valuable commercial storefront occupied by businesses (or non-businesses such as the art studio next to the Pub) with limited commercial appeal that would not be sustainable in a decent business district. So, I end up taking the train to Columbia City or the ID.

    To me, maximizing the development on the station block in a smart and creative way and attracting interesting, and profitable, businesses with broad appeal will go a long way toward expanding that investment laterally.

    However, I disagree with the notion that a delay caused by the appeal, if it works, will harm a developer, particularly El Centro. The pending upzones, in particular the El Centro lot, are major changes that warrant further consideration and even negotiation of considerations such as publicly accessible open space, easements, etc. Besides, as Sally Clark stated at the NBHC meeting last week, nothing is holding El Centro back from going ahead with their own seperate request for upzoning. I would guess that it would be approved, but would require El Centro to show their cards which they haven’t done to date.

  33. This isn’t just about Beacon Hill. There are three identical appeals–word for word–in front of the Hearing Examiner stalling all three updates under consideration: Othello, North Rainier (aka Mt. Baker) and Beacon Hill.

    There’s already a delay caused by the appeals–not to mention a distraction. These three appeals are costing the city money and taking staff time away from real work. Hauling DPD staff into the Hearing Officer’s rooms and requiring them to collect documents that are public record (and could thus be collected by anyone, at any time) is a waste of time and resources.

    The Neighborhood Plan Updates were never (and aren’t) intended to replace the existing Neighborhood Plans. They were (and are) targeted specifically at zoning changes around the targeted areas–areas in a small zone around the new Light Rail Stations.

    There’s no conspiracy to destroy sensitive environmental areas, hurt property values, or take away quality of life or personality from the neighborhoods. The end goal is to create residential density around mass transit. The only way to do this is to build higher.

    I believe residential density surrounded mass is a good thing. Those behind the appeals clearly do not.

    Neighbors from all three affected communities participated in an exhaustive process to share input regarding these zoning changes. DPD collected the input and concluded that 65′ was an appropriate recommendation for the Beacon Hill area.

    DPD created an update proposal and solicited more feedback. The next step in the process would have been developing a work plan. That isn’t going to happen now. No one can create a work plan–providing all the specifics that everyone wants to see–until these appeals have been sorted.

  34. El Centro has no cards. El Centro cannot even begin the process of dreaming–much less planning–development on their land until the zoning dispute is resolved.

    Developing a plan requires funding. They can’t get anyone to fund sketches or models until the zoning dispute is resolved. Who would give a large grant to move forward with plans that might not be allowed to happen? (not a rhetorical question: if you’re a grantor and want to give them money, call.) They are stuck.

    There is no big El Centro conspiracy. They’ve been transparent about their long-term goals: housing for working families, seniors, and low-income individuals. They share the community values of creating and maintaining open space, light, and encouraging vibrant street-level commercial activities (food vendors, open-air market, etc).

    El Centro has been part of this community longer than most of the people who attend meetings or otherwise participate in neighborhood politics. They provide a bevy of valuable community services and are home to several small businesses. I truly don’t understand why anyone would question their motives or be suspicious of their plans.

    Other property owners are free to develop their property, but would be foolish to make decisions until the zoning dispute is resolved. Why sell the lot based on current value or build a 40′ structure when there’s potential to make more money?

  35. @Brook ‘The biggest problem with the “Post Alley” concept is that it’s mostly a private property matter. The property owners are no more likely to do something with their possessions just because it’s what some random people commenting on a blog want them to do than any of us would be’

    Actually alleys belongs to all of us. It’s public property just like the streets and we all have a say in how its developed and used. If we are able to get it classified as a pedestrian area then it could be very financially motivating for property owners to develop their sites to take advantage of this. Pedestrian friendly alley = more store front space = more money in landowners pocket.

    I think that your ‘mostly a private property matter’ is the core of this whole argument and I would argue that it is not mostly a private property matter. I would argue that it’s a quality of community matter and that we as citizens of Beacon Hill have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to future generations to do this work as respectfully and thoughtfully as we can.

    These individual properties will probably change hands many times over the course of our lives but the community that we build and the choices we make now will effect generations coming after us long after we have been forgotten.

  36. @Joel, I’m all in favor of smart, progressive zoning to encourage certain types of development. However I’m also realistic that zoning might not be enough. Classifying the current alley as a pedestrian area is a great idea, but my point about private property is that we can’t force anyone to use it to make what we want there.

    As the story elsewhere on the blog about the DeVos storefront demonstrates, zoning can be used by a single neighbor as a powerful stick, but it’s harder to use it as a carrot. “Zone it and they will come” hasn’t done much on Beacon Hill with the Neighborhood Plan already in place.

    For example, putting a pedestrian overlay on 15th and Beacon hasn’t changed the fact that it’s a major arterial intersection serving a huge number of people and their cars. I’m not saying things can’t change, and that someday 15th and Beacon might be thronged with pedestrians without any cars in sight, but there are enormous infrastructure changes that will have to take place on a citywide scale, at least, before the traffic at that intersection significantly decreases. As far as I’m concerned that’s “feel good” zoning, not practical zoning, and the only reason it exists is to appease neighborhood activists.

    If all this neighborhood planning came with low-cost development loans for projects that supported a vision, that would be something else. But with real money involved, the struggle to control the plan would be even more contentious than it is now. It’s a shame there aren’t any more old fashioned neighborhood Savings and Loan banks.

    But underneath all of this is another struggle. It seems to me that some people on Beacon Hill want to have the best of city life while maintaining the open space and relatively low density of an old streetcar suburb that we have now. I just don’t see how that works economically for the theoretical new small businesses. I think people have to choose: Do they want to live in a city or a suburb?

  37. @David, I was just re-reading the plan for the umpteenth time, and was reminded of what you said above: ‘Strategy 2 is: “Work with El Centro to maintain and improve the children’s play area.” Whoever wrote this must not have realized that the play area is part of the daycare facility there; it is not open to the public.’

    That sentence comes right after this: ‘Preserve and support the expansion of the role of El Centro as a cultural and service center, including current social services such as childcare and the food bank.’

    I think what the plan is really says is the city should help El Centro improve the outdoor part of its daycare facilities, not that it thinks those facilities are open to the public.

  38. Wow, that is neat! Love that sidewalk with the bike lane on the outside! Thanks for posting this. That’s a great example of what could be put into a matrix of actionable tactics to add to the update plan when we continue to build on it.

  39. Joel, thanks for the link. I’d love to see a progression like that for Beacon Ave and the station area to get a better sense for what it could look like. If you go to the home page (http://www.urban-advantage.com/) and the images section (http://www.urban-advantage.com/images.html) there’s many more. What’s interesting is that most of them start with street improvements and the buildings and infill come in stages. The evolution of the buildings is very organic as well.

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