Analysis: Neighborhood action plan still lacks clarity

This poster from the Beacon Hill Festival in June was covered with stickers that Beacon Hill neighbors used to vote on projects to prioritize in our neighborhood plan update. Photo by Wendi.
by Frederica Merrell

The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has introduced legislation to the City Council for adoption of our neighborhood plan update in Councilperson Mike O’Brien’s committee next Tuesday, September 28. You can download the Action Plan PDF file here. In the past week, they have finally put in all the details that people have been asking to see. Don’t blink, you will miss it!

For comparison, here is the matrix of projects voted on at the Beacon Hill Festival (only the ones that received an average support rating of 2 or higher). Many great ideas are not included in the DPD update.

DPD actions are phased as: o for on-going, p for planning, u for underway, or d for done. There are lots of blanks where they don’t know which phase we are in. I have to wonder why we are getting “done” projects in our action matrix for a ten-year plan for the future? I guess we need a little padding in a few spots! Here is my educated review of the Action Plan:

Goals #1, 2, and 3. DPD has put a lot of emphasis on developing low-income housing. DPD again claims to be developing an urban design framework for us, but I still don’t know what that means. Clearly zoning and land use is DPD’s main interest and expertise area. (It doesn’t hurt that every development project that gets permitted puts money in the department coffers.)

All the actions under the first three goals (housing and commercial district development) are on-going or planned. There is one interesting exception: Resolving litter issues in the town center is listed as done! I am not sure how that has manifested in our town center, exactly.

There are no housing goals, nor is there acknowledgement of the huge amount of multi-family housing going in at the north end of the hill. Rating: OK but incomplete for rest of neighborhood and maybe a little inaccurate on the litter front.

It starts to get weird under Goal 4: Parks and Open Space. They have only two policies: Preserve and support El Centro, and Seek Small Pocket Parks. There is emphasis on the El Centro Civic Gathering Space, an indoor facility, I believe (see Goal 6). The only actions with a planning designation are El Centro’s civic gathering space, El Centro’s children’s play area and an urban design framework element for Jose Rizal Park. In spite of the fact that eight different proposals for open space were submitted to the Parks Opportunity Fund this year, the only one acknowledged by DPD is the El Centro Children’s Play Area project. What about the other five: Lewis Park, North Beacon Central Park, Walker Street, 12th Street View Spot, and the Gatehouse project at Jefferson Park?

DPD pads this section with completed or almost completed projects. Beacon Hill Playground project is listed three times and is already underway, probably to be finished before the end of the year. Under Jefferson Park Master Plan, a small number of projects are underway or done. Why is “recommission the South Reservoir” in there as an action? It was completed over a year ago!

Three other actions have no information included in the boxes at all, including the new strategy (new to DPD that is) urban agriculture project (called Jefferson Park Food Forest, by the way) that is already in the design phase through a grant from the Department of Neighborhoods (DON). There is nothing about the Gatehouse project, a parking plan for Jefferson Park, or the skateboard park, among other things. These are clearly not DPD’s area of expertise. The Parks Department staffer at the May meeting told me that Parks asked DPD go back and redo these strategies, but they didn’t.

DPD has said that Parks and Open Space is the highest priority goal in the community. Too bad they didn’t spend more quality time on the highest goal. Rating: Weak. Way too much padding.

Goal 5: Public Safety. This is our second highest goal, according to DPD, and they seem to have covered things pretty well here. They need to put a high priority mark on the alcohol impact area. They removed the park rangers recommendation, and that should go back in. Rating: Good.

Goal 6. I think this is our Arts and Culture goal, but it is called a “gathering space” goal. The only planned actions are those relating to the creation of the multi-cultural gathering space/venue (at El Centro, I think). There seems to be a land acquisition portion to this project, but I am not sure which land is being targeted. We have the Farmer’s market idea here and then a long list of already completed arts projects. This is particularly strange. Nothing here about NEPO, Beacon Rocks!, Rockit space or concerts in Jefferson Park for the future. This is clearly not DPD’s area of expertise if they have to pad it with projects that are already done and don’t have one idea for the future. Rating: Weak.

Goal 7. This is our Land Use and Zoning section but they euphemistically call it the Vibrant Town Center goal. Rezoning is the goal, but they don’t mention specific zoning proposals. It would probably draw too much attention. Clearly there is lots of planning going on downtown here. Where the heck are the Westward Apartments on Beacon Avenue? Are they talking about the Westview Apartments on 14th? If so, why would we expand the station area overlay to a residential street with fewer than 900 average daily trips and no retail? Very, very odd. 14th Avenue south of Beacon is proposed for a bike boulevard to help kids get to Beacon Hill Elementary school. Rating: Lacks detail. Inaccurate in spots.

Goal 8. El Centro is a major part of the Town Center. What is the “market arcade” on the festival street? How does this relate to other festival street uses? El Centro will be included in the Station Area Overlay District, but what about the pedestrian overlay? No mention of the proposed commuter parking lot here. Rating: Needs clarification.

Goal 9: Density in the station area. Change the existing design guidelines and create an urban design framework. Might be nice to know what these things are. Rating: Clarification needed.

Goal 10. I think this is our Transportation section. Again, DPD is out of their area of expertise here. They only focus on the Urban Village and leave the rest to City plans like the Pedestrian Master Plan, Bike Master Plan and Southeast Transportation Plan. Unfortunately, those plans don’t do much. Again, they use the padding technique, putting in projects already completed or underway this year to make it seem like we have an idea of what to do in the future.

Here is an interesting item: DPD claims to have completed a conceptual design of Beacon Avenue to Spokane Street. Where is it? Let’s find that sucker!

It looks like DPD wants to pursue everything in the future through the urban design framework. Again, what the heck is this beast?

Notice: We have a new strategy (new to DPD that is): family-friendly pedestrian and bike circulation. No phasing info. Beacon BIKES has a design grant from DON, so I guess that would be planning.

Rating for Transportation: Weak. Way too much padding.

DPD claims that they will organize multiple stewardship groups in our neighborhood to make all these things happen with more meetings. They will keep us informed.

What about the huge numbers of meetings we already organize through existing stewardship groups? Here are a few groups I know about: North Beacon Community Council, Beacon BIKES, Beacon Rocks!, BAN, Beacon Merchants Association, Jefferson Park Alliance, the Jefferson Park Project Advisory Team (Parks Department-led), the Jefferson Community Center Advisory Board, Beacon Hill Elementary PTA, Kimball PTA, Mercer PTA, Cleveland PTA. I know I missed some other groups.

If you have an opinion about your areas of interest, you might want to let City Council know before next Tuesday September 25.

Frederica Merrell was the North Beacon Hill neighborhood planning co-chair from 1998-2000, and is the co-author of Seattle’s Beacon Hill.

One thought on “Analysis: Neighborhood action plan still lacks clarity”

  1. One reason completed/in progress projects are included might be that this document has been in progress since before the projects began.

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