Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Who Knows, Just Allow Them to Get Involved

I came across an interesting Beacon Hill post in a blog about transit-oriented development in Seattle.

Case in point: Beacon Hill, a low density neighborhood minutes from downtown with phenomenal potential for views. They’ve got a new branch library and Jefferson Park is a stone’s throw away. And they’ve got a light rail station set to open in a year. So what is the prospect for [transit-oriented development] in Beacon Hill?

...

There ain’t no way to turn this neighborhood into a transit-oriented community that can properly support the multi-billion dollar investment [the light-rail station] that has been dropped in its lap without upzoning a good deal of single-family properties. And that is going to be uncomfortable for many people in Seattle. The residents in Beacon Hill have come a long way since the mid-1990’s: at a recent neighborhood charrette some local residents agreed to going up to 85’ at the Red Apple site, and upzoning all along Lander Street to create an east-west neighborhood commercial corridor. This is all a good start, but a long way from what the city, the region, and the transit system needs to happen in this station area. So…how do we get the neighborhood to support a much more significant upzone? And if the neighborhood can’t get there, how does a city infamous for lengthy process and compromise do the upzone anyway?


I agree with the thrust of the post, and the blog -- that urban growth should be concentrated, and that means increasing density, starting near commercial areas and transit hubs. (But, please, could we please have a taste of some big-city amenities, like organic groceries and a restaurant with a wine list, before we get a bunch of ugly-ass eight-story condos?)

Still, as a Beacon Hill resident, I can't help but be put off by some of the condescending commentary. I came away from the post feeling not like "wow, they really make an enticing case for our neighborhood to pursue upzoning by the light-rail station" but more like "we better watch our butts because it sounds like these people want to come down here and give us a spanking!"

Some of the comments:

--This is obscene. They really need to be building AT LEAST 6-8 story buildings around the station.

--Leave the Beacon Hill station shuttered until residents will agree to extensive upzoning in exchange for its opening.

--Maybe even go as far as opening the station, get people used to it, then threaten to take it away unless they upzone.

--Some will come kicking and screaming [to high-density, transit-oriented neighborhoods] when they tire of the gas prices.

--We need to show [Beacon Hill residents] the beauty that density can bring and even let them help design it. Perhaps letting them put in a nice community square near the station (with new Pro-Parks funds?) or a very specific zoning area for where they want commercial vs. residential, or allowing them to put in increased sidewalks or designate specific design criteria for certain areas. Who knows, just allow them to get involved and imagine their own little European vista up on the hillside.

13 comments:

Daphne said...

GOOD GRACIOUS. Yes, the tone of the post and all the comments is completely condescending. Wow. It's pretty repulsive.

litlnemo said...

They did upzone us a few years ago to prepare for the station. Just not to the 85' these folks want. (Holy crap, that would be a big change.) Our house got upzoned in the process.

Say goodbye to all of those nice Craftsman bungalows in a few years. Maybe. Though no one seems to be taking advantage of the existing upzoning yet...

"C" said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Be careful, Beacon Hill! Look what happened to Ballard. People are just now realizing how ugly it's gotten and thinking about doing something, but it's too late. The charm of the neighborhoods is what makes them desireable places to live. Once everyone moves there, the attitude seems to be it's our responsiblitily to build more and more and more ugly buildings. Controlled growth is sadly lacking in our city. Requiring developers to provide ammenities and improvements to the infrastructure is one way to go. -- Pat D.

uppergeorgetowner said...

Wow, this is really disheartening. Anyone who knows anything about transit oriented development knows that development follows transit, not the other way around.

steve said...

we talked about zoning quite a bit at a recent BH pedestrians meeting. Zoning currently allows for 40' max height, mostly in the areas that are currently commercial, although there is at least one block of single family residential that got changed to commercial. Nobody at that meeting said anything about upzoning to allow 85 ft--maybe 65 ft in some places, but no way should we allow 85. Views are going to be incredible, so I think we should expect that some developers will want to do this eventually, but who knows when with the housing market doing what it is right now. I think the city could help by changing a very small number of blocks to allow up to 65 ft, while the rest remain at 40 ft. None of the stations on the current line are going to have the kind of density these folks are advocating--in fact, none of the station locations along any future extensions of the line will have that kind of density either, except when they reach Northgate. Ballard and Fremont have been absolutely trashed by high-density development and BH should not be next in line.

Anonymous said...

We really need seattle upzoning to require more open space at the ground level. Please peg your local city council person about this... if we go 6 or 8 stories high, then we need buildings that dont fill every square foot of the lot - but leave open, greenspaces at the ground level.

This is the only SANE way to go higher, esp. in neighborhoods. But currently, the seattle zoning doesnt enforce it. There are good plans out there that do address this, but they have not been rolled in. Support them!

et said...

I think people in our community would be more supportive of growth and upsizing if they were assured that it would happen in neighborhood friendly way and developers aren't given free reign to put up whatever they want. Its difficult to stop growth entirely, that's not the answer. The answer lies in the final comment from the blog about allowing community involvement and giving the people who live in this neighborhood a say. More retail on Beacon Hill would be great!

Anonymous said...

Christopher Hitchens-- always brilliant-- has this to say about non-gentrification:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2008/07/hitchens200807

Good read.

Anonymous said...

This was one of the more spit-take worthy parts of their original post: "But here is the point…there ain’t no way to turn this neighborhood into a transit-oriented community that can properly support the multi-billion dollar investment that has been dropped in its lap without upzoning a good deal of single-family properties." Apparently whoever wrote this has never ridden the No. 36 or the 32 to and from work. It's been worse than standing-room only these days - it's been more like squeeze 'em in, hold in your stomach and REALLY get to know your neighbor!

JvA said...

Yeah. I pretty much refuse to take the loathsome 36 on a weekday during rush hour. Often, it's so crowded that it refuses to stop for me anyway, so it's not even an issue.

The packed crowds, the sexual harassment, the drugs, the addicts, the drunks, the snail pace, the stench. No thanks.

I have no problem taking other buses during rush hour (took the 70 out to Eastlake yesterday, taking the Broadview bus up north today), so it's not like I'm total a bus snob. It's just that the 36 happens to be the worst bus in Seattle, and I'm sick of it.

LMM said...

I clicked into the post about the BH station and zoning, and then I clicked through the rest of the blog- biased crap. I have waited- to see if JVA was going to post a comment, before I said anything, but I am saddened that there are young urban professionals not understanding the long history of BH had with neighborhood development. I remember when I lived, after college in apartments on Capital Hill and Fremont and then rented a house in Ballard. We bought our first house in Seattle- because we wanted to be in Seattle on BH. This neighborhood has a lot to offer and I feel, after attending pedestrian/zoning meetings, etc. that we as a community are making sure that when the zoning laws are changed, that we as a community have a say in what type of architecture and businesses occupy BH. I do want to make one note: Starbucks has not been welcome, and I do not like them, but it does seem to me that if we can let them in, it could lead to other business coming in that we need.

Anonymous said...

Good Lord! Keep us posted if this goes forward. Hope anyone proposing this has a bead on our wonderful diversity and comes to the discussion table in languages beyond English. Not just slick renderings. Our "context" is unique and finding the proper fit for developement is bound to give planners a good workout. We'll be watching!