My Kind of NIMBYs

City Inside/Out covered the Seattle’s classic neighborhood story tonight. “Evil” property owner. “Angry” neighbors. Proposal for mixed-use towers next to cute craftsman-style single-family homes and a quarter mile to a future light rail station.

But the angry neighbors are hardly typical. Led by the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association they fought to locate a light rail station smack dab in the middle of their neighborhood instead of the far cheaper I-5 alignment. Why? Get this—they wanted to be able to walk to the station, and hoped that light rail would spur more TOD in their community. Gasp! What a concept!

Their campaign—under the adorable name “YIMFY: Yes In My Front Yard”— succeeded and the subway station, funded through last November’s Prop 1, will go to NE 65th Street and NE Roosevelt Way.

But that isn’t all. Our YIMFYs made upzone recommendations to DPD back in 2006! Yes, the recommendations were modest…mostly 40’and some 65’ zoning in the immediate vicinity of the station, but it would have surpassed the density thresholds laid out in HB 1490 (which the neighborhood warmed to) at least in the quarter mile radius. Unfortunately, the city hasn’t had the funding to evaluate or implement the YIMFY’s upzone recommendations.

But the (private) funding does exist to consider the proposal on the table for the blighted properties a few blocks away from the station. And the YIMFYs, while they want to see the blight gone and the sites redeveloped, are freaking out.

The environmental review includes an alternative with some 160’ towers. Yikes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loves me the tall mixed-use towers in station areas as much as the next density zealot, but I gotta say that 160’ in a neighborhood like Roosevelt (designated a Residential Urban Village in the Seattle Comp Plan) is pretty laughable. The nearby Northgate Urban Center doesn’t have zoning that high (although it should). Maybe 85’ zoning would be more reasonable…but if you put that two blocks from the station, then how high do you go at the station?

Then there is my other voice that says, naw, no apologies, we need more density in station areas, and if the developer can make it pencil in this market, then bring it!

And a further complication is that one of the only tools the city has to create moderate-income housing is to tie affordability provisions to height/density bonuses through incentive zoning—giving the city a powerful motive to go high.

So, what say you, density advocates? What does good urban form dictate? How high is too high for “Residential Urban Villages” like Roosevelt (or North Beacon, or Columbia City, or MLK @ Holly, or Rainier Beach)? If we go to 85’ in neighborhoods like Roosevelt, then how high should we be going in Northgate?