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?

14 Responses to “My Kind of NIMBYs”

  1. Matt

    One bit of the argument you left out, that the neighborhood assn is really harping on, is the fact that the building sites are right next to the newly renovated Roosevelt Highschool. It’s an architecturally attractive national landmark, and the neighborhood wants to be able to see their historic gem. Not have it hidden behind some Belltown style ice cube.

    On top of that, the school did the green thing of NOT putting up huge lights for their brand new football field. They instead rely on sunlight to light up their games (what a concept). The building lots are on the southern end of the field, so the winter sun (winter being when football is played) would be blocked by anything that rises high above the field (Like say… a 16 story apartment tower?).

    Obviously, no one is against something being built there (this isn’t Ballard afterall). But this cozy, crowded little spot isn’t where to start building Bellview or Belltown. Save that for the central U-district or Northgate.

  2. EeePC

    If not wanting a 100 foot tower in your quiet residential neighbourhood is NIMBYism, then advocating for ‘no apologies’ density for density’s sake is also an ism, I’m just not sure what…

    There’s plenty – PLENTY – of room for dense growth in Seattle’s urban centres.

  3. David

    This is a rare case where I’m opposed to adding so much density, this is just the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m all for towers in U-District and Northgate, and maybe after that we can talk about towers in Roosevelt… A tower there right now would create a backlash once people see it and would just give actual NIMBYs something to get riled up about.

  4. another YIMFY

    “It’s an architecturally attractive national landmark, and the neighborhood wants to be able to see their historic gem.”

    This is the type of argument that NIMBYs use:
    – at the Camp Fire (aka “historical Waldo Woods amidst a rare 3rd growth forest”) site in Maple Leaf
    – at the Ft Lawton (“precious green space (for rich white people) and endangered species habitat”) affordable housing project in Magnolia
    – “vital local businesses” at the proposed Goodwill mixed use site on Dearborn

    PS – Sisley really only thinks he will get 85 feet. He is just messing with the neighborhood.

  5. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    This is a great post, and timely. There’s a public meeting about the Roosevelt Development Group proposals on Tuesday. You can also submit public comments about the EIS scoping online (email the form to the land use planner).

    I disagree that this is “typical” NIMBY behavior. There are things that really are worth protecting for the whole city, including historic landmarks like Roosevelt High School. Another thing worth mentioning is that one of the proposed NC3-160 sites (the fruit stand block) is right on the edge of .25mi from the station. That’s still quite close, but shouldn’t the highest density be right next to the station?

  6. Higginbottom

    I also don’t think this is typical NIMBY behavior, but the High School thing baffles me a bit. The high school (which, yes, is lovely) is a block in from the arterial…so does that mean you can’t build anything on the arterial in order to protect views of the high school from the arterial? I mean, a one story building will block the view for pedestrians, so what is the difference between one story, four stories, eight, sixteen? There is no way you are going to see the high school from 65th if anything gets built there, except between the buildings. And the higher you go, the more space you might get between buildings. But I agree anything higher that 65′ or 85′ is ridiculous for a neighborhood like Roosevelt.

  7. Higginbottom

    You can find an aerial map of the Roosevelt station area at the above link. The high school is clearly marked.

  8. Bill B

    165′ on capital hill!!!

  9. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Roosevelt High School is uphill from 65th, so the NC2-30 zoning would protect the school’s daylight. The view corridor is a different issue and would require either 1-2 story or some sort of setbacks. Right now there are fenced-and-boarded 2-story buildings along 15th Ave NE but you can see the high school from the lovely Pizza Hut parking lot on NE 65th.

  10. alexjonlin

    I live right just a couple blocks from that site, and am excited about having some good development there. However, 16 stories is just ridiculous. 85 feet would be good though. Most of the neighborhood will still be super against that height (they keep saying they want 40) but I would okay with it, as long as they give us a pocket park and setbacks and that kind of thing. The view from Roosevelt thing is kind of ridiculous; maybe taking the view away would be a good thing cause it would keep the students on task. :)

  11. Chris

    I am not in favor of 160′ in that neighborhood. That said, the idea that potential rezoning to 85′ no big deal but anything higher is sacrilege (see Northgate, Dravus, SE Seattle) is flawed. I’d argue a 85′ wall is much more detrimental to light and air than a 120′ building with setbacks above a 30 or 40′ podium. Its imposing on Market street in Ballard and that’s a much wider ROW than Roosevelt.

  12. Zelbinian

    Yeah, I live right by the Whole Foods and I think that 160′ is probably overkill. That said, if the choice is between blocks and blocks of eyesores and an oddly placed collection of large phallic structures, well . . . that’s no choice at all, really.

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