Seattle Times: Mayor’s plan for Seattle’s U District: taller buildings, some affordable housing

Have you been wondering how the new light-rail station will affect Seattle real estate? Here are some facts:

By Daniel Beekman Seattle Times staff reporter

uw

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray was met with boos as well as cheers outside the University Heights Center on Monday as he unveiled a growth plan for the University District that includes major changes to the size of buildings allowed in the area.

The proposed zoning changes, now headed to the City Council, would allow buildings as high as 320 feet in one part of the neighborhood and 240 feet in a few other parts.

Murray said the idea is to direct growth in the U District to blocks near the University of Washington campus and the new light-rail station scheduled to open in 2021 on Brooklyn Avenue Northeast between Northeast 43rd and Northeast 45th streets.

With many people moving to Seattle and rents on the rise, more affordable housing is needed, the mayor says. The zoning changes, by allowing developers to build taller, would trigger a new program requiring them to include some rent-restricted units in their projects or pay to help build such units elsewhere, he said.

“This plan is about getting growth right in Seattle,” Murray said minutes after visiting an Interstate 5 offramp where a motorist hit and killed a man in a tent early Monday.

“The conversation we’re having today cannot be divorced from the tragedy that happened this morning,” the mayor said, connecting his U District plan to Seattle’s homelessness crisis. “We simply have to create more affordable housing.”

The UW has been pushing for its namesake neighborhood to grow into a dense “innovation district” for tech startups and workers. But skeptics are concerned about low-income residents, small-business survival and open space.

Two dozen opponents crashed Murray’s event with signs bearing messages such as, “Revise the rezone,” and “Don’t Ballardize the U District,” referring to growth in Ballard.

Kate Robinson lived in Ballard until recently and said the new buildings there cater to people with money. She’s now worried what the zoning changes would mean for the U District business she co-owns, Cafe Allegro.

“I’m afraid every day we’ll be displaced,” she said. “We’ve been here for more than 40 years, but if our building is torn down and redeveloped we’ll have nowhere to go.”

Erik 4-A, who runs a recording studio out of the U District building he owns, is also upset. He says the changes would boost his building’s value — and his property taxes.

“I’m concerned we’re being pushed out,” he said. “I’ll have to sell, and then what? There’s nowhere in Seattle where I’ll be able to afford to do what I do.”

Ethan Phelps-Goodman, a software developer who went to graduate school at the UW, offered a different take. Murray’s plan includes incentives for developers to provide open space, child-care facilities and sidewalk improvements, he noted.

“Tons of change is going to come to the U District with light rail — more people, and there’s no way around that,” Phelps-Goodman said, wearing a button with the slogan, “Yes to the future — upzone the U District.”

He added, “If we invest billions in rail, how can we not build housing near that rail?”

Murray said 40 to 275 U District homes, many of them with relatively low rents, will be demolished in the next 20 years with or without the zoning changes.

He says 620 to 910 rent-restricted units would be created through developer requirements if the council approves the changes, plus up to 5,000 market-rate units.

Opponents of the plan dispute those numbers. They say the plan endangers many more homes with relatively low rents.

The council’s land-use committee will discuss the changes in detail during a 9:30 a.m. meeting on Sept. 20 and will hold a public hearing in November.

Last year, the council approved the creation of a new, larger business improvement area in the U District over opposition from some condo and business owners.

Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or dbeekman@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @DBeekman