Update April 2019: WE’RE STILL HERE!
It’s 37 months,
4,582 volunteer hours,
and a whole lot of dollars later,
and we’re not going anywhere!
Here’s why Save Madison Valley is still working to oppose the current plan for developing the City People’s site—including on April 10th filing a lawsuit, a land use petition act appeal (LUPA appeal), in King County Superior Court.
Yes, the project was approved by a Seattle Design Review Board –
And here’s why the Design Review process in Seattle is seriously flawed.
Developer and architect present a plan at Design Review. The community is invited to offer input, and the Board approves the design. Except, community input of any substance is not legitimately considered (in our experience). And no wonder: the unpaid, all volunteer Design Review Board has responsibility, but one could argue no real authority. Projects arrive with volumes of information (remember the unpaid part? When is there time to read the extensive project plans—not to mention community letters?). Board members change from meeting to meeting, insuring no continuity. Some are architects themselves, perhaps with a project of their own to get through design review. These are not the people to tell a developer to reduce the scale of a building, decrease a garage, or move a wall to save an exceptional tree (in other words, to tell a developer to decrease his or her profit). The board punts to the next stage: Project Approved-- pending the SEPA review process.
Yes, the project was found to have to no significant adverse environmental impact as our City applies SEPA (State Environmental Protection Act).
But here’s how SEPA currently fails to protect our communities.
According to SEPA, any project that will have a significant adverse impact to the environment requires first, a study of the impacts (an Environmental Impact Statement—EIS), and second, mitigation of those impacts (in legal terms, lessen the damages). So you might wonder how a project that removes a hillside of exceptional trees, on a critical slope, in a liquefaction zone, with a history of flooding, for example, doesn’t trigger this process. If you step back far enough, however, and look at the entire City, it’s all about perspective. For example, would a wall of high rises around Bert’s in Madison Park not have a significant impact? With this logic, no single project is large enough to be considered “significant.” While the example may be extreme, this is the outcome of how SDCI currently applies SEPA (to the benefit of developers). Our City can become covered in concrete, one neighborhood project at a time, yet never trigger a SEPA review. Each “small” project fails to be significant when measured by the impact to the entire City.
Yes, the Hearing Examiner did not remand the project for traffic, trees, or size.
And here’s why “deference to prior decisions” in legal terms encourages bold grabs by developers and bad decisions by the City.
A developer has an incentive to build as tall, and as far out to the edges of any site, as possible--good business practice, if the goal is to maximize profits. However, without the addition of City oversight (compared with City rubber stamping) over time there is a tendency to stretch, reinterpret, or just plain ignore regulations and laws (and aesthetics!). This becomes the new standard. The generous green light that projects currently receive at the outset sets the stage for a lot of bureaucracy for developers, but few actual limits on their developments.
If you’ve wondered why our city is increasingly dominated by Lego-style buildings, built out to every buildable inch of space, why there are fewer big old trees, why neighborhoods have oversized boxy homes towering over older homes, and why there is a glut of high-end apartments and increasingly fewer older, affordable housing options, these are some of the reasons. Seattle has become the land of opportunity for developers, while decreasing the quality of life for the people living here.