Next Steps for the Crown Hill Urban Village (CHUV) and the MHA in Whittier Heights

Greetings Neighbors,

Major urban growth planning changes are underway within Crown Hill Urban Village (CHUV).  This should be of interest especially to those folks in the NW portion of Whittier Heights, but hopefully to all in the neighborhood more generally.

Without getting into a long history of the political/legal process, the City of Seattle is now debating, amending, and preparing to adopt, planning legislation to implement the “Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA)” program.  This is what began in 2014 as the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) as a proposal of the former Mayor Murray administration.  Then the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was appealed by a coalition of neighborhood organizations and activists called “SCALE,” in 2017, which took almost 2 years to be resolved, but was largely dismissed by a hearing examiner in the City’s favor in late November 2018.

The City Council is now reviewing amendments to the zoning changes that were proposed in the initial MHA ordinance.  This is the newest CHUV map released this week.  MHA functionally means increased zoning densities within expanded urban village boundaries throughout the City.  The expanded boundaries of the CHUV stretch out from the center of density basically at 85th and 15 Ave NW in all directions.  In Whittier Hts, this means that a large area of residential blocks historically zoned for Single Family 5000 s.f. (SF5000) are being up-zoned to higher residential densities.  Homeowners or new developers who acquire properties would be able to redevelop their lots to include more housing units than are there now.  How much more varies, of course.

I have been trying to help steer the conversation with the City of Seattle by working closely with a group of folks who have formed the CHUV Committee for Smart Growth.  Hopefully, most all of the folks who see this message will already be aware of that committee, and perhaps be on the email info distribution list for it.

The work of the committee has resulted in two primary influences on the CHUV expansion proposal.  First, the City of Seattle has begun a community planning process for Crown Hill area.  This is intended to give the neighborhood a process to work with the City Office of Planning and Development (OPCD) to have an affect on elements how the urban village is built out.  This includes things like design standards that guide how certain areas may be developed, and how areas like parks, and public rights-of-way are developed and changed.  The City held the first of four planned open house workshops in October to introduce folks to the work.  The second workshop of this process is now being planned for March 2.  Learn more about the community planning and workshops here.

The second thing that we’ve been able to do is negotiate a series of what I’ll call “tweaks” to the earlier proposed zoning maps.  This has been accomplished by working through Councilmember Mike O’brien’s office in conjunction with the OPCD.  The Smart Growth Committee has taken the approach of neither advocating for or against the CHUV expansion, but instead has focused on trying to mitigate the impacts of it, in the belief that it is very likely to happen regardless of our role.  The main result of the changes that are in the amendment is to try to create more transitions from higher density zoning to less dense.  By that, I mean trying not to have low-rise or mid-rise apartment building zones back up straight onto single family lots.  Instead we’ve convinced the City to create more intermediate height and density zoning to “scale down” from the highest density buildings along 15th Ave down into the neighborhood to the east and west of the center.

I have two main goals in providing this info to the Whittier Heights Community:  (1) to try to inform as many neighbors as possible who may not already know about the tremendous growth plans that are already having a major impact on life in our neighborhood, so that you may be at least alert to the planning and policies that your city government and elected council member are pursuing; and (2) to encourage you to be involved in the community planning process and also, if you’re interested, the political process of adopting these new zoning changes.

If I still have your attention, let me finish by summarizing what is changed for the Whittier Heights part of the CHUV in the newly amended zoning map, and then describe the current very fast moving legislative political process to adopt all of this.  The CHUV reaches down from 85th & 15th at the NW corner of our neighborhood down to 77th and 13th at its farthest point southeast.  If you live between 77th and 80th and between 13th and 15th you’re inside the rezone.  If you are between 80th and 85th then the rezone stretches eastward all the way from 15th to 11th Ave NW.  In that area most of what is currently zoned as Single Family homes on 5000 foot lots, will be rezoned to “Residential Small Lot (RSL)” development.  Without going super into detail on that zoning designation (see link), let me characterize it as two lots per 4000′ with no parking requirement, but same height limits (30′).  This essentially doubles the zoning density, and is meant to encourage homeowners/developers to subdivide current lots to enable two small homes where historically there has only been one.  Closer in to 15th or to 85th the single family zone will increase even more, basically to either Low Rise 1 which encourages townhouses or rowhouses to 30′ heights, or Low Rise 2 which includes townhouses, but also 3 & 4 story apartment buildings to 40′ like you see being built on 15th between 67th and 75th currently.

The City Council started the political process for all of this Citywide in 2016 and is now taking it on very aggressively, having successfully stopped the early legal fight against them.  Your Council Member Mike O’brien is a leading proponent of this legislation The current amendments were introduced in the City Council on January 14, 2019.  The MHA select committee is holding meetings on the legislation to finalize these and other urban village amendments over the coming weeks.

There is a public hearing for The MHA Select Council Committee scheduled for Feb. 21 @ 5:30 PM (previously shown in post with wrong date,sorry!)  These are to be your last opportunities to engage with elected leaders to let your voice be heard before they adopt these very significant and sweeping urban growth plans that will shape the long term future of this neighborhood.

I am also happy to try to answer questions you don’t have cleared up here as best my busy schedule will allow.  Just email me here:  Thank you for your time and interest, and hope to see you out in the neighborhood soon.


Brent Lackey, Whittier Heights Community Council President


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