Which should come first: a growth plan developed by the neighborhood or an upzone for developers?
The answer was obvious to some of the people who showed up Sept. 8 at a Seattle City Council hearing on a proposed ordinance that would govern how the city goes about updating its 10-year-old neighborhood plans.
The plan itself should come first, some of the 21 speakers told members of the council's Planning, Land Use and Neighborhood Committee, which is considering raising heights this year in various areas of the city. The planning should also be driven by the community: Many said that a neighborhood advisory committee proposed to oversee the planning and make recommendations to the mayor would remove citizens from the process, giving the city, not residents, control of the plans.
"There appears to be a plan to change the zoning before updating the plans," said Daphne Schneider, a resident of the NewHolly community in Rainier Valley. "I think that's backwards and just totally undermines any value the plan has. It doesn't make any sense."
The bill, which the planning committee may vote on Sept. 10, would lift a budget proviso that the council placed on a proposal by Mayor Greg Nickels to spend roughly $1 million to hire staff in various departments and move forward with creating status reports on the city's existing 38 neighborhood plans by the end of 2009.
Work would also start immediately on revising neighborhood plans in three specific locations: the areas around the light-rail stations on Beacon Hill and at NewHolly and Mount Baker in Rainier Valley. Plan updates would follow between 2009 and 2011 in other neighborhoods with light rail or transit stations.
While some endorsed starting with the light-rail station areas, others said the process would put tremendous pressure on Rainier Valley residents to increase development and density. "I don't want my neighbors to be caught in a catch-22 where we've already got the surface light rail and now we're expected to add the same amount of density [as] other neighborhoods that are getting tunnel alignments," said Ruth Korkowski, a North Rainier resident.
A resolution accompanying the bill calls for the Neighborhood Plan Advisory Committee, or NPAC, to convene Nov. 15 with representatives from 13 of the city's district councils, two members of the Seattle Planning Commission, and seven at-large members, four of them to be selected by Mayor Greg Nickels and three by the City Council.
"I'm very concerned [that this] legislation takes away the say of the neighborhoods. Instead, a committee of others will be formed who will ultimately decide what is best for the community," said Ron Momoda, a resident of Rainier Valley.
"It's a very bad first step and is a bad indicator of the way this is going to go," said Capitol Hill resident Dennis Saxman. "The NPAC is advisory," he said, "and the mayor will not be obliged to follow their recommendations."