by Kirby Lindsay, posted 6 August 2014
In late 2008, Fremont saw a cessation of new construction just like the rest of the city, yet bi-weekly Land Use Information Bulletins issued by the Seattle Department of Planning & Development (DPD) show that developers are back to building housing. Perhaps that’s why, this year, the Fremont Neighborhood Council (FNC) has had two separate groups of concerned, anxious residents petition the organization for advice and assistance in addressing projects planned for construction near their homes.
The neighbors’ concerns covered a multitude of issues including unit size (micro-housing,) building size, and placement of garbage cans. They also questioned both projects lack of parking. A quick look, in July, at permits in process revealed five projects, including those two, for a swath of Fremont zoned for multi-family structures, none of which have proposed providing parking for all the tenants:
- Project #3017589: 3635 Phinney Avenue N – 3-story structure of 27 residential units. 22 bike spaces to be provided. No on-site parking.
- Project #3017074: 3639 Linden Avenue N – 3-story structure of 35 residential units. No on-site parking.
- Project #3016540: 3618 – 2nd Avenue NW – Two 3-story structures of 14 dwelling units each (28 units total.) No on-site parking.
- Project #3015117: 3601 Greenwood Avenue N – 4-story, 66 unit residential building with 1 live/work unit and 3,500 sq. ft. of retail/commercial space. Parking for 16 vehicles to be provided on-site.
- Project #3017168: 3627 Stone Way N – 4-story, 126 unit residential building with 2 live/work units and 5,000 sq. ft. of retail/restaurant space. Parking for 90 vehicles to be provided on-site.
This short list of developments planned for Fremont proposes 282 residential units (not including live/work and retail uses) with parking for a total of 106 vehicles. These figures do not take into account the number of residential units demolished for the new construction – or parking lost or gained by these developments.
Residents, and others, who live and work near these developments have taken notice about each one, and the FNC has taken notice, now and in the past.
Volunteer Service In Action
Toby Thaler, a land-use attorney, spends personal time as a Board Member and Land Use Chair for the FNC. Thaler has advocated on behalf of residents in Fremont for decades, and he’s gathered a historic knowledge of land use in the City – and Fremont specifically.
“If they are relatively well-designed,” Thaler said of building permit applications, “and the developers talk to us, I don’t bother.” He will write letters and question projects, but he doesn’t fight projects without reason. “I track all the projects, in upper and central Fremont,” he acknowledged, looking for those that overstep regulations or the Fremont Neighborhood Plan, which he helped develop.
On Project #4 (on the list above, on Greenwood,) Thaler tried to give input on the design, on behalf of the FNC, through the City of Seattle Design/Review process. However, City Planners scheduled the Design/Review meeting on this project for the same time as the regularly scheduled FNC monthly meeting. “We went to the top of the DPD,” with a complaint, Thaler said about the FNC’s grievance. This has happened before, making FNC Board Members split time between the two meetings, or miss an opportunity to advocate through the City’s established system.
The City creates policy, and issues permits. Thaler noted a need for, “monitoring of the effect of policy decisions,. How do you know if they work?” He encouraged a push for a cumulative effects analysis, under the SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act), but noted that such a demand can’t be done effectively by the FNC. A resident, or the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, might be able to get a review done.
This won’t effect current permits, particularly those approved and already under construction (like #4.) Policy decisions, and regulation changes, would have to come from the Seattle City Council and the Mayor’s Office. A look at these five projects in process does raise questions about density and parking, particularly as Fremont starts to absorb 282 (or more) residents, and retail, into the community.
“There is a disconnect between zoning and planning,” Thaler acknowledged, “Zoning should drive the planning. Planning should drive the infrastructure – transit, schools, and open spaces.”
One concern often raised by FNC members this year are current cuts planned for METRO transit service. Thaler also tied in another concern raised at FNC meetings: safe passage for students attending area schools. With more people in Fremont, more infrastructure will be needed for the passage of pedestrians to our schools, library, parks, clinics, and stores.
Under the State Growth Management Act, the City of Seattle designated areas as Urban Centers and Hub Urban Villages. Fremont is designated as the latter – an area of some density with services. Thaler noted, “we have marginal open space, and the transit infrastructure is inadequate.” Under Growth Management, the City set targets for density – areas the City could accommodate a projected influx of people. According to Thaler – and many others – Fremont has exceeded those projected density targets. “Coalition for an Affordable, Liveable Seattle has called for a moratorium on building,” he said, “We have exceeded our targeted growth for these neighborhoods, but they [the City] have not provided the infrastructure.”
An ‘Opportunity To Affect Change’
“The stronger the FNC is, the more members it has, the more power it has in affecting the land use issues,” Thaler observed. He understands that a lot of people don’t want to attend meetings, but he observed that the best way to wield influence is through organization. “The more organized a community is the more effective a community can be on influencing its surroundings,” he stated.
Thaler worked on Charter Amendment 19, and helped put the Seattle City Council into districts. He sees district elections, to be held starting in 2015, as one answer to residents’ concerns about potentially irresponsible development. “The hope and the promise,” Thaler said of electing City Councilmembers from districts rather than city-wide, “is that it can overcome the power of the Downtown establishment.”
Ultimately, Thaler said of the five proposed developments – and others – is that no overview or comprehensive review will be done by the DPD simply because, “nobody is ordering the department to do it.” He hopes readers will pay attention to district elections, “it’s your opportunity to affect change.”
On August 25th at 7p at Doric Lodge #92, the FNC will discuss residential issues, including land use. However, its website, and Facebook page, also share information and alerts for those ready to get organized. Stay informed to let the City know you opinion!
Publisher’s Update: After conclusion of this column – on July 7th – another permit application came through the City of Seattle Department of Planning & Development Land Use Information Bulletin:
- Project #3014898: 3651 Interlake Avenue N – A structure of 17 residential units, with 1 live/work unit. No on-site parking.
This project falls one block outside the boundaries of the Fremont Neighborhood Council, but it does fall within the same swath of multi-family construction identified in this column. For your information.
- FNC Highlight Reel: Pursuit Of Residential Priorities
- by Kirby Lindsay, August 1, 2014
- FNC Highlight Reel: Catching Up On It All
- by Kirby Lindsay, June 25, 2014
- FNC Highlight Reel: Pedestrian Concerns
- by Kirby Lindsay, February 5, 2013
- FCC Highlight Reel: Going Long
- by Kirby Lindsay, June 27, 2014
- Design Review Provides A Public Forum
- by Kirby Lindsay, May 11, 2012
- At A Parking Impasse?
- by Kirby Lindsay, May 26, 2010
©2014 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.