Urban Village Boundary Contractions? No thanks.

mike eliason
4 min readAug 7, 2018
WCC proposed 2017 comp plan amendment to remove >50 blocks from the urban village

In my Sightline piece, I described how homeowners in Wallingford have worked for decades to block housing via downzones, increasing development burdens, and dominating the inequitable and anti-tenant neighborhood planning process. Just last year, the Wallingford Community Council proposed a comprehensive plan amendment that would have removed over 50 blocks and the only park out of the already gerrymandered Wallingford Urban Village. Of course, nearly all areas eliminated were zoned single family, which will see a nominal uptick with MHA. The inequitable aspect here is that Wallingford is majority renter with a median age of 33. Per a colleague, the proposed gerrymander wasn’t even put to a vote (oops), unsurprisingly the WCC Board’s demographics are the complete inverse of the neighborhood. This gerrymander would have increased development pressure on existing buildings in the UV, placing existing businesses and multifamily housing at greater risk for redevelopment — all the while removing a sizeable chunk in future MHA units or in lieu fees.

The council summarily rejected the proposed comprehensive plan amendment, and I kind of assumed classist tactics like that wouldn’t be tried again. So I was a little surprised to see the Phinney Ridge Community Council put out a survey to test the waters about removing a significant portion of the (already gerrymandered) Phinney/Greenwood Urban Village. The Survey is title, ‘Should we change the boundaries of the Greenwood-Phinney Urban Village If doing so means developers would provide more on-site parking in the future?’

Ah yes. Parking. I should have guessed it.

A handful of residents spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to kill the Phinney Flats project in this part of the Urban Village. This project will provide homes for those that can’t afford million dollar homes. It also won’t provide parking. Local homeowners appealed the project to kill it by requiring parking. The path they used was on a technicality, which the council courageously and righteously modified in a package of sweeping reforms, so that car-free buildings like the Phinney Flats could continue to be built near transit. In the midst of housing and climate crises — the council action was a step in the right direction.

With the council modification, the homeowners opposed to the project could no longer kill/delay it, and so they agreed to dismiss their suit. In the most recent update, the anti-housers wrote, ‘We hope you will stay involved as we move on to the next steps of restoring parking sanity in Phinney Ridge and throughout the City.’

and the survey says…

The path the Phinney Ridge Community Council is proposing would be to remove over a quarter of the Phinney/Greenwood Urban Village. New development located outside the gerrymandered border would only be eligible for a 50% reduction in required parking, instead of the current 100% reduction. The result of such an inequitable action would be an increase in rents and development pressure on existing properties within the Urban Village. It would also raise the cost of development for those projects along the Greenwood Arterial between 65th and 75th — a highly bikeable, walkable, and transit accessible location where parking should not be required. Furthermore, it would reduce MHA units produced on site, or in lieu fees collected. Oh, and they also suggest the boundary could maybe be moved up to N 80th st. Sigh.

Greenwood-Phinney Ridge Urban Village. Some folks want to remove everything south of N 80th St.

This isn’t really surprising. The ‘neighborhood planning’ for Greenwood was dominated by homeowners (because zoning). The city proposed a sizeable boundary for the urban village, but homeowners were having none of it. They gerrymandered 32 blocks out of the urban village, and all of the open space. Seems pretty democratic and equitable, right?

City-proposed Greenwood/Phinney Urban Village boundary. What could have been…

Unfortunately, Wallingford and Phinney/Greenwood Urban Villages aren’t unique in this aspect. The history of the 90s neighborhood planning in Seattle is one of inequitable outcomes and those opposed to new housing dictating where new housing could go, and how expensive it would have to be. There was no Race and Social Justice Initiative — if there had been, the outcomes would have likely looked incredibly different. Furthermore, according to this shelterforce article —just 12,000 people participated in Seattle’s neighborhood planning process, just over 2% of the population then (and just 1.6% today). The neighborhood planning process was neither equitable nor democratic!

Seattle’s land use and zoning both need a major re-boot, and maybe one day we’ll see it. Until then, I hope the council continues to ignore these undemocratic, classist, anti-tenant proposals which will only exacerbate our housing crisis. Given how broad and deep it is — we should be *expanding* urban village boundaries (bigly!). If you’ve got a second, click the PRCC survey and let them know you support housing sans parking, and *increasing* urban village boundaries.



mike eliason

dad | designer | writer | Noted shill for housing. interests: Baugruppen, architecture, passivhaus, mass timber, staedtebau, not for profit housing