City Manufactured Crisis
posted by December 14 at 15:54 PMon
The email alert arrived this morning: “Our Mayor and the City Council are about to downzone our neighborhood (Georgetown) into an industrial wasteland (no kidding),” wrote Joel Ancowitz, a 42-year-old yoga teacher who owns a house in the neighborhood with his partner. Seemingly fast tracked, a bill introduced in the Urban Planning and Development Committee only three weeks ago goes for a vote before the city council on Monday. If it passes, the legislation will limit new commercial and residential developments to 25,000 square feet in Seattle’s 5000 acres of industrial-zoned land.
However, the rezoning wouldn’t exactly apply to Georgetown – a pocket of single-story bungalows, artist warehouses, and quirky shops zoned for mixed use, with roughly 1200 residents – but rather the swath of industrial land that surrounds it. Here’s a map.
Georgetown is that multi-colored blob in the blue industrial-zoned ocean.
Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, who introduced the bill, says it’s not a downzone but a means to prevent encroaching commercial and residential conversions from displacing manufacturing businesses in an area intended to accommodate them. “We are trying to resist some of that [conversion] to protect our industrial job base, which is in excess of 100,000 jobs,” he says.
The issue for neighbors is whether further limiting commercial devlopment near Georgetown will adversely affect the burgeoning community there.
“Art co-ops would be prevented from using that space. The creativity happening down here could very well be stifled,” says Ancowitz, who urges people to contact councilmembers and ask them to stall the legislation or exempt the land near Georgetown. “I’d like to see studies done first.”
The mayor’s office and some members of the council think the city needs to pass binding legislation now. “We’re in the biggest building boom in this city’s history,” says Steinbrueck, who also introduced a companion resolution to study industrial zoning. “We’ve put some interim controls in to prevent a rush to vest while we take a little more time.”
But Kathy Nyland, who owns a small retail shop in the neighborhood, thinks the urgency is artificial. She cites six vacant warehouses in the area as an example that industrial businesses aren’t wanting for space. “This decision can’t be rushed, because you’re making a decision based on a color-coded map,” she says.
Nyland and Ancowitz have found an ally in Councilmember Richard Conlin, who will introduce an amendment on Monday to exempt the area around Georgetown and SoDo from the new regulations. “The problem is we’re doing this so fast, we’ll spend the next several years fixing the area,” says Conlin, who adds the city could place a moratorium on permits if developers apply for commercial permits in the interim. “It would be great to have grocery store, but even a normal size grocery store would not be able to be sited.”
“You do not want big-box retail moving in to Georgetown,” quips Steinbrueck. “It would kill the place.” Steinbrueck's current proposal would still allow commercial and residential developments up to 25,000 square feet. That’s the equivalent of the PCC in Fremont and enough room for a commercial business with 100 employees, he points out… more than enough room for an artist’s workspace. He also notes the irony of claiming the rezone would hurt Georgetown’s working-class community when the alternative is to allow developer-friendly zoning that will inevitably gentrify the area.
Mayor Greg Nickels originally proposed a version of the bill in September to restrict non-industrial uses from the 100,000 square feet currently allowed to only 10,000 square feet—a 90 percent reduction. Steinbrueck introduced his compromising proposal, after a public hearing and speaking to Georgetown neighbors, in November.
“We’re not saying nothing needs to be done,” says Nyland. “We have scrappy residential area down here. The fear is we’re not being recognized as a neighborhood because we’re surrounded by industry.”