Mayor Ed Murray announced last year that the city of Seattle would cut formal ties with (and funding for) its 13 volunteer Neighborhood District Councils, a move intended to curb the influence of single-family homeowners — who are often opposed to increased density and other land use patterns that encourage transit — at City Hall. However, a change made by the Seattle City Council this week could make it easier for members of the public opposed to development to launch legal battles.
Previously, opponents to building projects had to ask the city for “land use interpretations,” i.e., detailed breakdowns of how regulations apply, the Seattle Times reports. Those interpretations cost a whopping $3,150 — at minimum — which covers 10 hours of review by the city’s construction department. On Monday, the council voted 8-0 to uphold an ordinance eliminating that pricey step.
An analysis from City Council says the change could help individuals not backed by company funding to challenge projects. The other side of that coin, however, is that it could also help groups block projects such as low-income housing or homeless shelters from their neighborhoods. “This could have a negative effect on vulnerable or historically disadvantaged communities,” the analysis said.
Last year, after cutting formal ties with its neighborhood groups, the city signaled a desire for increased equity in its land use discussions, as Erica C. Barnett wrote for Next City in April. It put out “a call for volunteers to serve on a new 16-member Community Involvement Commission,” which was to be “charged with helping city departments develop ‘authentic and thorough’ ways to reach ‘all’ city residents, including underrepresented communities such as low-income people, homeless residents and renters.”
Seattle’s not alone, as Josh Cohen wrote for Next City this week. In many lower-density but left-leaning cities, mainstream progressives tend to shy away from developers, despite their need for increased housing and better public transportation.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.