Photo by Shane Harms
Catherine Weatbrooke discussing the progress of council members position on the new City Council District alignment.

Council members and citizens ask tough questions

Ballard District Council meeting held last night

The Ballard District Council meeting took place at the Ballard Library last night with guest speakers Patrice Carroll, Eric Friedli, Dona Harper, Scott Shapiro, and Cathrine Weatbrook.

The meeting was held to discuss Seattle's Comprehensive Plan, discuss the Metropolitan Parks District, Bartell Drug's Site development and the City Council Districts/District Council boundary alignment options.

Patrice Carroll, Senior Planner with the Department of Planning and Development gave a progress update for the Comprehensive Plan.

The Department of Planning and Development lists this description of the Comprehensive Plan:

“Our comprehensive plan, Toward a Sustainable Seattle, is a 20-year vision and roadmap for Seattle’s future. Our plan guides City decisions on where to build new jobs and houses, how to improve our transportation system, and whether to invest in utilities, sidewalks, and libraries. Our comprehensive plan is the framework for most of Seattle’s big-picture decisions on how to grow while preserving and improving our neighborhoods.”

Carroll was in charge of the 15th avenue comprehensive plan and has been working with the project since 2011. She said that the apparent lag in the implementation of the plan because of the recession and that the state eased up on some of the deadlines.

However, she said that now things are getting better economically and planners are looking to get things back on track with examining past research and looking forward.

“When your looking out 20 years we cant help but look at the recent past… now we can really set our sites on the overall 20 year plan. …The deadline is really solid now and is June of 2015. We are looking to start conversations with communities and work on scheduling meetings and respond to research on trends," said Carroll.

By deadline, Carroll meant the start of implementing the 20 year plan that is set to complete in 2035. The plan has these core values in mind:

• Directing growth to existing urban centers and villages
• Contributing to the vibrancy of our neighborhood centers
• Reinforcing the benefits of City investments in transit, parks, utilities, community centers, etc.

Carroll explained that the Comprehensive Plan is a long range look and what planners characterize as a “guiding policy,” and that some aspects that influence the plan, especially in Ballard, are matching transportation to influxes in urban hub areas, reconciling new development with current structures in communities, maintaining a balance of affordable housing with new development, and understanding how to implement social justice into city planning.

“The overall goal of the Comprehensive Plan is to have growth but still provide the high quality of life we have in Seattle.”

Carroll also said that in the past there has been some confusion about what the plan actually does but should change as more community research happens.

“Hopefully the comprehensive plan becomes a little more clear and less duplicative.”

Council members and citizens took issue with planners not being comprehensive enough when it comes to the surge of development in Ballard and at the same time severe cuts to transportation. One citizen said that there seems to be no dialogue between city planners and officials deciding allocating funds.

“On one hand we have transit cuts and on the other be have a high volume of transit plans underway in the next 20 years. … At the same time there are some parts of the city where it will be hard for transit to be sustainable”

“Its amazing how the values in Ballard are the values that we hear expressed in other neighbors and are things that parallel the comprehensive plan.”

Another issue discussed was the creation of a Metropolitan Parks District to create a new source of funding as a way to address the shortfall of funding Seattle parks face.

According to a 2012 Cedar River Group study called “ Sustaining Seattle’s Parks: A study of alternative strategies to support operations and maintenance of a great urban park system,” there is a shortfall in the cost of operating and maintaining the existing parks system of approximately $20 million each year.

Friedli, who is Deputy Superintendent of the Seattle Parks and Recreation, said that with dramatic cuts within a growing city economic system, funding the parks have fallen in priority compared to human services.

"We have created a fantastic legacy with our parks but after the cuts the legacy we leave to future generations we think is at risk,” said Friedli.

The legacy Friedli speaks of is "a community held legacy that encompasses one ninth of all the land in Seattle, 6,200 acres of park lands and more than 1 million square feet of buildings," according to the Cedar Group Study.

Friedli said that in order to remedy the situation, a Parks Legacy Citizens Advisory Committee was established last year and the committee has met about 12 times between June to December. Their job was to review the funding need and determine the size and different components of those needs. Another goal was to determine if there should be a funding measure on the ballot come August of this year.

The committee put together a report that will be released in December. After the release there will be public feedback meetings held in January and February. And city council will review the information collected from those meetings to determine if there will be a measure on the 2014 ballot. What’s pressing the matter is that the levy Seattle currently uses to fund the parks service is set to expire this year.

Friedli, discussed the potential funding options likes six and nine year levies, however these options would be subject to a one percent inflation disparity every year and would not be as effective as a permanent levy. He discussed the creation of the Metropolitan Parks District as a remedy. He explained that the MPD would be its own governing body and would have its own taxing authority.

However, Freidl explained that the City Council members would act as the MPD members, almost like wearing different hats for different meetings because there has been no other proposal, and that the city council has ultimate control over the levies anyway.

Citizens took issue with the City Council also being the MPD, comparing the situation as a fox guarding a hen house.

Referring to the MPD, “I see it more as a stealth force that is slowly approaching and that people aren’t going to understand it. … Once you form it you cannot get rid of it,” said Don Harper, Queen Anne Community Council Parks Committee Chair. Harper recommended a 8 year pro parks levy where voters get to have a direct say every 8 years in deciding how parks will be taken care of.

“The 8 year pro parks levy is probably the most effective levy we have seen, so I’m not sure why the committee is so stuck on six and nine year levies.”

The next speaker was Scott Shapiro, with Eagle Rock Ventures LLC, who is working with Henbart on the new building that will replace the current Bartell Drug at 5605 22nd Ave. N.W.

Shapiro explained he has experience working on a mix-use site and that he worked on the Melrose project on Capital Hill.

In his talk, Shapiro gave an overview of the project six story mix use building going over much of the details discussed at the early design meeting a few weeks ago. He explained that the next step in the project will be to submit an updated plan to the Design Review Board in the Spring.

“We like to think that it’s a good design… we haven’t maximized the site like most developers do, and we have done that to fit into the site and the neighborhood. ... We want the buildings to look good and as long time owners of the building, Henbart takes a lot of pride in the design. ”

The meeting finished with Catherine Weatbrooke with the Crown Hill Business Association and CNC representative briefly discussing the City Council and District Council boundary alignment. Weatbrooke said that many Neighborhood councils are still in the process of taking a position on the new alignments, a situation resulting from Amendment 19 overlaying 7 new City Council Districts on top of the 13 Neighborhood Council's districts.

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