What is HALA?

For more than fifteen years now we have been hearing about urban villages and planning for more housing in Seattle, with Wedgwood never included in any “zoning maps” for greater density of buildings.  Now the Mayor of Seattle and the City Council are proposing to bring the Housing Affordability and Livability plans into practice in the year 2017.  This plan could include zoning regulations which would bring benefit to controlling what types of new buildings will come in along Wedgwood’s commercial district of 35th Ave NE.

Creekside Apartments at the Thornton Place complex, Northgate.

Creekside Apartments at the Thornton Place complex, Northgate.

HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability) has to do with citywide zoning maps as to what types of housing can be built, and where.  We have long heard of Lake City referred to as a Designated Urban Village, with taller buildings at the main intersection of Lake City Way NE and NE 125th Street.  In some of the Urban Villages of Seattle, taller buildings with more apartments or condos have been encouraged so that people can live near where they work, or live near transportation hubs.  Another example is the area called Thornton Place, just south of the Northgate Mall, which has denser urban village housing because of its advantageous location close to the Northgate Transit Center.

The Wedgwood neighborhood which is largely single-family homes, has been passed by for all of these years during discussions about urban density.  But in the year 2007 the neighborhood received a wake-up call when an old grocery store building at 8606 35th Ave NE was to be redeveloped.  For the first time, we were presented with the possibility of a four-story building in Wedgwood’s commercial district along 35th Ave NE.

The Jasper Apartment building at 8606 35th Ave NE was completed July 2012. The height, bulk and scale of the building, and the lack of storefronts, was a huge disappointment to the Wedgwood neighborhood.

The Jasper Apartment building at 8606 35th Ave NE was completed July 2012. The height, bulk and scale of the building, and the lack of storefronts, was a huge disappointment to the Wedgwood neighborhood.

After a long struggle including a hiatus during the economic downturn of the years 2008-2009, finally in the year 2012 the Jasper Apartment building opened.  During that process neighborhood activists attempted to influence the development to reduce the impact upon surrounding houses and make the building more “street friendly” with storefronts and amenities such as a public seating area.  None of the neighborhood requests could be enforced by City of Seattle construction permitting, because there simply was no “zoning requirement” for any public amenities.  The result was a very disappointing building with a boring streetfront and no retail stores, coffee shops or restaurants as people in Wedgwood would like to have.

The struggle with the Jasper Apartment caused the Wedgwood Community Council to organize to ask the City of Seattle for zoning regulations in the commercial areas of the neighborhood.  First with the Vision Project completed in 2010 and the Future of 35th Ave Plan completed in 2014, the Wedgwood Community Council has presented the City of Seattle with requests to control what can be built in the business district of Wedgwood.  We are still waiting, because the City of Seattle has not yet been ready to write these “neighborhood business district” zoning requirements into law.

Business WordCloudNow the Mayor of Seattle has announced that the HALA plan will be discussed for legislative action in the year 2017.  The Wedgwood Community Council continues to ask for the City to respond to our zoning requests for the commercial intersections of NE 85th and 75th Streets on 35th Ave NE.  These zoning requests would apply to any new buildings in the future.  For example, if the Rite-Aid ever closed and the site was to be redeveloped, a zoning requirement for storefronts, sidewalk improvements and public amenities such as an open courtyard, could be enforced for a new building.  This would make the Wedgwood business district livelier with a pedestrian-friendly environment and with more food shops and other local businesses.  Also called “place making,” these proposed zoning guidelines are the ones which the Wedgwood Community Council will continue to ask for, in the HALA discussion coming up in the year 2017.

A lost opportunity: lack of zoning requirements means that townhouses will replace this commercial building in Wedgwood.

A lost opportunity: lack of zoning requirements means that townhouses will replace this commercial building in Wedgwood.

More food shops, pubs and other gathering places was the most commonly mentioned desire of Wedgwoodians as measured in the Future of 35th Ave Plan.  The Wedgwood Community Council, a volunteer organization, will continue to advocate for the neighborhood in zoning regulations which would require new buildings on 35th Ave NE to have storefronts instead of blank walls.

Your participation is needed.  You may write to City Councilmembers Rob Johnson and Debora Juarez, or indicate your interest in serving as a volunteer on the Wedgwood Land Use Committee to monitor the HALA process. E-mail your thoughts to info@wedgwoodcc.org

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