The debate over a controversial upzone in Roosevelt (city council members, after months of discussion, opted to increase the allowed building heights on one block across from Roosevelt High School to 65 feet as part of planning for light rail in the neighborhood) isn't over yet.
In an editorial published on several neighborhood web sites and distributed via email to a list of neighborhood activists, housing activists John Fox and Carolee Coulter issued a broadside against incoming council land use chair Richard Conlin for his leadership on the Roosevelt upzone, which they call "a naked political bow to development interests, camouflaged in pseudo-'green,' pro-density, planning rhetoric." Fox and Coulter oppose density, which they say is code for tearing down affordable housing and replacing it with unaffordable condos for yuppies.
Arguing that the one-block upzone, which will allow six-story buildings (instead of four) will destroy the "heart and soul" of the neighborhood by "blocking views" from and "towering over" the high school, they write:
Imperiously, Conlin claims the council’s only mistake was not making it clear at the outset of community discussions in 2005 that greater heights and densities would be imposed on those blocks.
Conlin also states that, “overheated rhetoric polarized the issue unnecessarily.” If anyone did any polarizing, it was Mayor Mike McGinn, with his decision last May to override his own planners and the community and favor the greater heights for the high school blocks sought by a few pro-density zealots and development interests. Conlin’s and the other five councilmembers’ upcoming vote fuels the fire.
Environmental activist Roger Valdez responded in an email reprinted on his blog, saying the two activists are "caught in a logic loop: there is no affordable housing, therefore we shouldn’t build any more."
That doesn’t make any sense. If it were true that the Council secretly wanted to up zone Roosevelt to 10,000 feet and a [Floor Area Ratio, a measure of density] of 1 million, developers will only build what they think will produce a return on their investment. To talk about overbuilding at this point is counter to the main argument that Fox always makes about housing, that there isn’t enough of it and it is too expensive. If there was more housing–more than we had people who wanted it–then the price would certainly fall. Increased housing supply may not be sufficient to lower price, but certainly is necessary.
Valdez's response sparked a series of overheated emails from neighborhood activists, who accused Valdez alternately of not "hav[ing] the first idea about housing economics" and of wanting to force everyone into "thousand foot tall silos with quadruple paned thermal windows and airtight walls."
Or, as one email writer put it, creating a city
where sky scrapers create dark, sterile canyons and winds strong enough to peel the paint off a school bus, and, when the ordinary citizen attempts to negotiate the clang and clatter of 24/7 "vibrance" presented by people who either don't get enough sleep or who have no place to sleep, he runs the risk of being beaten or kicked comatose (resisting or not) or shot dead by a cop whose nerves are shot from the futility of trying to "keep the peace" in the midst of utter chaos.
If that rhetoric sounds familiar, there's a reason. The anti-density crowd is still making the same case against development---essentially, that single-family neighborhoods are the only acceptable land use pattern, and that dense apartment living is a type of hell---that they were when neighborhood planning started in 1995. More than 15 years on, it's time for density opponents to admit that six-story buildings haven't turned Seattle into a Blade Runner-style dystopia and start working with their adversaries to make new development better. Instead, they're effectively arguing for a border fence around the city.