Councilmember Licata left office on January 1, 2016.
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Urban Politics #156: Neighborhood Plans And The Mayor’s Plans

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Assisted by Legislative Assistant Lisa Herbold on this issue.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • Neighborhood Plans And The Mayor’s Plans
  • Neighborhood Community Summit
  • A Review Of Three Communities
    · South Lake Union
    · Northgate
    · University District
  • Conclusion

Neighborhood Plans And The Mayor’s Plans

Recently there has been much media attention on the relationship between neighborhood plans and economic development in Seattle.

This debate has come into sharpest focus in three communities: Northgate, University District and South Lake Union. In each of them the Mayor has proposed some major public investments or changes to the existing land use controls. These set of proposals are referred to as the Mayor’s Action Agendas.

In each of the above mentioned communities there are various interest groups consisting of residents, workers, developers, business owners and land owners. Given my experience as a community activist I most often hear from the residents about their concerns, although I have heard from all the above groups.

The major concern that I have heard is that the Mayor’s proposed plans do not take into account the neighborhood plans or if they do it is not evident how so. Neighborhood plans should not to be taken lightly.

Council President Peter Steinbrueck in a recent Seattle Times editorial provided a good summary of that importance. “In the early 1990s, the state Growth Management Act required cities to draw up a host of special review comprehensive plans to accommodate job and population growth. The idea was to target certain areas for high-density development, provide sewer, road and power infrastructures to accommodate growth in those areas, and prevent sprawl into less-developed regions.”

Council Member Richard Conlin chaired the Council’s Neighborhood Committee, while I served as Vice-Chair, during the time when 38 neighborhoods finalized this planning process and brought forward their plans for the City to adopt. I now serve as the Chair of the Neighborhood Committee. We attended countless of community meetings and recognized that thousands of citizens participated in creating their neighborhood plans.

They are not set in stone, but they do represent a promise from the City to each community to provide public services in exchange for accepting greater growth in the form of additional jobs and housing units. Consequently there were housing and jobs goals set for each community. And the City agreed to monitor these goals and to adjust our investments or the goals themselves if growth exceeded them or lagged behind them.

It is critical to see the current debate about the impact of the Mayor’s Action Agenda within this historic relationship between our local government and our citizens.

Neighborhood Community Summit

Next Saturday, Councilmember Conlin and I have been invited to address a Citywide Neighborhood Summit. It is being billed as “A Summit to Unite Neighborhood Activists and Volunteers-Protecting and enhancing the integrity of neighborhood planning under the Nickels Administration.”

Their objective is stated as:

“The results of our 10 year Neighborhood Planning efforts must not get left behind. Residents must continue to have a meaningful role in the development and public policy decisions affecting the physical and social character of our communities.”

The time and location are as follows.

— Date: Saturday, May 31, 2003 Time: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Registration & Refreshments at 9:15 a.m.

— Place: South Lake Union Armory 860 Terry Avenue North (at Fairview and Terry behind the Burger King)

The Summit is being sponsored by The Cross Town Coalition and the Seattle Community Council Federation with the participation of the Seattle Displacement Coalition and representatives of numerous other community councils. For further information or to register for the Summit, contact Jeannie Hale at 206-525-5135 or or Lisa Merki at 206-982-9775 or

A Review Of Three Communities

South Lake Union

— The Mayor’s Plan

In response to greater than anticipated job growth in South Lake Union the Mayor is proposing 1) an expansion of Mercer Street from a four lane, one-way configuration to a six to eight lane two-way boulevard connecting I-5 to SR 99, connecting with and crossing to SR 99 and 2) to develop a Streetcar that will travel between South Lake Union and Westlake.

— The Neighborhood’s Plan

During the Neighborhood Plan process the expansion of Mercer Street was contemplated but rejected because “The extensive analysis of the corridor also produced the understanding that a ‘cross-town’ expressway in this corridor did little to address the actual traffic dynamic and was excessively expensive and disruptive, and should be dropped from further consideration as a transportation need.”

The neighborhood plan accepted by the City said that ” a set of integrated improvements for the whole corridor (should have) little or no right of way impacts and only positively perceived or mitigatable impacts on the neighborhood.”

Additionally, the Comprehensive Plan (policy SLU-P14) supports for South Lake Union “a set of improvements that are reasonably fundable and that do not require excessive new right-of-way.” Finally, when the City sold its 9 surplus parcels of property to Vulcan, it was with the understanding that we were not pursuing a major expansion of Mercer Street. Are we now proposing to buy some of that property back to facilitate the expansion of Mercer Street? In the case of the streetcar proposal a City Report, dated April 2002 states “Vulcan originally raised the Terry/Westlake loop.” Nowhere in the Neighborhood Plan is a streetcar contemplated.


— The Mayor’s Plan

In Northgate, the Mayor is concerned that the rate of housing unit development does not meet the neighborhood goals. He is also concerned that the Northgate Mall has been unable to make a needed expansion under the current General Development Plan which among other things regulates the Mall’s development. Consequently the Mayor is proposing to abolish the requirement the General Development Plan.

— The Neighborhood’s Plan

As neighborhood planning began, it was decided that a new neighborhood planning effort was not necessary for Northgate because the Northgate Area Comprehensive Plan was newly completed. This plan led to a set of Northgate Overlay District regulations in the Land Use Code one of which is the requirement for a General Development Plan for developments of six acres or more.

The Northgate Neighborhood Plan promotes the General Development Plan requirement as a way to manage growth while helping to change the character of the commercial core and enhancing the surrounding single-family neighborhoods. It provides the neighborhoods and adjacent businesses with advance notice of a site’s long-range plans, and allows the City to anticipate and plan for public capital or programmatic actions needed to accommodate development and provide the basis for determining appropriate mitigating actions to avoid or reduce adverse impacts.

Universtiy District

— The Mayor’s Plan

In an effort to revitalize the Ave, Mayor Nickels has proposed lifting what is referred to as the “lease lid.” The “lease lid” is a limit on the square footage of property the University of Washington may lease in neighborhoods surrounding their campus. The 1998 City-University Agreement limits the University to leasing 550,000 gross square feet.

— The Neighborhood’s Plan

The City-University Agreement stated that this Agreement is to “minimize any adverse impact it may have by working cooperatively with appropriate City agencies and community groups in order that problems may be identified at the earliest possible stage and that, where necessary, mitigating actions can be taken to maximize positive impacts and minimize adverse impacts upon the City and particularly the communities surrounding the University, and to promote the health and vitality of the residential, business and academic communities.”

During the University District Neighborhood Planning process the decision was made to address any proposal to alter the lease lid within upcoming Master Plan update.

The City Council, just five short months ago approved the updated Campus Master Plan, based upon the recommendations of the City-University-Community Advisory Committee. No mention was made at that time about a need to make changes to the lease lid.


In each of these 3 neighborhoods, many citizen leaders are telling me that they wish to work with the Mayor on his initiatives. This is why I am considering legislation directing the Office of Management and Planning, who by ordinance works for both the Council and the Mayor, to conduct a public review with community representation on the current conditions in these neighborhoods.

This is a unique moment for citizens throughout Seattle; not only do members of these three communities have the same goals, but these are goals that are shared by all of the city’s neighborhoods. Neighborhood Planning is Seattle’s way of evenly distributing public resources that is fair and supported by communities. We should continue to use it as a model for planning and public resource distribution.

Council Member Richard Conlin said it best when he wrote “Seattle’s nationally recognized neighborhood planning process engaged business owners and community members in bridging the conflict between visions of compact urban growth and wary neighborhoods. As a result, every one of the 38 neighborhoods accepted growth targets. Conflicts and lawsuits have been dramatically reduced. We have learned that growth versus neighborhoods and progress versus process are false dichotomies. Big projects fail when communities aren’t involved, and react with their anger, their votes, and their lawyers. It would be a major mistake to reopen the bitter battles of the mid-1990. Inclusion, not exclusion, is the way to get things done.”

Keep in touch…

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Comment from Shirleen Reamy
Time December 14, 2011 at 1:07 am

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