Thursday, May 9, 2013

Adversity Builds Community

A proposed "row house" project has mobilized my Alki Beach neighborhood in a way that few events, short of natural disaster, can. We knew for several months that development was planned for three lots on our street. The rumor was that it was going to be a townhouse complex. No one seemed upset by that. But when the land use sign went up and neighbors started looking at what was being proposed, the consensus was, "Whoa!"

Townhouses are one thing. Row houses are another. Townhouse developments are required to provide off street parking for their residents and include green space to mitigate environmental impacts. But row houses are not. Our little beach community has serious parking problems because it is a destination for Seattlites on sunny days. The runoff from this development will flow directly into Puget Sound, 1/2 block away. If this development is allowed to go forward as proposed, it will add to our existing parking and water pollution problems. It will block views for many neighbors, with 3-story buildings set just 5 feet from the sidewalk.

I could write a lengthy post about all that is wrong with this proposal. But for me, the most interesting thing about the situation has been how neighbors have come together to express their concerns and communicate them to the City.

It began with one neighbor photographing this sign and emailing it to others, alerting us to the fact that the comment period was pretty short. Several people wrote the city to request a two week extension and we were granted that. Then at least 6 people wrote to Seattle's Department of Planning and Development, expressing their concerns about various aspects of the project. Their comments (including mine) are part of the public record, which can be accessed at the DPD website.  Enter project number 3014675 and wait a minute for the records to come up. You'll find all documents pertinent to the project there.

After the comment period closed, we asked the city when we would get a public hearing to discuss this project. We were told that public hearings are not part of the process for these types of projects, but that the city planner might give us a hearing if we submitted a petition with at least 50 signatures. I remember saying to neighbors when we got the news, "I can easily see us getting 20, but 50?"

The great thing about this neighborhood is that we are a close community. We get along well, many of us have become friends over the years, and we do things together like summertime potlucks. Because I've been one of the potluck organizers, I have email addresses for many neighbors. So I sent an email to my list, explaining my concerns about the project and that we needed to get a petition circulated ASAP. Over the next couple of days, 10 people came forward to offer to gather signatures. We quickly got the required 50 (one neighbor collected 55 by himself!) and went on to collect 2-1/2 times that many before the deadline.

In the process, friends became closer and acquaintances became allies. We were drawn together in a way that made me appreciate this neighborhood more than ever.

Will we get our hearing? It's only been a few days since we submitted our petition and we haven't heard anything yet. But whatever happens, we are a better community for having had this experience.