Meet the Downtown Residents Alliance (DRA), the latest group trying to stop the city from allowing new density and more affordable housing.
The DRA advocates for "livability," which they define as "light, air, and privacy." Some (if not all) members of the group own condos in a building downtown named the Escala (yes, that Escala) and are upset about a new hotel and apartment tower a developer plans to build close to them. So, bemoaning the loss of light and privacy and increased traffic, they've been pushing for new rules about how far apart downtown towers must be (known as "tower spacing" rules). Now, the DRA is going further, attempting to hold hostage a city housing affordability program until they get their way.
Yesterday, the DRA filed an appeal about the city's Mandatory Housing Affordability or MHA, which would allow developers to build taller buildings in some neighborhoods like downtown and South Lake Union and in exchange require them to pay for affordable housing throughout the city. (The policy is part of the mayor's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, or HALA.) Specifically, the DRA is challenging the city's "determination of non-significance." That determination means the city doesn't believe the policy will have "significant adverse environmental impacts."
In their appeal (h/t The Urbanist), the DRA claims to support new housing downtown but they're transparent about their goal. In an emailed statement and blog post about their challenge, the group wrote (all caps theirs): "WE WILL DROP OUR APPEAL IMMEDIATELY IF THE DRAFT LEGISLATION IS AMENDED TO INCLUDE NEW TOWER SPACING STANDARDS AND ALLEY SETBACKS."
Density and developer advocates say new tower spacing rules will limit new building in downtown and South Lake Union—neighborhoods where the city has deliberately directed growth.
John Sosnowy, who lives in the Escala and signed on to the appeal, told me back in April (when the group first came across my radar via their blog posts about "dark scary canyons" downtown) that he's retired from investment management and has lived in Seattle for 19 years. He and his wife moved to the building when they got sick of how long it took them to drive into downtown from other parts of the city. According to county property records, the Sosnowys bought the condo in 2013 for a little over $1 million, about $300,000 over its appraised value. The condo is now worth $972,000.
"When we moved into Escala, we had no idea that they could build some kind of monster towers right across our alley," he said. Escala residents are trying to get the developers of the project next door to build a smaller building, citing light and privacy concerns. "This is not about views," added Sosnowy, who said his condo faces the Westin Hotel. "It's just about do you want to be staring at someone from your window?"
Last July, during city council elections, residents of the Escala held a fundraiser for Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw. Two months later, Bagshaw and three other council members (none of whom are still on the council) wrote a letter to the mayor requesting tower spacing rules on behalf of "livability." But the idea didn't gain any traction. Other council members and mayoral staff believed there were bigger fish to fry housing-wise. Among those bigger fish: the Mandatory Housing Affordability program.
It's unclear whether the DRA's appeal will be successful, but it is likely to delay the city's already far-past-due effort to mandate some affordability in all the new construction happening in the city. Worse, the DRA isn't the only group fighting new housing. The homeowner-dominated Queen Anne Community Council has also filed an appeal. Their fight is over whether to allow more backyard cottages in single family neighborhoods.