Update on Phinney Flats Appeal and Next Steps

Last week, we agreed to dismiss our appeal of the Phinney Flats permit because the City Council recently changed the law to eliminate onsite parking requirements in virtually all urban villages, including the Greenwood / Phinney Urban village, and as a result, made our appeal to the Hearing Examiner moot.

Recall that last July, in our initial appeal, the Hearing Examiner agreed with our arguments that the building setback was too small and that the clerestory on the roof was unlawful, and he also agreed with our position that the City had erred in ignoring actual bus data that showed that the #5 bus route did meet the definition of “frequent transit” that allowed a no-parking building. The Examiner remanded the permit back to Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to consider that information. The Examiner was persuaded by our factual presentation and ordered SDCI to reconsider in light of those “uncontroverted facts.”

Several months later, SDCI finally issued its Supplemental Interpretation and claimed that the #5 bus was frequent enough to allow the parking exemption for Phinney Flats. We appealed this second interpretation.

Unfortunately, while that appeal was pending, the City Council voted to change the land use code definition of “Frequent Transit Service” to rely entirely on a printed schedule to determine frequency and ignore actual schedule performance or crowding conditions. The new definition allows as few as 3 trips per hour to count as frequent. The new parking code also contained a provision allowing a developer to “elect” to have their pending permit be judged under this new code.

This gave Johnson & Carr, the Phinney Flats developer, a free ride and made our continuing appeal under the original code definition a moot issue. Winning would not have provided any parking relief and would simply have wasted time and money. Our attorney agreed. This is a sad example of the City Council’s preference for developer interests over citizen interests.

Thus, we fared well through our appeal, but then, the City Council ignored common sense and changed the rules. Livable Phinney opposed the parking code changes and dozens of Livable Phinney members and other residents of Phinney Ridge and throughout the City opposed those changes, but the Council ignored all of this. The Council even rejected a reasonable amendment that would have allowed parking mitigation if the neighborhood streets were already at full capacity as they are in the area of Phinney Flats.

While we celebrate our victories that forced the Phinney Flats building to comply with setback and height requirements, we are saddened by the Council’s actions that will saddle neighborhoods with these no-parking buildings. But on the bright side, our appeal called attention to the disconnect between transit use and the need for parking. Proximity to transit does NOT eliminate the need for parking. We also increased awareness regarding how our Council including our Councilmember Mike O’Brien, turns a blind eye to the needs of constituents in favor of ideology and developer interests.

The parking issue will continue to be a problem for our area as other properties along the #5 bus corridor from Shoreline to downtown redevelop with hundreds of new residential units and commercial businesses that could be built with no on-site parking even as King County Metro and the SDOT have admitted that bus service can’t keep up with demand. Car ownership will remain the norm, and on-street parking is oversubscribed.

The Livable Phinney board is investigating other ways of restoring a balanced approach to on-site parking as our neighborhood grows and properties develop at higher densities. The problem is bigger than just the Phinney Flats building. Watch for additional information on this subject in the coming weeks.

We thank all of you for your donations and support of this appeal. You made a difference, even though the Council denied us what likely would have been a victory on the parking issue. We hope you will stay involved as we move on to the next steps of restoring parking sanity in Phinney Ridge and throughout the City.

(You can read the dismissal – a short, technical document – at this link.)

Irene, Jan & Mike
Livable Phinney

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