Laurelhurst Community Club                                                     

Serving 2800 Households in Seattle’s Laurelhurst Neighborhood


May 20, 2004 Meeting regarding the University of Washington Lease Lid

Sponsored by Councilmembers Jan Drago and Nick Licata

Including CUCAC Representatives and Representatives from Petitioners in the pending case before the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board


Comments from the Laurelhurst Community Club


Background:  This meeting has been scheduled in response to the decision of the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board decision that the City was noncompliant with the Growth Management Act (GMA) in its actions relating to elimination of the University lease lid.  Councilmembers Drago and Licata have asked CUCAC representatives and the Petitioners to identify issues, concerns, supported outcomes and recommendations regarding the UW lease lid.


Issues:  There are many issues that we would like to address.  The bottom line, however is that the Petitioners and others interested in the UW lease lid were not afforded an opportunity to participate in the planning process as required by the GMA.  The Mayor’s proposal was developed behind closed doors with no involvement of impacted communities or CUCAC.


1.  Amendment of the lease lid must proceed through the major institution master plan amendment process in the 1998 City-University Agreement.  The 1998 City-University Agreement the communities negotiated with the University retained the long-standing restrictions on the University’s ability to lease and acquire property in the primary and secondary impact zones, but increased the square footage limit and created an exemption for patient housing to address the University’s needs.  According to the 1998 Agreement, the only way the University could substantially alter or eliminate the leasing restrictions was to go through the major institution master plan major amendment process.


Instead of complying with the mandates of the City-University Agreement, the Council chose to amend the Agreement to eliminate the major amendment requirement.  Proceeding in this manner ran afoul of the Growth Management Act in creating obstacles to citizen participation in the planning process—a goal of the GMA. 


Addressing changes to or elimination of lease lid issues through the major amendment process would have allowed time for careful study and evaluation of the issues.  Because there was no process, the various issues were not addressed.


2.  Amendment or elimination of the lease lid must include a process that addresses transportation, housing and infrastructure issues.  These issues were the original basis for implementation of the lease lid and adoption of the 1998 City-University Agreement, and they are more pressing now than ever.  The process should also include:

·        An opportunity for public review, discussion and comment on the Gardner Johnson University District Market Analysis;

·        A full discussion of the University’s specific leasing needs and where the leasing and new construction would take place;

·        Reconsideration of elimination of the requirement that leasing proceed through the major amendment process in light of the Growth Board’s rejection of the City’s position that amending the City-University Agreement is a two-party contract;

·        Study of whether elimination of the lease lid would accomplish its intended purpose of revitalizing the Ave;

·        Analysis of the potential traffic problems and transportation infrastructure needs resulting from the University’s cumulative development in the Primary and Secondary Impact Zones;

·        Review of potential UW leasing at ground level in commercial areas to ensure protection of small businesses;

·        Analysis of the potential defacto expansion of the University’s Major Institution Overlay boundaries into surrounding communities; and

·        Review and analysis of protections for the sustainability of adjacent neighborhood business residential districts.


3.  The current lease lid proposal provides no protection to neighborhoods located in the primary and secondary impact zones.  It is not sufficient to require that the University comply with underlying zoning.  There are possibilities for Code departures that could adversely impact surrounding communities. 


While major institutions are not allowed in single-family neighborhoods, ancillary University uses of residential property are a possibility.  Examples include research facilities and services.  Where Code interpretations are required, it is expected that DPD would be inclined to favor the University.  This is supported by DPD (DCLU at the time), looking the other way when the University used ground floor retail space on The Ave for its storefront student project in violation of the rules.


The 1977 Joint Statement of Goals, the 1983 City-University Agreement and the 1998 City University Agreement all recognized the potential for the University to adversely impact surrounding communities.  Through these agreements, the communities located in the primary and secondary impact zones were given a role in the planning process and afforded protection from University encroachment.


The City University Agreement requires a “reasonable balance of the public benefits of [University] development and change with the need to maintain livability and vitality of adjacent neighborhoods.”  With no restrictions on leasing in the impact zones, there is no way to achieve this important balance. 


4.  The 18-acre Battelle property in Laurelhurst is at risk with no UW leasing restrictions.  In 1991, the Laurelhurst Community Club, Battelle Neighbors and Battelle entered into a Settlement Agreement imposing restrictions on development of the 18-acre property in exchange for Laurelhurst’s acquiescence in a Code change allowing an institute for advanced study in a single-family zone. 


One critical provision of the Settlement Agreement is that the property cannot be leased, sold or placed under control of a major institution.  Despite this protection, the Seattle Community College District sought control of the property to use as a culinary school.  This resulted in expensive, lengthy litigation.  Laurelhurst was forced to hire a lobbyist for two state legislative sessions to assist in this matter.  Laurelhurst ultimately prevailed in this matter.


With no restrictions on University leasing, the Laurelhurst community is fearful that the University would attempt to lease or take control of the Battelle property—the only remaining open space area in our community.  This is prohibited by the 1991 Settlement Agreement, yet it did not stop the community college.  Representatives from the University indicate that they have no plans in this regard, yet refuse to put anything in writing. 


5.  If the purpose of elimination of the lease lid is to revitalize The Ave, why are leasing restrictions removed in other neighborhoods such as Laurelhurst, Ravenna-Bryant and Montlake?  These and other neighborhoods in northeast Seattle are not in close proximity to The Ave.  Institutional uses in these areas will do nothing to accomplish the intended goal.  We all support revitalizing The Ave, but the proposal enacted simply goes too far.


The only rationale that we can think of for the blanket removal of the lease lid is that leasing restrictions on other major institutions have been removed.  This rationale, however, ignors the size of the University compared to other institutions and the greater potential for adverse impacts upon the surrounding communities.


Supported Outcomes:  The Laurelhurst Community Club and the Petitioners support a compromise on the UW lease lid.  We believe that if we work together, we can develop a compromise that meets the needs of the City, the University and the communities located in the primary and secondary impact zones surrounding the University.


Last year, the Council considered compromise lease lid proposals.  Those proposals merit reconsideration and study, particularly those outlined below.


1.  Elimination of lease lid for seven years, limit new leases to the University District Northwest Urban Center Village (UDNUCV):  Councilmembers Drago and Nicastro recommended elimination of the lease lid for seven years, limiting new leases to the UDNUDCV, review of the lease limits after five years and increased monitoring.  Housing development relative to the number of jobs added in UW leases would have been among factors that would be considered in the five-year review.  A majority of the Council at the time supported this compromise.  But, the University refused to compromise, so the Council ultimately voted to support the Mayor’s proposal to eliminate all leasing restrictions, with a few minor amendments.


This compromise would have afforded the University and entities funded by the University to enter into off-campus leases in the University District to fulfill its educational and research missions.  It would also have specifically addressed the goals of revitalizing The Ave and the University District and thereby promoting economic development.  The compromise would have targeted housing production in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan and monitored the jobs/housing imbalance.  Leasing would be unlimited within an expanded permitted leasing area, subject to review after five years.


The compromise appropriately recognized the many unknowns about University leasing, the effect on lease rates, the effect on the retail character of commercial areas and the balance of jobs and housing in the University District.  It did this by providing a trigger for the City, the University and the community to dialogue about these concerns after a period of time.


2.  Lift lease limit to 750,000 square feet. (Permitting 207,000 sf of additional leases) within permitted the leasing zone.  This compromise, supported by Councilmembers Nick Licata and Richard McIver, would have increased the lease lid to 750,000 square feet, exempted leases not on the ground floor in currently vacant structures, exempted leases in new projects with 30% of the floor area in residential use, and prohibited leases that resulted in demolition or conversion of housing without a comparable replacement.


This compromise proposal would have provided a generous addition to the allowable lease limit and real incentives to promote housing.  It also recognized the importance of protection of neighborhoods in the primary and secondary impact zones from University encroachment.