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Rezone effort for schools disregards neighbors
It was disturbing to read last week how the City tried to spin its effort to rezone school properties from R (residential) to P (public institution) zones. The story appeared right before a Planning Commission hearing. In it, a City official suggested that after “discussing [rezoning] ideas with the school district for several months,” “we had to propose something to [the public] to get input.” Then after getting feedback in the run up to the hearing, the City revised its proposal.
If only life were so simple. In reality, the City’s conduct has demonstrated an appalling insensitivity to the interests of residents who neighbor our schools.
For one, the City’s own code says that those looking to advance a development application should first “participate in informal meetings with...property owners... informing the neighborhood of the project proposal prior to the [City’s] formal notice.” Here, the City nicely consulted school officials for months, but made no effort to pre-consult any affected neighborhood. Rather, it ignored its code.
Moreover, the City’s spin fails to mention the true shock and source of consternation among those opposing the rezoning. The City’s initial plan and even its modification would permit new buildings at heights up to 48 feet immediately adjacent to residential properties. 48 feet is the height of the Hammering Man installation at the Seattle Art Museum. Initially, the City would have allowed such a massive structure just five yards from residential property lines. The revised proposal would still allow that size building only 21 yards away.
At the hearing, the Planning Commission itself was uncomfortable with the revised, but still extraordinarily large construction envelope. The City’s Comprehensive Plan plainly says that “zoning and city code provisions [should] protect residential areas from incompatible uses and promote bulk and scale consistent with...existing neighborhood character.” I’d venture to say that virtually no Mercer Islander would agree it’s OK to put a Hammering Man-sized, institutional building so close to their residential boundary.
Last Wednesday, numerous residents voiced their opposition on these grounds and others. Each strongly supported our schools overall. The citizens were just seeking fairness and more reasonable parameters -- via a more consultative process and zoning provisions better suited to our Island’s residential look and feel.
Now, we need to add an objection. The City’s spin – its evasion and diminishment in the media of residents’ legitimate concerns – is unworthy of the type of government we deserve.