Opinion

Executive's proposal unfair to residents

We all have seen enough of old, established residential


neighborhoods being carved up by new, high-density developments here on


the Eastside. That concept focuses on maximizing density at the expense


of quality-of-life in our suburban neighborhoods.


But a proposal by King County Executive Ron Sims would make


it even easier to buy and bulldoze your neighbor's


house, then put up dozens of high-rise condos on the


other side of your fence. In the process of amending


the county's Comprehensive Plan, Mr. Sims wants to build


high-rise condos just outside the city limits, such as


the Hans Jensen and Providence Point areas just north


of Issaquah. Such areas could be rezoned to allow 24 or 48 residential units


per acre, which is double to quadruple the current limit of 12 units.


Neighborhoods don't much care about imaginary municipal


lines, however. When you buy a house to raise your family in a


medium-density residential neighborhood, you expect the neighborhood across


the street, down the block or behind the back fence to conform with your


own type of housing. That is what zoning is all about _ grouping similar


uses adjacent to each other. Just like a factory isn't allowed in the middle of


a neighborhood of three-bedroom houses with lawns and hedges,


you don't plop down a block of high-density/high-rise condos there either


just because it is on the other side of the invisible city boundary.


King County is required to provide for growth under the state


Growth Management Act. But King County does not have to compromise


neighborhoods in order to meet the state goals. The Comprehensive Plan


zoning should mesh with and provide seamless transition from one side


of the city limits to the other side. Some areas may be appropriate for


high-density housing, especially if that zoning exists inside the city limits.


But mostly, county planners need to realize that their job is not just to


move numbers and squares around on a flat map. They must accommodate


real people in real houses in long-established neighborhoods. The


tendency of the county to put people last has resulted in a flood of annexations


and incorporations, solely to keep the county from meddling with


zoning that is unfeasible and destructive.


As the County Council moves toward adoption of Comprehensive


Plan revisions in September, I will continue to push for keeping


neighborhood character intact. This move toward unincorporated up-zoning has


justifiably drawn the concern of the city of Issaquah and the city of


Renton, among others. Suburban cities have a great interest in preventing their


communities from becoming ringed with high-density development that


does not benefit the city at all. Such up-zoning would already exacerbate


the traffic misery and environmental degradation inside the city limits,


while also straining the resources of the municipality, at the expense of city


residents.


At the same time, this proposal has inflamed rural residents, who live


in unincorporated areas specifically to get away from the high density


of metropolitan areas. Apartment and townhouse complexes of up to


48 units per acre do not belong in rural/residential areas. Certainly the


county must plan for growth, but high-density development belongs in


established metropolitan centers, where utilities, mass transit, parks,


police service and other amenities already are available. Such high density


should never be allowed in rural areas already strangled by traffic and taxed by


development.

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