An invitation City Council member Tom Rasmussen sent out this morning was headlined, provocatively, “Councilmember Rasmussen to Host Neighborhood Character Preservation Meetings, Hear Community Feedback.” It went on to announce several upcoming community meetings to discuss new preservation districts and development restrictions in
“Neighborhood character,” of course, is a common Seattle dog whistle for “keeping apartments, poor people, and other icky stuff out of our single-family neighborhoods.” (Alternate version: “Leave everything the same as it was in 1962.”)
Rasmussen, who charted this territory when he championed a conservation overlay district for the Pike-Pine area back in 2013, has often sided with neighborhood residents against developers. See, for example his support of 2008’s incentive zoning legislation, followed by his enthusiastic endorsement of so-called “impact fees” on all new development in Seattle; his proposed moratorium on aPodments; and his support for new restrictions on small-lot development, to name just a few.
These days, though, Rasmussen—a lame-duck council member who will retire in January—is sounding more like a neighborhood activist than a legislator.
His recent announcement, for example, promises to give neighbors “a voice in the design of proposed developments”—as if they didn’t already have an extremely loud, vocal, and influential voice, in the form of neighborhood councils, organized neighborhood lobbying campaigns, and near-endless public comment opportunities in front of the design review board, the Planning Commission, the City Council, and community and campaign forums.
The promise of Rasmussen’s proposed Neighborhood Conservation District Board, which is explicitly to require that every new development be “consistent with the distinctive physical character of a neighborhood,” would make citizens’ personal tastes and preferences (Craftsman 4evah!) the ultimate arbiter of whether new apartment buildings are allowed in neighborhoods. If neighbors are really given the right to decide, irrespective of zoning, what type of building is and isn’t allowed in their neighborhood, it’s not hard to see why developers might look elsewhere to find land that doesn’t need “preserving.”