Is Tom Rasmussen Going All-In NIMBY?

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.”

5 thoughts on “Is Tom Rasmussen Going All-In NIMBY?”

  1. “Neighborhood Character” is just as, if not more, valid as any development goal. Why shouldn’t those who have lived in the neighborhood be given some input on how it is changed? Seattle “development” is all about property development companies raking in money and jacking rents! Why should not those who have lived and paid for the neighborhood have an equal voice in how that neighborhood is altered, inevitably for the worse if recent Seattle land development history is anything to go by. My prime example is the Fremont/Ballard area and the Holman/3rd area.
    Fremont/Ballard saw the destruction of historically relevant homes with real character all to be replaced with massive stacks of metal shipping boxes that stack people up just as if they were in the hold of a ship!

    Then there is the unfortunate homeowner on 3rd Ave NW just north of its intersection with Holman Rd. NW. The lovely little bungalow with what was once a beautiful yard has now been BLIGHTED by stacked cardboard box “townhouses” that entirely block the light from its property, eliminates all privacy from their home and yard, and totally destroyed the value of the surrounding homeowners. All so that some rich developer could make more money and screw all the established homeowners!

    I totally agree with Rasmussen. This isn’t about any of the “NIMBY” garbage spouted in the article. It is about respecting the rights of existing homeowners over those of people who would destroy their way of life, the usability of their property and homes, and all that they moved into those locations in the first place. Those who are established in a neighborhood SHOULD have greater rights to preserve that neighborhood than any developer who won’t be living there, or any single new homeowner that is simply looking for a location to build some monstrosity. If they want to build something, at least make it look like it has been there all along and was planned that way. Don’t let new development become a blight on a neighborhood; make sure it IMPROVES it for EVERYONE and not just ONE landowner while all the rest suffer NEGATIVE impact.

  2. Erica, some good points. Overheated? yes.

    “Neighborhood character” is certainly ONE thing worth considering among many.

    “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.”) ?? -come on, pretty disingenuous comment.

    And can we all please dispense with the NIMBY name calling? It’s meaningless.
    I would imagine you are opposed, for example, to coal trains through Seattle (maybe you aren’t – its just an example) – this is by definition a NIMBY position, but it doesn’t make it wrong.

  3. an extremely loud, vocal, and influential voice

    Aside from the overheated rhetoric, your examples warrant review and comment:

    neighborhood councils: Neighborhood councils have little direct political power. Furthermore, they are not “all NIMBY” as you should know from your being a report on land use and politics around here for a while. Are you perhaps thinking of “district councils”? They have a little more influence because they tend to represent a broader range of community interests and are linked to the City’s bureaucratic structure.

    organized neighborhood lobbying campaigns: Organizing to increase political power is a basic democratic right in our society, at least on paper. Do you have something against people in discrete geographical areas (“neighborhoods”) organizing to obtain increased political power?

    near-endless public comment opportunities in front of the design review board, the Planning Commission, the City Council, and community and campaign forums: Are you joking?
    Design review boards hear from people with many perspectives in very brief comments, and acknowledge and act on them when they are reasonable and within the DRB’s authority. You have a problem with that?
    The Planning Commission is heavily representative of the development community, and holds its meetings at 7:30 a.m. Have you ever attended? Do you see lots of influential public commenting at these meetings?
    The City Council takes two or three minute comments at its various meetings. It takes a huge organizing effort to turn people out in sufficient numbers to have an impact beyond Mr. Tsimerman. The real decisions are almost all made in the months and weeks before public meetings where two or three minutes of feedback per person is heard. You are aware that lobbying is happening during that period, right?
    community and campaign forums These are “influential”?

  4. I’m not necessarily saying that Tom’s plan is a great one (I haven’t analyzed it much) or that I agree with his intentions. However, I will say that I would consider the Capitol Hill Conservation Overlay a major success. For a neighborhood that has had an incredibly amount of development in a very short time, the general auto-row history and warehouse style “character” of the pike pine corridor has actually been fairly well maintained. If that is the model that this proposal is shooting for then I actually think it has some merit.

    With the vast majority of Seattle currently zoned at SFH, NIMBYISM is winning. Yelling and screaming at them that they hate equity simply isn’t the way to win them over and get more development into the neighborhoods. Instead, negotiating with them by creating a plan that acknowledges neighborhood character and put some minimal incentives in place to try and preserve and foster it (I say minimal because this is certainly more developer friendly than a historic district) seems like it could be quite a good strategy for eventually getting higher zoning into the SFH.

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