Hearings on the fate of the proposed affordable housing development slated for the former Army barracks in Discovery Park have been delayed another month while Elizabeth Campbell, the Magnolia resident who challenged the project on environmental grounds, finds an attorney.
Prior to this week, Campbell had represented herself and the Discovery Park Community Alliance, a group of residents who are fighting to keep the 4-acre parcel slated for development as part of the 500-acre park.
According to her request for a 30-day continuance, Campbell’s health prevented her from continuing to represent herself and the alliance.
In a response, Assistant City Attorney Patrick Downs rejected Campbell’s argument, saying that she had months to tell the hearing examiner and the city that she needed more time and that the nature of the appeal did not afford her an unequivocal right to an attorney.
Hearing Examiner Ryan Vancil granted Campbell the extension in an order filed on Sept. 29. However, he also granted the city’s motion to exclude witnesses and exhibits that were not filed by the Aug. 31 deadline agreed to at a prehearing in May.
The hearing, scheduled to begin on Sept. 25, had already been delayed by Campbell’s schedule. Campbell asked in May to hold the proceedings until the end of September in order to accommodate a three-week European vacation.
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At a budget presentation on Sept. 27, Office of Housing Director Steve Walker expressed tepid hope that the cancellation of the week’s worth of hearings was a good sign for the project, which has limped along for the better part of a decade due to litigation by Campbell and other Magnolia-area residents.
“We are kind of in a holding pattern until we hear back from the hearing examiner,” Walker told Budget Committee Chair Sally Bagshaw, saying that he was hopeful that the appeals process would wrap up soon.
He committed to delivering plans for the development by the first quarter of 2019.
For her part, Campbell did not seem concerned by the development.
“We’re in the process of regrouping,” Campbell said.
The saga around the 34-acre parcel of property connected to Discovery Park goes back more than a decade. The city of Seattle was in talks with the federal government to acquire the land for an affordable housing development, but the plan stalled in 2009 after Campbell successfully challenged the sufficiency of the original environmental review.
Campbell and her supporters say that this is one of the few chances to increase the amount of park space in Seattle. They hope to transform the property into a 29-acre outdoor learning center and include a park maintenance facility.
The city and its nonprofit partners aim to use a fraction of the property to develop 238 units of housing for seniors, low-income households and people looking for an affordable homeownership opportunity. Campbell has once again chosen to challenge the project using the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA), a law sometimes wielded by people opposed to development. Challenging a project under SEPA can lead to a lengthy, expensive review process that ultimately deters development. It is especially toxic for affordable housing developments which already have thin margins.
Locally, SEPA challenges have been used to fight back against affordable housing developments, micro-unit buildings and backyard dwelling units, just to name a few. Sightline Institute’s Dan Bertolet argued that the law, which was meant to protect the environment has, ironically, hurt it.
“By enabling dysfunctional process and time-sucking, groundless appeals, SEPA impedes homebuilding,” Bertolet wrote. “In booming cities such as Seattle, and increasingly in metros throughout Cascadia and the US, a shortage of homes is creating a crisis of affordability that hits the poor the hardest, fuels sprawl, and thwarts efforts to cut carbon pollution.”
On Oct. 29, housing advocates will find out if SEPA will once again thwart plans to address that crisis head on.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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