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Appeal filed to stop U District rezone allowing 34-story buildings

SEATTLE - A transformation is in the works for the University District that some neighbors are desperate to derail. Seattle city planners are pushing through new zoning guidelines that include taller buildings and denser growth. Some neighbors are more concerned with affordable housing and open space.

The street vibe always feels a little funky along "The Ave." It's a trait neighbors cherish, but some fear that character could be lost in a top to bottom redesign of the University District.

John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition and several other groups have filed an appeal to stop a rezone of the district that would allow 34-story buildings. The zoning changes would extend from Interstate 5 to 15th Avenue NE, and from Ravenna Boulevard NE down to Portage Bay.

The eclectic nature of the area will give way to a towering skyline serving as a high-tech incubator for UW, according to Fox, while current residents get forced out when existing housing is torn down.

"It will spell a dramatic loss of existing lower density affordable housing," Fox said.

Doug Campbell runs a business on The Ave., and said his workers already struggle with rising rents. He thinks a rezone will make it worse.

"Another employee tonight is having his going away party because he's moving back to Wisconsin, partly because of the affordability of Seattle," Campbell said.

The U District redesign takes advantage of a new light rail station set to open in six years. Increased height limits are needed to handle the growth in jobs and residents for the area, according to city planners.

Cory Crocker with U District Advocates isn't opposed to tall buildings in the rezone, but his group believes the environmental impact statement fails to safeguard open space and future affordable housing.

"The buildings can come, but if the buildings come without those amenities, this place will not be livable," Crocker said.

The Seattle City Council is expected to make a final vote on this comprehensive plan sometime later this year.

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