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Crowd splits at public hearing on Seattle's University District "upzone"

A plan to allow high-rises in Seattle's University District would allow buildings up to 32 stories high in some locations, which is meant to help absorb Seattle's booming population growth. But some residents worry they'll be priced out by the changes, while others think the re-zoning doesn't go far enough. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE -- A plan to allow high-rises in Seattle's University District is causing some high anxiety among neighbors.

An overflow crowd turned out for a public hearing Wednesday night to talk about the merits of allowing taller buildings in the neighborhood. Some residents worry they'll be priced out by the changes, while others think the re-zoning doesn't go far enough.

For 22 years, Gayle Nowicki has tapped into The Ave's funky character to keep customers interested in the unusual inventory at Gargoyles Statuary. However, her business falls within the proposed University District upzone. The plan would allow buildings up to 32 stories high in some locations, which is meant to help absorb Seattle's booming population growth.

Nowicki worries such renovations will lead to higher rents, and people will be priced out.

“It almost kind of demolishes an entire neighborhood, an entire community,” Nowicki said.

A lot of residents shared that perspective at the public hearing.

“Our neighborhood will become as characterless as Ballard if this goes through,” said one woman who addressed city leaders during the public comment period.

However, the packed room was split with affordable housing advocates urging even greater changes.

“Please increase the upzone to a greater degree, higher floors, so more low income housing can be produced,” another man said from the podium.

The re-zoning would require developers to either include rent-restricted units in their projects or pay into an affordable housing fund.

Nowicki said unlike renters, there's no assurances for small businesses like hers. She worries the special character of The Ave could be lost to progress is this gets pushed through.

“I think the upzones should be postponed and some of these things should be addressed before they make those decisions,” she said.

City leaders expect to make a final decision on the upzone proposal sometime in January.

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