More than 150 people filled a meeting room in Wedgwood on June 24, 2015, to hear a presentation about how changes in zoning could help to develop more businesses and a more pedestrian-friendly walking environment along 35th Ave NE. The meeting marked the completion of five years of advocacy by neighborhood activists to seek preservation of Wedgwood’s business district. Due to complete lack of action by Seattle City Council, as of the year 2017 Wedgwood’s business district is being destroyed, building by building.
Changes in zoning could help protect the business environment along 35th Ave NE in the face of oncoming developments, including replacement of any current buildings when that occurs, at the “nodes” (intersections) of NE 75th and 85th Streets along 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood. The Neighborhood Commercial Zone which was proposed by the Future of 35th recommendations, would apply to future development in the event that any of the buildings at these corners are torn down and rebuilt.
Participants at the meeting in June 2015 looked at display boards showing the present zoning of the intersections and potential changes. The main proposed change is for more Neighborhood Commercial Zones which would be mixed-use with retail stores along the sidewalk and residential units on the upper floors. The “retail” specification in the zoning proposal could help bring in more food and coffee venues which is the most-requested type of commercial activity among Wedgwoodians, as surveyed in the Vision Plan and the Future of 35th projects. The “density” component would be the residential units on upper floors, bringing more people into the neighborhood who would be customers of the retail storefronts.
The meeting began with a review of the process since the time that the Vision Plan was completed in the year 2010. The Vision Plan surveyed residents of Wedgwood to learn if they were comfortable with more development which would accommodate more retail buildings.
The Vision Project had been launched in part because of the building of the Jasper, the first four-story commercial building to be constructed near the “heart of Wedgwood” close to the NE 85th Street business intersection.
The Jasper at 8605 35th Ave NE has “live-work units” at the sidewalk level. These have been disappointing to Wedgwood residents as the live-work units do not all have retail outlets and the building was not constructed to allow restaurants or coffee shops. The live-work units do not have the ceiling height needed for the mechanical systems and vent space which is required for a food service business.
With the foundation of the Vision Plan, in the year 2014 neighborhood activists expanded their work to a project called The Future of 35th Ave NE. The project evaluated 35th Ave NE through the neighborhoods of Ravenna-Bryant, Hawthorne Hills, View Ridge and Wedgwood, with focus on the “nodes” of commercial intersections. When the Final Report was completed, the Steering Committee met with Seattle City Council members, presented the suggested streetscape designs and asked for a rezone to provide for more retail and a more pedestrian-friendly environment along 35th Ave NE.
Currently some buildings in Wedgwood, such as the Seattle Audubon Society at 8050 35th Ave NE, are restricted in what they can do because of the inadequate zoning. They would like to expand their building to improve the street-level Nature Shop and create more space for classrooms on upper floors. They will not be able to do this unless the zoning is changed, and this is an example of the kind of expansion which would be allowed in a Neighborhood Commercial Zone, as recommended by the Future of 35th Plan.
In 2015 Wedgwood’s requested zoning changes as per the Future of 35th Plan, were presented at a Land Use Committee meeting of Seattle City Council. Since the time of that presentation of Wedgwood’s request for rezoning along the commercial district, there has been a complete lack of action on the part of City Council regarding Wedgwood’s request. City Council started a process called HALA which was to address zoning city-wide, but nothing has come of it. Meanwhile more buildings in Wedgwood’s commercial district are being torn down and replaced by townhouses instead of retail storefronts. Completely-ineffective Seattle City Councilmembers may find themselves replaced at the next election, since they have not done anything to address the needs of the Wedgwood neighborhood.