Armed robbers stormed into Bux4Gold on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August 2011. Surveillance video shows one assailant holding the counter clerk at gunpoint while his accomplice smashes the pawnshop’s glass display cases with a hammer and empties jewelry into a bag. The men then drive away in a white minivan.
When a man wielding a sharp metal stick barged into the shop last May demanding money, owner Patrick Kane drew his permitted handgun, handcuffed the would-be thief and called the cops.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen to my business again,” Kane says.
Kane’s shop is a few blocks north of the Mount Baker light rail station on Rainier Avenue South. It is nestled in a corridor of the Rainier Valley known for crime and heavy traffic. Bux4Gold also happens to be kitty corner to a Lowe’s Home Improvement store, which sits at the center of a hot button land-zoning proposal about to make its way through the City Council. (Lowe's shares a parcel of land with an Amazon order fulfillment center. The adjoining 3.8-acre parking lot is technically a different property.)
The council’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee began discussing a bill in late November that would rezone 109 parcels of land across a 26-acre area in the North Rainier Valley. The zoning changes in the bill are part of the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan, which Department of Planning and Development crafted between 2009 and 2010. The plan is intended to provide a blueprint for making the area around the light rail station more walkable and more dense with housing and businesses.
While the zoning bill is laden with details about facade requirements and sidewalk widths, the debate surrounding it mostly hinges on the prickly issue of how to increase the number of apartments and businesses around light rail stations — while preserving nearby single family neighborhoods. Residents in the North Rainier Valley and others involved in the planning process express a range of views about these topics that are, at times, starkly contrasted.
Local residents are especially sensitive about the proposed increases to building height limits, which would presumably pave the way for large residential structures on the edge of adjacent — and more affluent — blocks of single family homes in the Mount Baker neighborhood. The maximum allowable height would go from 65 to 125 feet on the Lowe's site itself; height restrictions would also change from 65 to 85 feet in areas to the south and west of the store. The bill would also classify most of the rezoned land as "Seattle mixed," a zoning designation that allows for a variety of residential, commercial and light industrial uses.
Kane’s shop falls within the boundaries of an area that would be rezoned to allow 85-foot buildings. He did not know about the proposal, but said he’d welcome the changes and that more buildings would make the neighborhood safer. “If there’s more density, there’s going to be more phone calls and that’s what drives police,” he says, adding that one of his shop clerks has been mugged twice at the light rail station.
“We would welcome taller buildings, more buildings, more businesses,” says Kane. “This could be another Ballard or Fremont depending on the type of buildings that are built.”
The plan’s critics argue that tall buildings are out of character with the surrounding neighborhood, that more residents would exacerbate parking problems and that the city has not thoroughly consulted local citizens about the rezoning proposal. Community members who support easing the height restrictions argue that the current zoning wastes opportunities created by the light rail station, inhibits business growth and guarantees that the area will remain blighted and crime-ridden. Department of Planning and Development officials, meanwhile, contend that the neighborhood plan and the zoning changes have been discussed in over 50 public meetings dating back to 2009 and were influenced by that community input.
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