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Small business owners and nonprofits oppose upzoning at Rally to Save the Ave

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Small business owners of the U-District came together with the goal of preventing the upzoning of the Ave.

On Aug. 10, organizers for Rally to Save the Ave gathered at Big Time Brewery to fundraise and gain community feedback in efforts to stop the City of Seattle from going through with upzoning effective April 2019. 

Upzoning, or the change of the zoning of a land area to higher-density usage, is part of Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) legislation. Its goal is to create at least 6,000 units of affordable, income-restricted, rent-restricted housing by 2025. The #savetheave movement has been active since earlier in the year, advocating for small businesses.

The U-District is one of 27 urban villages in Seattle that has been approved for upzoning. According to the organizers, this upzoning would mean the City of Seattle would allow for the construction of new buildings up to 320 feet in the U-District. 

Many buildings on the Ave are currently zoned to a height limit of only 65 feet. This has caused concern among small-business and nonprofit owners on the Ave that they would be displaced by construction companies buying up and reconstructing buildings.

“That would both increase property taxes and rent costs,” Jonathan Phipps, a rally organizer, said. “For a lot of small businesses, including my parents … they would most likely have to shut down and be unable to move anywhere else.”

The effect of higher rent costs would be significant: According to a 2017 door-to-door survey, 90% of small businesses along the Ave rent their spaces. In addition, 65% of businesses on the Ave are owned by women or people of color, and many are eligible for legacy business designation.

The rally organizers are not opposed to affordable housing as a whole — they are simply opposed to affordable housing being built specifically on the Ave due to its likelihood of endangering small business owners and the Ave’s historical legacy. 

“We welcome greater density, but with massive development on the adjacent streets, we endeavor to protect this one avenue as our pedestrian-oriented, human-scaled, entertainment and shopping destination,” their website says. District 4 council candidate Shaun Scott was one of many who showed up at the rally. Scott said he had initially been in favor of upzoning as a part of his platform for increasing affordable housing. However, he had heard of the opposition to upzoning and wanted to gain a better understanding of the other side of the argument that his potential constituents were fighting for.

“As somebody who’s running to represent all of my district … I need to be hearing from people what the concerns are,” Scott said. “I want to make sure that in this rush toward building the city of the future, which it seems like we’re rushing headlong into doing … that we’re not leaving behind the soul of the city, too.”

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Editor's Note: An earlier version incorrectly stated that Jonathan Phipps was the son of the owners of Magus books. The article has been updated to reflect that.

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