How we ended up with rural mansions

  Dear HCN,

I read with interest your Tucson sprawl article, but saw no solution (HCN, 1/18/99). Here in rural King County, thanks to Seattle politicians, we have all the downzoning that accompanied this state's 1990 Growth Management Act (GMA). That act was the result of newcomers' I'm-here-pull-up-the-gangplank mentality. The GMA called for a pristine countryside surrounding infilled cities. The once-suburban-now-rural countryside was downzoned from one home per acre to one home per five acres. Urban areas were intended to be a minimum of four homes per acre, with the emphasis on more than that.

In a relatively short time the theory has been tested. With an explosion of jobs fueled by the technology industry, including Microsoft, high-paid workers have flocked here. They built mansions on the five-acre "country" lots and left cities to the lesser paid.

But with the urban land supply constricted by inviolable growth boundaries, and powerful city neighborhoods refusing to accept growth, high-rise apartments are displacing the old low-rise urban-core buildings that house the numerous small businesses that have nowhere else to go. This means small-business wipeout.

The little affordable housing is either government-mandated or government-subsidized. Like growth-controlled Portland, Seattle is one of the most unaffordable cities in the nation. This has resulted in long commutes for low- and average-income workers to distant counties where growth is not yet a problem and prices are still affordable. The answer appears to lie in ever-more state-government edicts to the growth-pressured cities: Accept your allotted infill population quotas or you'll get state sanctions, including loss of funding. The city folks do like pristine countrysides, but they resolutely oppose infill in or near their own neighborhoods. What is the answer to the problem, other than shutting down the jobs that draw newcomers? Or isn't there an answer, other than ever-more controlling government?

Maxine Keesling

Woodinville, Washington

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