Nonprofit Newswire | Real Change—Not in My Backyard

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May 21, 2010; Source: Seattle Times | Here is another NNIMBY story—“no nonprofits in my back yard.” A nonprofit “street newspaper” sold by homeless vendors called Real Change is moving from Belltown to Pioneer Square in Seattle, and the Pioneer Square Community Association is opposed to its new neighbor’s relocation. The Association has filed a challenge with the City arguing that the newspaper’s operations do not fit the historic district’s zoning regulations, arguing that because Real Change sells papers to homeless people who then sell the paper for a profit, Real Change is “clearly a wholesale operation”—a prohibited land use in the neighborhood.

Because Real Change has a computer lab and classes for vendors, the Community Association says that is a vocational use and not allowed under the neighborhood’s zoning. Is zoning the issue or something else? We guess it’s really NNIMBYism. In March, the head of the community association wrote to the mayor contending that the neighborhood had reached a saturation point in social services and did not need the presence of Real Change. The Association also argued that the neighborhood’s “economic vitality is impacted by the public’s perception of safety issues,” which would be exacerbated apparently by the thought of people standing in line at Real Change.

The Pioneer Square Preservation Board endorsed Real Change’s move to the neighborhood, and the paper is already in its new accommodations, located behind a Quizno’s sandwich place, thus the Community Association’s appeal to the City’s hearing examiner. We looked at the Community Association’s Pioneer Square District website to discover a “myriad,” as the website puts it, of retailers in the District—grouped under headings including “art galleries,” “boutiques & clothiers,” “specialty & gift shoppes,” and “antique & vintage shoppes.”

The “shoppes” is a giveaway. This isn’t a problem of zoning, it is a problem of a program serving homeless people moving into a shopping area trying to give itself an upscale, chic kind of image. The Mayor turned a deaf ear to the Association’s complaint that there were too many nonprofit service providers in the area. We hope that the hearing examiner gives a similar reception to the Association’s desperate sounding zoning challenge.—Rick Cohen