Seattle's News Elixir

The city's Department of Planning and Development has issued recommendations for new regulations on microhousing (commonly known as "aPodments").

aPodments—multistory apartment buildings with several small living units surrounding a central kitchen or living space on each floor—have riled some neighbors because they don't have minimum parking requirements, because they aren't subject to design review, and because, some residents say, they destroy the "character" of single-family neighborhoods.

The city considered placing a moratorium on aPodments earlier this year; ultimately, they adopted new rules closing a loophole that allowed aPodment developers to count the number of units in their buildings one way for tax exemption purposes and a different way for (getting around) design review, and asked DPD to come back with more extensive regulatory proposals later. 

Here's a look at what DPD is proposing for aPodments: 

• Creating a new type of dwelling unit, called a "micro dwelling unit," in the land use code, with each unit consisting, confusingly, of "up to eight micros." Weird nomenclature aside, the new definition is basically a description of existing aPodments—eight or fewer mini-apartments, no larger than 285 square feet, per floor, with private bathrooms but no separate stove and access to a communal kitchen area.

• Basing the threshold for design review on the overall size of a building, not the number of units. 

• Prohibiting new micro-housing developments in single-family zones (not a huge issue, given that very few microapartments are in single-family areas anyway, but a provision that will likely make single-family residents who oppose aPodments sleep easier at night.)

• In areas of the city where parking is required (that is, outside the urban villages, urban centers, and areas served by frequent transit where aPodments tend to be located), requiring at least one parking space for every four residents—effectively, a parking space for every four microunits, compared to one for every eight microunits now.

• Creating a new bicycle parking minimum of one bike parking space for every four "micros" (that is, two parking spaces for every floor with eight units), with the recognition that, as DPD's memo puts it, "Micro dwelling units appear to have higher demand for bicycle usage than other forms of development."

• Limiting the number of residential parking permits in Restricted Parking Zones to no more than four permits per eight microapartments. 

Earlier this week, the Seattle Planning Commission issued its own recommendations for regulating aPodments, which closely parallel DPD's proposal. Any changes to the city's land-use regulations will have to be adopted by the council. 

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