1. This will hardly be news to readers of Josh's Pedestrian Chronicles series, but Forbes, of all places, reports on an economist who evangelizes for downtowns from his home base in Asheville, North Carolina, where he estimates that on a per-acre basis, downtown mixed-use developments yield 1,000 percent higher tax returns than megastores out near the city limits.
"Put a different way: a typical mixed-use acre of downtown Asheville yields $150,000 more in annual tax revenue to the local government than an acre of strip malls or big-box stores."
And Forbes doesn't even get into one of the other factors that make cities more affordable—for residents. The idea of "drive 'til you qualify"—that buying a cheap house in the burbs is a better idea than buying one in the city—has been thoroughly debunked; once you take transportation costs for to commute, go to the grocery store, or do just about anything in the suburbs into account, living in the city is often a significantly better deal.
2. Roger Valdez at Smart Growth Seattle—a pro-microhousing consultant and activist—has a comprehensive critique of a proposal to change rules regulating microhousing, AKA aPodments. As we reported last week, the proposed changes will require microhousing to go through design review, a change in policy supporters of the small, affordable apartments believe will add costs by giving neighbors more opportunity to sue developers to stop them.
The changes would also effectively require microunits to have more than one sink (one in the bathroom, one in the kitchen), require them to be no smaller than 285 square feet, mandate minimum shared kitchen sizes, and give the director of the city's Department of Planning and Development more discretion in how she chooses to implement the rules.
"Taken together, this legislation would unfairly and inexplicably add rules, costs, and mandates that would make building microhousing more expensive to build, raise rents, and lower the quality of life for residents," Valdez writes. "Additionally, the legislation appears to incentivize the construction of larger apartments over 400 square feet with full kitchens by private developers, and the construction of microhousing by colleges and universities in the area off campus."
3. Mixed news for density around the Mount Baker light rail station: Seattle Transit Blog's Martin Duke reports on several amendments that have been adopted or are being considered by the city's land use committee (many neighbors in the area oppose a proposed upzone of the area because, as they made clear at a packed meeting earlier this month, they feel the South End is being forced to "take" too many new residents, and because the proposal would upzone the site of the Rainier Ave. Lowe's, currently a big-box store and a giant parking lot).
Duke reports that at its meeting last week, the committee agreed to get rid of parking maximums in the area; allow "a greater range of businesses," including light industrial, on Rainier instead of limiting the area to retail and restaurants; and add a few more blocks to the upzone. Committee member Bruce Harrell, who wasn't there, has proposed reducing the maximum height on the Lowe's site from 125 to 85.
4. In the wake of near-daily shootings in Seattle's South Precinct over the last two weeks, the Rainier Valley Post reports that interim Police Chief Harry Bailey has appointed a new South Precinct commander—the seventh one in five years. South Precinct Operations Lieutenant Steve Strand will replace Captain John Hayes, the current commander, on an interim basis.
Asked why he was making yet another change at what many residents perceive as such an unstable time for the Rainier Valley (just two weeks ago, residents packed a room at thte Southeast Seattle Senior Center to express their fears and outrage over crime in the Valley to police brass and members of the City Council), Bailey told RVP, “Change is normal in any organization. I have placed my commanders in these new assignments because this is the best fit for my department and the community which we serve."
There's another community meeting tonight; I expect that once again, there'll be a crowd.
Check out all the details at STB.
5. Good news: The city is considering putting some busy four-lane streets on "road diets," essentially adding bike facilities and a turning lane while removing one lane for cars. Bad news: The city is Houston, where, the Houston Chronicle reports planners want to preserve more space for cyclists, pedestrians, and trees. Unsurprising news: It's controversial.
Although I do love this only-in-Houston (where, incidentally, there is no formal zoning) quote from a city traffic official: "The question we are facing is: We have provided streets to move cars. As the traffic increases, are we going to take down homes to maintain that lifestyle?"