City to Take Up Two Big Density Decisions
The city hearing examiner and its planning department will consider two zoning changes that could significantly affect height and density in several neighborhoods.
As we reported in Fizz this morning, Smart Growth Seattle, a group of developers that supports microhousing and denser multifamily development in Seattle, has filed an appeal with the city to slow down or halt legislation that would make it harder for developers to build taller buildings in low-rise zones. The city's hearing examiner against the Department of Planning and Development's Determination of Nonsignificance, which says the proposal doesn't have any significant impact on the environment under the State Environmental Policy Act.
The legislation, opponents argue, will make it harder for developers to build buildings as tall as five stories in certain low-rise zones, known as LR-3s; some residents of single-family houses in or near LR-3 zones light those in Capitol Hill and Eastlake, where single-family houses are common, want to roll back the zoning in those areas to no more than three stories, rather than the current max of five (really, four with a basement on sloped lots).
Smart Growth's Roger Valdez says the rollback would eliminate to develop as many as 2,000 new units of housing (including microhousing) every year.
If Valdez's group wins its appeal (that is, if the hearing examiner does determine that preventing the upzones would have a negative environmental impact), the overall regulations could have to be rolled back up to their previous, denser levels; in any case, a new SEPA review which could add about 90 days to the adoption of the previous, more density-friendly rules.
"We think it has a very negative impact on the environment to reduce building capacity and to reduce it significantly," Valdez tells PubliCola. "They are basically taking away two floors, and in some cases three. It's disastrous."
In his appeal, which he filed this morning, Valdez writes, "the Lowrise Multifamily Zoning Code Adjustments will eliminate viable housing choices in the City, forcing future residents to either pay more for housing in the City or face longer commutes by living elsewhere.
In its DNS, Valdez continues in the complaint, the city failed to note that reducing development capacity in existing low-rise zones puts building pressure on single-family neighborhoods. Additionally, "Elimination of development capacity [by] up to 40% constitutes a profound environmental impact the people who are coming to Seattle in future years will have fewer choices when they decide where to live.
Other "major environmental impacts" Valdez identifies include changes to transportation use associated with parking reductions (an odd thing to point out, given that environmentalists and urbanists like Valdez usually support lower parking minimums) less potential new affordable housing, and several other negative impacts; read the whole appeal here.
In another angry wonky zoning letter for your Thursday afternoon, we offer you this editorial by anti-density affordable housing activist John Fox and Carolee Coulter from the Seattle Displacement Coalition, which originally ran on the City Living web site back in early June, but which they're sending around again now because the public comment period on the scale of development around the U District light rail station is about to expire, on June 23.
The big debate over the light rail station was over building heights in the station area and whether the property on top of the station itself should be preserved as an empty plaza instead of turning into new housing (also supported by former city council member Peter Steinbrueck) for events and community gatherings.
Currently, heights along the U District part of the station line vary from about 20 feet to more than 240.
In their email, Coulter and Fox write that the proposed upzone "would irrevocably destroy the existing physical and social character and affordability of the community. The U-District’s unique historic mix of affordable homes, townhomes, three-story apartments and rich social, racial and economic diversity would all be tossed aside."
"Of course," they add, in perhaps the most Orwellian sentence about local land use ever, "it’s all being rationalized that the added densities are needed to support the new rail stop under construction at Northeast 43rd Street and Brooklyn Avenue Northeast, get people out of their cars, curb sprawl and save the planet from global warming.
None of that is untrue. The difference between the views of urbanists like Valdez and density opponents like Fox is that the former group thinks that's a good thing.
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