Pedestrian Chronicles: Win One for the YIMBYs
Developers told not to waste development capacity.
The city council's land use committee may have irked urbanists on one count today by moving a step closer to passing a set of requirements on microhousing, or aPodments (see Erica's story here), but conversely, shortly after that, they went and passed a full-fledged Jane Jacobs proposal that would require adding density in urban villages.
Or more accurately: The legislation would prohibit wasting developable space in what are called "pedestrian zones"—the business districts located in urban centers and urban villages all over the city, from Lake City to Capitol Hill to Rainier Beach to West Seattle Junction to Uptown to Phinney Ridge.
In a reversal of traditional stories about neighborhood development, neighbors clamored against a low-density development, forcing city hall to stop future developers from scaling back on density maximums.
As the backgrounder on the bill, sponsored by land use committee chair Mike O'Brien, explains it: "The proposal responds to requests from neighborhood groups that have reacted to development that wastes development capacity (one story where 4 to 6 are allowed) and are inconsistent with the urban character of pedestrian-oriented commercial districts. This issue has generated interest in a minimum size requirement for new buildings."
In a reversal of traditional stories about neighborhood development, neighbors clamored against a low-density development.
Specifically, late last year the Wallingford Community Council didn't like that CVS was building a store without housing above. That development, along with a carbon copy CVS project in Uptown/Lower Queen Anne, were already permitted.
To its credit, CVS responded in Queen Anne by voluntarily going denser, changing a one-story, single-use project to a three-story commercial and residential use project (see below). (And in Wallingford, they agreed to preserve a smaller building on the lot that they were going to demolish; no housing above though.)
Queen Anne Before:
Queen Anne After
O'Brien's legislation would mandate density at future developments that, like the Wallingford and Queen Anne sites, are in designated pedestrian zones. The proposal sets a minimum density at half the allowable density. In other words: If the building is allowed to go six stories, it has to go at least three. (And, by the way, the legislation doesn't allow developers to meet the buildout requirement by building a parking garage above the retail.)
The City Neighborhood Council, a group that's wary of growth and density, sent a letter to the council asking them to consider exemptions for developments like the GreenFire mixed-use development in Ballard that doesn't meet the density requirements, but uses innovative green design like rain harvesting for on-site P-patches. The Department of Planning and Development recommended against the change at today's briefing, saying that green amenities were laudable, but didn't meet the density goals of the ped zones.
O'Brien, who describes the purpose of his proposal this way— "Density helps create better pedestrian environments because it means more people on the street,"—concurred and he and the other committee member on hand, council member Nick Licata, sent the proposal through to full council, which will take it up for a public hearing and possible vote in September.
1) Credit former council member Richard Conlin for this proposal. He passed a placeholder version of it last year in reaction to the the YIMBYs in Wallingford, putting a moratorium on any more single-use, one-story permits in ped zones, and tasked DPD with drafting permanent legislation. That arrived today in the form of O'Brien's bill.
2) Editorializing here, but density shouldn't only mean adding residential development.
Mixed-use should mean mixed use at the retail level as well by perhaps, putting a square foot limit on businesses to prevent single (usually chain) retailers, who can afford higher rents, from monopolizing the street space.
By forcing developers to divvy up the ground floor into smaller spaces, the city would encourage smaller, indie stores that can afford those rents. And with more stores, you attract more pedestrians. Hopefully, this legislation will lead to that discussion.