The city's Department of Planning and Development is holding a hearing tomorrow on potential legislation that could, depending on whom you believe, downzone low-rise neighborhoods (technically, LR-3 zones, which limit apartment buildings to 30 feet, not 40), or impose reasonable restrictions on zoning incentives that have allowed developers to build far more densely than what's appropriate for the neighborhoods.
Essentially, new rules adopted in 2010 allow developers to roll together several "bonus" provisions that allow them to build taller, denser housing (up to 40 feet in a 30-foot zone) if they meet certain standards, such as having a sloped lot (partial-basement apartments don't count toward the 30-foot zone) or "shed" or "butterfly" roofs.
The upshot is that some buildings have been constructed with five stories instead of the three stories neighbors expected. The proposed changes would limit the number of those bonuses developers could combine in a single building.
Although they definitely don't agree on terminology—"It is not an attempt to downzone the LR-3!" council member Sally Clark said, exasperated, when I called to ask her about the potential zoning changes—proponents and opponents agree on one thing: The new rules would make it harder to build tall apartment buildings like the micro-housing development at 11th and Republican on Capitol Hill, which has become the poster child for "bad" development among those who want to roll back the new rules.
(From the web site of Seattle Speaks Up, a group that has organized to oppose the developments in LR-3 zones: "Do you feel that suddenly everything is changing in Seattle and that the pace of tear down and development is suddenly on overdrive? It’s not your imagination.")
The new interim council central staff director, Rebecca Herzfeld, has been an advocate against legislation that would encourage small businesses in low-rise buildings in her own neighborhood, Capitol Hill. Clark says she doesn't see any problem with Herzfeld overseeing the issue of low-rise regulations.