City Hall

Rowhouses and No Parking Requirements: Coming to Seattle!

By Erica C. Barnett November 30, 2010

The city council's Committee on the Built Environment adopted new regulations governing land use in low-rise multifamily zones this morning that will allow row houses in lowrise multifamily zones (about three stories) and eliminate minimum parking requirements in those zones. The changes are an effort to prevent the kind of ugly, auto-oriented "six-pack" townhouses that dominated Seattle multifamily development through much of the 2000s.

The changes, which only apply in low-rise multifamily residential zones, include:

• Instead of the current generic land-use standards, the new regulations include five different allowed housing types: Cottage housing (collections of small single-family-style houses), row houses (rows of units attached by a single wall), townhouses (attached units that occupy space from ground to roof), autocourt townhouses (townhouses that each have a private garage), and apartments.

• The maximum allowable height would be increased from 25 to 30 feet (basically, from three to a potential four stories)---a change that prompted commenters like Eastlake gadfly Chris Leman to accuse the council of supporting "larger and taller condos... that are bulkier and .... really worse than the worst townhouses" because they would block views, make it impossible to plant trees, and displace low-income housing.

• The size of new developments would be determined by floor-area ratio (the ratio of a building's floor area to the lot on which it is built) rather than simple building footprint, allowing more flexibility in building size.

• Row houses would not be subject to the same density limits as auto-oriented townhouses, allowing them to cover more of a lot.

• The law also includes new design standards to improve the appearance of new low-rise buildings and make them fit better into neighborhoods;

• The changes would reduce the setbacks required between housing and the street (and between low-rise townhouses or row houses and each other), allowing more development on a lot;

• Require developers to provide space for garbage, recycling, and food waste bins for smaller buildings, making it easier for residents of small town houses and apartment buildings to recycle and compost their waste;

• And, perhaps most significantly, the new law would eliminate the minimum amount of parking developers must build in low-rise multifamily areas (currently one space per unit), allowing developers to build housing without dedicated parking (saving tens of thousands of dollars per unit).

Despite the controversy around the land-use changes, the zones the legislation would impact encompass just 8 percent of the land in the city.
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