City Hall

Planning Commission: Time to Move Forward on Zoning, Parking and Heights

By Erica C. Barnett July 5, 2011

In a letter to Diane Sugimura, director of the city's Department of Planning and Development, the city's Planning Commission echoed letters from Mayor Mike McGinn and city council member Tim Burgess asking DPD to consider increasing density around the proposed Roosevelt light rail station. (The new zoning, as currently proposed, would only create around 350 new housing units above what would currently be allowed). The commission "applauded" McGinn's and Burgess's letters and called for a new "Transit Communities policy" that would:

• Concentrate housing and jobs within a five to ten minute walk or bike ride to frequent, reliable transit service [as opposed to the quarter- or half-mile radius planners currently use when zoning for housing and jobs near transit centers).

• Locate the vast majority of new households and jobs in Seattle in transit communities rather than more auto-dependent single-family areas.

• Concentrate city investment in new services, infrastructure open space, parks, plazas, street lights, libraries, and community centers in transit communities.

• Consider the level of transit service in an area when considering rezones. (This rule, if in place during the Roosevelt rezone process, would probably have resulted in more density near the station).

• Reevaluate single-family zoning in transit communities, considering higher density or intensity where it seems appropriate

• Rethink single-family zoning requirements near schools. "In order for families with children to live in vibrant transit rich neighborhoods we must recalibrate our 1960’s suburban context when thinking about the relationship of schools and neighborhoods and investigate modern examples of schools within mixed-use, higher density developments."

• Consider "significantly taller" buildings in places like Capitol Hill and South Lake Union. "The Commission is intrigued by the concept of an iconic tower being explored in the Capitol Hill Urban Design Framework."

• Encourage policies that allow things like community plazas, mixed-use development, and fiber-optic lines at rail stations, building stations with more than just a single purpose.

• Eliminate minimum parking requirements in areas with frequent transit service and establishing parking maximums.

The Planning Commission doesn't have any real authority---its role is to advise the mayor and city council on planning policy, but, unfortunately, they aren't obliged to listen. Still, the commission's letter lends moral weight to McGinn's and Burgess's call for rethinking city policies that limit densities where they make the most sense---around transit stations.
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