City Hall

City Eases Restrictions on Businesses, Apartment Developments

By Erica C. Barnett August 1, 2012

Mayor Mike McGinn signed scaled-back legislation that will make it slightly easier for developers to build dense, urban apartment buildings in the city this afternoon. The legislation, which initially would have eliminated mandatory parking minimums for new buildings and allowed very small-scale commercial development, like corner stores and craft-food businesses, on the ground floor of buildings in dense neighborhoods with access to frequent transit, has been downsized to no longer allow ground-floor commercial bu

sinesses, like corner shops, in dense urban areas. (Neighborhood activists protested that allowing new small businesses in places like Capitol Hill would destroy the character of Seattle's neighborhoods and unfairly compete with businesses on larger arterial streets.)

Nonetheless, the legislation is a small step toward urbanization in Seattle. Among other things, the new law:

• Gets rid of minimum parking requirement for new developments in urban villages (Seattle's densest areas) and reducing the parking mandate in other areas that are within a quarter mile of frequent transit service;

• Loosening requirements for environmental review for new projects, so that only projects larger than 200 units would trigger a formal review under the State Environmental Policy Act;

• Making it easier for homeowners to build "accessory dwelling units," AKA mother-in-laws; and

• Allow housing on the ground floor of residentia

l buildings (current law requires the ground floor of urban, multifamily developments to be used for retail purposes, on the grounds that mixed-use developments make for a more vibrant urban environment than apartments---and that apartment conversions aren't easily reversible).
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