Afternoon Jolt

Friday Jolt: Urbanism at City Hall

The day's winners and losers.

By Afternoon Jolt April 11, 2014

Today's winner: Urbanistas.

As we reported in a Fizz post earlier this week, for those who oppose density and urbanization in Seattle, the train, so to speak, has already left the station, at least among city departments. At last weekend's neighborhood summit, all the action was in the back of the room, where city departments were busy engaging with a crowd made up largely of pro-bike, -transit, and -density activists and ordinary citizens, leading Mayor Ed Murray to repeatedly shush the crowd so that the old-school neighborhood activists trying in the crowd trying to resuscitate the slow-growth movement could ask questions of '80s-'90s city council member Jim Street. 

Here's another clue that city government is moving on toward a pro-density, pro-transit, less-car-dependent futureThe Seattle Department of Transportation (which is running the city's parklet program) continues to put up their wildly pro-urbanist blog posts.

Exhibit A: A recent blog post in which SDOT pointed out, correctly, that the publicly owned parking space in front of your house does not actually belong to you.

Exhibit B: Today's blog roundup, which includes links to posts on: A solar-powered bike; the popularity of electric cars; the dificulty of walking to the grocery store in the U.S.; "The Fiscal Insanity of Highway Building," and more. 

Image via SDOT.

Today's loser: Urbanistas. 

As Roger Valdez, an advocate for small-lot development (single-family infill on lots that wouldn't qualify for new houses under current single-family zoning rules because they're smaller than the required minimum lot size), has pointed out before, the proposed new rules (which we called "Byzantine and slightly baffling" in Fizz) would probably make it impossible for some small-lot homeowners to expand their current homes—to add, for example, an extra bedroom for an elderly relative or renter.

That's because the new proposals restrict houses on existing small lots to smaller sizes than what's currently allowed.  

In a post titled "Seattle's Largest Down-Zone," The Urbanist blogger Matt Gamgemi explains why. 

If you live on a lot less than 3,200 square feet in size, the maximum height has effectively gone from 35 feet down to 23 feet. That addition you dreamed of will never happen, and even if you never planned to expand your house, your home value just went down. The pool of buyers will look more favorably at your neighbor’s slightly larger lot, knowing that they can either build up or at least keep the value in case the next owner wants to build up. Even if the physical home you live in is the same, the potential square footage of your home just went down. 

In a letter to city council planning and land use committee chair Mike O'Brien, who went on a tour of small-lot houses with him earlier this week, Valdez adds, "These are serious problems created by a demonstrated and inexplicable willingness by DPD to favor an enfranchised and vocal group over families and new people moving to Seattle. We all know that’s a bad way to make public policy." 

O'Brien's planning committee will hold its final public hearing on the proposal at City Hall at 2:00pm on Friday, April 18. 


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