Here’s a story line that usually ends badly for urbanists: A neighborhood group complains that a planned development is “out of character” and forces city council legislation that stops progress in its tracks.

But when the Wallingford Community Council deemed a CVS Pharmacy design on 45th Street to be “out of character” in late 2013, it was because it was too small—the development replaced a restaurant and an old Tully’s but had no housing on top. For once, a neighborhood wanted to go bigger. By summer 2014, Seattle City Council mandated more height and density.

The new rules wouldn’t just apply to Wallingford, but to 19 zoned business districts from Lake City to Rainier Beach. Specifically the proposed legislation, which sailed through Mike O’Brien’s land use committee in late August, says a development has to be at least half as dense as the maximum for which it’s zoned.

Traditional neighborhood activists, wary of density, tried to butt in on the new script and proposed an amendment that exempted developers who were designing otherwise environmentally sound buildings (with amenities like rain-harvesting technology). No luck. The offsets were laudable, city planners said, but did nothing for the real environmental goal at hand: density.
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