1. Capitol Hill residents are being hailed by KIRO TV as model activists for making a developer put in parking to go with a new 34-unit building at 11th Avenue East and Aloha.
The development hadn't required any parking because, according to the city's Department of Planning and Development, it's located inside the Capitol Hill Urban Center. It's also two blocks from a few major bus lines, six blocks away from the planned Capitol Hill light rail station, and three blocks from the planned streetcar.
There are two problems with KIRO's report. First, hailing neighbors as good guys for demanding parking when modern city rules don't require additional parking is irresponsible. (The site is an 11-minute walk from light rail.)
More important: The neighbors didn't "persuade the developer to add parking," as KIRO's anchor falsely stated.
There's already a parking lot a block away, and the lot owner has agreed to make 20 spots available to neighbors to rent at cost. Those spots are not affiliated with the development, will not be included in the rental price, nor included in the development price. "The project is not adding parking spaces," Roger Nyhus, a neighbor highlighted in KIRO's piece, acknowledged to me. There is an "existing paid parking lot across the street," he added. "Currently, the lot sits vacant at night and on weekends. It's a win-win solution."
It's the "win-win solution" that KIRO should be hyping. Using existing lots as a shared neighborhood resource—like when an apartment complex allows shoppers to use its parking for nearby stores—is a new public policy known as "right-size parking." It's that type of updated thinking, not the false story of building more parking, that's newsworthy about the development.
Additionally, while the neighbors did get the project to shrink, KIRO didn't go into the details. The project started out with 34 units and it still has 34 units. "The majority of neighbors, myself included, are big fans of density," Nyhus, a local political consultant and donor to mayor Ed Murray, told Fizz. The total square footage was scaled back by 2 percent, from about 22,000 square feet to about 21,500 square feet.
2. Speaking of density, the city council's land use committee is meeting today to take up new rules that would limit density in low-rise zones; for example, new math rules would scale back the ability to build four units on a lot to three units.
Council member Mike O'Brien, who's advocating the change, wrote a memo saying developers were "gaming" the system by subdividing lots to build four units.
In a memo to DPD about the legislation, O'Brien wrote:
In the least dense, LR1 zones, developers have been gaming the rules in a couple of different ways in order to increase the number of units they can construct. The first is subdividing 5,000-square-foot lots into two 2,500-square-foot lots, which allows them to round up density limit requirements and build four townhomes, rather than the three that would be permitted on a 5,000-square-foot lot. The introduced legislation applies a 0.85 rounding requirement to lots less than 3,000 square feet to close this loophole.
Developer lobbyist Roger Valdez objected to the use of the word gaming (and O'Brien's apparent animosity toward building more units) and asked O'Brien to take it back.
In a text exchange with Valdez, O'Brien defended the term.
O'Brien asked: "Do you have a better word to use? From Wikipedia: 'using the rules and procedures meant to protect a system in order, instead, to manipulate the system for a desired outcome.' From my perspective, that is exactly what is going on."
Valdez texted back that "innovation" would be a better way to describe it, writing: "Well that same language could apply to the term 'innovation.' This is what kills me—protect us from what? More housing? I get what the issue is; developers building more housing units."
Valdez then cited the definition of innovation.
"The term innovation can be defined as something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that 'breaks into' the market or society."
O'Brien ended the exchange: "Understood. I don't think subdividing to get an extra unit is a good thing, which is why I use that language."