READING THE FINE PRINT: One city notice, covering 65 possible changes in zoning

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Twice a week, the city’s Land Use Information Bulletin (LUIB) goes out to subscribers via e-mail, and appears online.

Much of its contents are land-use-related notices – formal applications for projects, decisions, notices of Design Review.

But you’ll also find policy changes announced in the bulletin – which technically qualifies as official public notice, so that could be the only place you’ll hear about them until and unless you happen onto the results.

One of last week’s LUIBs included a single notice that points to 65 proposed changes in the city’s land-use code, aka zoning, saying the city doesn’t think any will have environmental impact. If any of these proposed changes interest you, the notice explains, you have until August 18th to comment, or August 25th to appeal. So we decided to read the “fine print” and found 11 of potential interest – addressing topics including offstreet parking, marijuana growing, tree preservation, and more:

The summary of the 65 proposed changes (more, really, since some of the 65 are multi-part) is here. The documents with even finer print are linked across the top of this notice.

The introduction on the summary document (the Director’s Report) explains:

The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) is responsible for development and routine maintenance of the Land Use Code. The proposed amendments are called “omnibus” amendments because DPD packages a collection of amendments that are small scale, with a limited scope of impact. Such amendments include correcting typographical errors and incorrect section references, as well as clarifying or correcting existing code language. Following is a section-by-section description of the proposed amendments. Where the only changes are minor grammatical corrections to existing language or corrections of typographical errors, the descriptions are limited or omitted.

One of the 65 proposals does indeed involve correcting a typo. But here’s what else you’ll find among the 65 proposals, in order of their appearance in the document:

Here’s one about use-permit exceptions for “urban farms” and how it’s meant to refer to food, not marijuana:

23.40.002 Conformity with regulations required

Subsection 23.40.002.A states the basic requirement that most uses must be established by permit but lists a few exemptions. The proposed change would make clear that the current exemption for urban farms does not apply to major marijuana activity. The exemption of urban farms was intended for traditional small outdoor farms and p-patches to encourage farming for food production. The concept was to promote a more secure and sustainable food system in Seattle by expanding opportunities for urban agriculture and identifying incentives to produce and distribute more locally grown food. The exemption was added several years before marijuana became legal and there is no indication that the intent was to exempt marijuana growers from use permits.

Next: If you’ve attended Design Review Board meetings, you might be interested in this proposed streamlining:

23.41.014 Design Review – Design review process

The proposal would change subsection 23.41.014.C to allow more flexibility to identify the design guidelines of highest priority to the neighborhood rather than requiring the Design Review Board to specifically discuss each design guideline at the early design guidance public meeting, whether applicable to the site or not. The Design Review Board deliberations are sometimes weighed down by the task of going through all of the guidelines one by one, whether applicable to a site or not. The process takes too long and often the Board runs out of time or forgoes the round table discussion of key issues. The change would allow the identification of priority guidelines to be completed by the Planner following the Board meeting where the Board’s key issues/ concerns have been heard, as well as public comment. Subsection 23.41.014.F.2, requiring projects subject to design review to meet all codes and regulatory requirements, would be deleted, as it states the obvious and has sometimes been cited as requiring SDCI staff to complete all Land Use Code review prior to any design review meetings.

Such a reading of the Code does not make sense, as changes to the proposed development are often required by the Board, as a result of deliberations and comments in their meetings, and continuous review for Code compliance by SDCI staff continues throughout the review process up to the point of issuance of a Master Use Permit.

This is the first of two sections that address the city’s preference for alley access to offstreet parking (the second shows up later):

23.44.016 Residential, Single-Family – Parking and garages

Four changes are proposed.

Under subsection 23.44.016.B.2, access to parking from a street instead of an alley is allowed only under specific conditions. One condition is subsection 23.44.016.B.2.c, which currently allows street access if a portion of the alley abuts a non-residential zone. The proposed change would require at least 50 percent of the alley frontage to be in non-residential use before street access could be provided. Otherwise, if an alley is fully improved, or in common usage, and only one or a small number of lots along that alley are zoned something other than SingleFamily, the existing language allows street access to Single-Family zoned lots even if lots on the alley that are not zoned Single-Family are not directly adjacent or abutting the subject property.

A second change would add a new exception to the alley access requirements if providing alley access would require removal of either an exceptional tree or a tree greater than 2 feet in diameter, provided that criteria for tree protection in Chapter 25.11 are met.

The third change would delete subsection 23.44.016.D.10.f, regulating driveway access bridges, and move it to the lot coverage standards in Section 23.44.010.D, as explained above.

The fourth change would clarify that the standard requiring a 5-foot separation between garages in required yards and a principal structure applies to eaves and gutters on both structures, as well as the exterior walls.

These changes involve how density limits apply to certain types of projects:

23.45.512 Multifamily – Density limits – Lowrise zones

Two changes are proposed. The proposed change to subsection 23.45.512.B would slightly expand the density exception for low-income multifamily residential use to include low income housing other than housing for low-income disabled, low-income elderly, and low-income elderly/low-income disabled that is already eligible. All types of such housing is required to be operated by a public agency or private nonprofit corporation. It is expected, based on data from the Seattle Office of Housing, that this change would benefit about three to five projects per year.

The exception sets a one unit for each 400 square feet of lot area density allowance for projects that do not qualify for higher floor area under Section 23.45.510.C.

The second proposed change, to subsection 23.45.512.G, would clarify that one new dwelling unit may be added to an existing residential structure. The current language says one new dwelling unit may be added to an existing residential “use.” Changing the term “use” to “structure” removes confusion about what to do if there are multiple residential structures on one site, and makes clear that each structure can add a unit. The section is also clarified to allow additional floor area in an existing structure, provided that additional area is not proposed to accommodate the new dwelling unit. The existing language suggests that any addition to a structure means that it is no longer an “existing structure” and forces applicants to first add a new unit and then build onto the structure to get around this interpretation.

Next, here’s one involving landscaping and the “Green Factor”:

23.45.524 Multi-family – Landscaping standards

The proposed change would clarify that the Green Factor requirement for landscaping applies to proposals to construct more than one new unit on a site, unless the new units proposed will not increase existing floor area.

Wondering when a builder has to install a sidewalk? This would affect that:

23.53.006 Requirement for Street, Alleys and Easements – Pedestrian access and circulation

The 2015 omnibus legislation, Ordinance 124843, changes subsection 23.53.006.C to require sidewalks within Urban Centers and Urban Villages whenever platting is proposed or whenever development is proposed. The change to subsection 23.53.006.D would make the same change to the requirements outside of Urban Centers and Urban Villages. The use of the word “and” in the current language creates the impression that both a platting action and development must occur before a sidewalk is required. However, if the language is compared to subsection 23.53.015.A.1, regulating street improvement requirements for existing streets in residential and commercial zones, for example, as well as the change in subsection 23.53.006.C, the word “or” is used, so that street improvements are triggered either by platting or by proposed development. It is most reasonable to apply the pedestrian access and circulation improvement requirements of subsection 23.53.006.D in the same way as street improvements.

A second change to both subsections 23.53.006.C and D removes references to unit lot subdivisions. These references are not needed as unit lot subdivisions and short subdivisions are already a type of subdivision or short subdivision as referenced in these subsections.

Back to the issue of offstreet park – these changes would involve two types of parking requirements:

23.54.015 Quantity and Design Standards for Access and Off-Street Parking – Required

One proposed change is to subsection 23.54.015.B, which exempts single family residences from parking requirements if they are located on lots less than 3,000 square feet in size or 30 feet in width. The proposal is to clarify the Code to say less than 3,000 square feet in size or less than 30 feet in width, so it is clear that either characteristic would allow the parking exception. Thus, a lot that is 60 feet wide but only 2999 square feet would be eligible, and so would a lot that is 29.99 feet wide but 5000 square feet in area.

A second change is to subsection 23.54.015.K.1, which sets forth bicycle parking requirements that apply after the first 50 bicycle spaces are provided in projects that would trigger those numbers of spaces. The last sentence says that “spaces within dwelling units or on balconies do not count toward the bicycle parking requirement.” To make it more likely that reviewers will see this regulation, the proposal would move it to its own subsection 23.54.015.K.9.

The city’s preference for having vehicles access parking via alleys is reflected in this:

23.54.030 Quantity and Design Standards for Access and Off-Street Parking – Parking
space standards
A change to subsection 23.54.030.F, regulating the number of permitted curb cuts, would add a
new subsection F.7 clarifying that curb cuts are not allowed on streets if alley access to a lot is
feasible but has not been provided. For example, if a new lot is created without alley access, but
alley access is feasible, a curb cut on the street should not be approved. There should instead be
an easement to the alley. Similarly, a curb cut to serve existing development that was permitted
without vehicular access should be approved from an alley, not a street, if alley access could be

A second change to the sight triangle standards in subsection 23.54.030.G would change Exhibits
E and F to better illustrate existing Code language by clarifying in the exhibits that the sight triangle (an area to be kept free of obstruction for safe exiting from a driveway) extends beyond the property line to an intersection with a driveway, easement, sidewalk, or curb intersection if there is no sidewalk.

A third change would specify that sight triangles are not required when access to parking is provided from an alley, which states existing SDCI practice.

If you have a home-based business, this sign-rule change might affect you:

23.55.020 – Signs – Signs in single-family zones

There is no policy reason for treating signs in single-family zones differently from signs in multifamily zones. Therefore, a change is proposed to allow one non-illuminated sign bearing the name of a home occupation not exceeding 64 square inches in area to the list of permitted signs in single-family zones in subsection 23.55.020.D.

The definition of “townhouse” would be clarified:

23.84A.032 – “R”

The definition of “townhouse” requires each dwelling unit to be attached along at least one common wall to another dwelling unit. The proposal would also allow a townhouse to be attached along a common wall to a live-work unit, since commercial zones allow a mix of residential and non-residential uses in the same development.

One clarification involves what is offered in exchange for a builder/developer protecting an “exceptional tree”:

25.11.070 Tree Protection – Tree protection on sites undergoing development in Lowrise

A minor change is proposed to subsection 23.11.070.A.3 to indicate more clearly that, in order to protect an exceptional tree, there is both a structure height exception and a separate parking reduction exception for proposed development.

Again, the entire list of 65 proposed changes is here. If you are interested in commenting on them, or filing an appeal, this notice explains how.

After that, the Department of Construction and Inspections says it will “review the public comments and make recommendations to the Mayor this fall”; then, “the Mayor will likely send legislation to the City Council, for their consideration, by the end of the year.”

7 Replies to "READING THE FINE PRINT: One city notice, covering 65 possible changes in zoning"

  • Mike August 15, 2016 (7:24 am)

    Lots of changes for single family homes.  I assume these are only applicable to new structures and not those that were built when or before Richard Conlin was born?

    • WSB August 15, 2016 (7:42 am)

      Nothing that I saw in going through all 65 (including the 11 featured here) was retroactive. But remodeling/addition projects could of course involve consulting zoning codes that didn’t exist when the pre-existing structure was built. – TR

  • CeeBee August 15, 2016 (9:53 am)

    I am on the Neighborhood Planning and Land Use Committee of the City Neighborhood Council (NPLUC of the CNC).  This is at least the 3rd cycle where we have performed a similar review looking for items which are questionable and more than mere corrections.  It is amazing what gets put in here, one year there were 128 items included.     Given that the mayor has disassociated with the District Councils, we are concerned that the input from a committee of that system will now be totally disregarded.   I strongly suggest that you take a look through, and comment or send in your questions so that staff is flagged to areas of concern (before Aug 18 – can you believe it??).  Make sure and cc Councilmember Herbold, as this is usually considered a no-brainer by Council and passed with little discussion once the staff has walked them through it. 

    • WSB August 15, 2016 (10:33 am)

      And today the LUIB has a list of comp plan amendments/elements which also seems to need some sunshine … Looking at them shortly.

    • Barbara August 19, 2016 (4:55 pm)


      Is the West Seattle neighborhood council still active? If it is do you know who I can contact.

      Even though the councils have been cut off by the mayor is there a movement afoot to fight his changes? If so, I want to be involved! 

  • HappyOnAlki August 15, 2016 (11:05 am)

    Tracy, thank you so much for going through all that fine print!

  • Nancy Folsom August 16, 2016 (7:32 am)

    Man. I am so not great at reading these things. Does the adding a structure to a residential unit mean an infinite regressive loop so that each structure can beget another structure?

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