Zoning code change today, neighborhood change tomorrow

Earlier this month, the city invited citizens to an event to learn about the “multi-family code (zoning) update” in the works. It wasn’t in West Seattle but it was for the whole city; the topic may sound dry but for all the times we’ve all talked about development and zoning and city regulations and how did project X get through and … it’s important. Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO) president Erica Karlovits went to that event and kindly shared notes so we can all have the details of what was discussed, what these changes might mean for development here (and citywide), and what you might want to contact the City Council about before they vote on all this in the coming months:

From Erica (thank you!!!!) —

7% of city land is currently zoned multifamily.

Why change the code?
1. To better reflect the comprehensive plan.
2. The current code is overly complex.
3. The current code did not have the desired effect on neighborhood character.
4. Encourage Green building.
5. To create more affordable housing.

Primarily developers and architects. Very few neighborhood associations were represented. For West Seattle, the Morgan, Admiral and Junction (Alaska) neighborhood associations were represented, as far as I could tell.

To consolidate L3 and L4 zones.

Increase height limits in LRT, LR1 and LR2 by 5 feet and allow a steeper roof pitch (6:12). Also allow 30-foot exterior walls plus five feet, plus the increased roof pitch. (This will essentially allow a 4th floor to be built in these existing zones)

Setbacks should be an average of 7 feet from all property lines. Considerations will be given if the property transitions (sits next to) a single family zone only. (Many of the developers liked the idea of this being an average and that they were not stuck with 7 feet on all sides; a potential negative if you live next to a building and it is pushed against your property line).

Floor Area Ratio (FAR) (Regulates bulk and density):
This would increase in this proposal. The example was given that a current 9 unit townhouse building could increase to 15 units, given the increase height for adding a fourth floor. (For those of us living in urban villages and hubs, this means more density)

Residential Amenity Requirement/Open Space Requirement = 5% gross floor area of residential units. (rooftop decks, balcony, etc.) This is less then currently zoned and would allow for the new proposal to count shared open space between multiple units. (Developers
like the idea of shared open space, but said the reality of rooftop decks didn’t work. Green decks also aren’t maintained and difficult to build given the need for flat roof – loss of pitch).

Parking: The minimums currently required in urban centers, villages and light rail stations would be eliminated. Reduction to one space per unit in all other areas. The exception to this is U-district and Alki; they have higher requirements that would stay intact. (This is a huge concern – current parking requirements are higher , except townhomes which are
one, and with the increased density this would force more cars on the street. Urban villages would face greater parking issues.)

Discussion continued about townhouses and the impact of the proposed revisions. It was mentined that the standards are too suburban. An increase in interaction with ground level units was requested (less blank facade facing street and pedestrian areas). Ground level entrances required to sidewalks, and fences would be limited to 4 feet high. (Developers didn’t like this as urban areas may need more privacy and they want 6 foot fences.) Garage cannot overwhelm the structure and needs to be flush or set back from the entrance. More flexibility
will be given to curb cutout locations and the driveways must be 2 feet wider.

Incentive Programs: The new revisions would provide the following incentives to developers:

1. Extra floor area and height if affordable housing was built for moderate wage workers. OR, developers could make a payment into an affordable housing fund in lieu of providing the affordable hosuing and still get the extra floor area and height. 11% of the extra floor area is what is required to be arrodable. (Neighborhood groups felt this is way too low and the
entire amount extra should be required affordable. We also felt the affordable housing must be included within the same structure/neighborhood to make the incentive pay off. We do not want to see developers make the payment and then choose to build all affordable housing in certain neighborhoods. Many encourage the diversity this incentive could bring and would hate to see further segregation of affordable housing. Developers like the option of paying out for
the extra height and bulk.)

Any incentive used would bring a requirement of green building.

A question was asked about the flexibility this proposal gives to developers and a concern that less projects would go through Early Design Guidance and Review. The answer by DPD was yes, fewer would need EDG and the projects would be larger. (This is a huge concern for neighborhood groups; developers liked this.)

The plan was to make further revisions and comments and bring to the council in the upcoming months. All comments on the proposal should be directed to multifamily@seattle.gov. Peter Steinbrueck is also a good person to copy comments to.

Materials from the meeting are posted on DPD’s website here. They also promised a summary of all the comments and small-table discussions, but they do not appear yet.

I hope this information is helpful, and by all means, if others were at the meeting, feel free to comment or correct me.

On the city page that Erica mentioned, you will find a link labeled “presentation boards.” If nothing else, take a look at that – it includes illustrations of the changes the city’s proposing and how certain types of development would be affected.

10 Replies to "Zoning code change today, neighborhood change tomorrow"

  • lokiedog October 28, 2007 (6:19 pm)


  • lokiedog October 28, 2007 (6:50 pm)

    You know, I’ve listened from the sidelines for quite awhile. Now, it seems is a good time to speak.
    You all seem to hate “devolopment” and greater concentration in WS. WELL, whoopee, who the hell cares? Most of you are like the rest of Seattle, “Let them take the bus, it doesn’t fit my lifestyle”.
    I hope they allow more density in WS than anywhere else in Seattle. Hopefully, 30-40 stories, and 300 – 400 units per building!
    YEAH – how do you like that?
    WHY – a few of us are willing to get out our cars, apparently not WSB by their comments/remarks, or most fo you.
    Where do you even dream of getting more “roadspace”? California, Alki, Harbor Ave, Admiral, Avalon? Thats the choices, folks.

    With those restrictions, and huge increases in population, how are you going to get from “here to there”?

    Buses, my man, buses – no way else! AND, I hope the high level bridge will be converted to BUSSES only, all lanes, $500 fine if you get caught. Wanna drive? Take the low road, moron. OR, drive down South, and take the 1st Ave South bridge.

  • WSB October 28, 2007 (7:15 pm)

    Lokiedog, thanks for delurking. We post a lot about development because it should be discussed. And about transportation, same deal. We have talked a lot about it. We personally would be thrilled to get out of our cars. We supported the monorail, which to date is the only non-bus mass transit project that actually would have served West Seattle (not counting the back-in-the-day streetcars, which we also have mourned). Tons of bus service, bus-only bridge, sounds great. When we visit cities with great mass transit — Bay Area, Portland — we use it to get around, and wish like heck we could do the same here. The situation all of us in WS have to deal with is that these huge developments are happening now, as are the smaller ones where a bungalow comes down and 9 townhouses with the capacity for 20-30 people go up. The transportation planning seems to be lagging light-years beyond the development planning. How do we as a community reconcile all that? Development’s not going to move any slower, and transportation improvements aren’t going to move any faster. Yes, we’re johnny- and jane-come-lately to the discussion/debate, but you can’t deny it’s worth talking about, and even grousing, from whatever quarters, can get us a little closer to a solution.

  • lokiedog October 28, 2007 (7:37 pm)

    I guess what I am trying to convey –

    ALL of us in WS, including you WSB, whine, talk, cuss, cajole, lament, blame each other, and all else, including the Huling Bros, YOU ARE to blame.
    Not us, we, me, my neighbor, my cousin, mother, father, brother, sister, House, Jan, Gina, Sue, and whoever.
    Have any of you called – left a message/email, with the FAT BOY, the City Council, or ??.
    I have/did/used to, but not for a while – actually, some years.
    Put up, or shut up – quit your damn whining – or do something.

  • WSB October 28, 2007 (8:09 pm)

    We absolutely agree. Our decision to “do something” was to write about things that nobody else was writing about, look into the files and the documents and the developments that nobody else was looking into. Thousands of people are coming here daily, including elected officials and people who work for them. We can’t twist anyone’s arms into taking action but we do share information on how to find out information about what’s going on in your neighborhood, how to contact the people who have the power to do something about it, and what happens next. We have had feedback from readers who actually used the tools they hadn’t found before, to look into and take action on proposals in their neighborhood. So if you are accusing us personally of “not doing anything,” we would take issue with that. Wish we could do more but there are only so many hours in a day. Back now to research on about six other things that we will be posting about in the next 12 hours or so because we think somebody should care (and if they don’t, oh well).

  • lokiedog October 28, 2007 (8:37 pm)

    WSB – the comments were never about you – you have certainly done more than anyone in this community, and you should take issue with that comment.

    I apologize that you took offense.

    However, I was talking to all of the other (How terible)’s. Yeah, oh well.

    Keep up the good work. And, most do care, but some people can’t any positive in anything less than a Lottery win. Too bad that the best day they will ever have, is nothing in my life.

    I’m going to wait for another tomorrow, and sunrise. Bye.

    Well, hopefully, you will get some sleep.

  • m October 29, 2007 (12:43 pm)


  • JE October 29, 2007 (3:09 pm)

    I’m curious about that “green building” requirement. Just what does that mean? I think the environmental standards for any new construction should be the first consideration, and we need them to be much more stringent than currently–even given that the denser housing is essentially a more energy-efficient way to go, inherently. So my questions are:

    1. What is that “green building” requirement?
    2. Why the “green building” requirement only for developers using incentives (did I understand this correctly?)

    Did anyone notice Berkeley leading the way by bankrolling solar for their citizens? Seattle City Council (and Mayor “Let’s Pretend to be Green” Nickels), please take note!

  • cami@alkinews.com October 29, 2007 (7:33 pm)

    Alki isn’t 7% multi family! Once again, DPD tries to look at the city as a whole and not as “neighborhoods”. I think our city is going to lose character over the next 20 years with nothing but 3 story boxes going up every few blocks.

  • The Velvet Bulldog October 29, 2007 (9:18 pm)

    Not taking any sides here, however I work in the architectural world and have been following Puget Sound development trends closely. The fact is that our region will need to absorb about one million people (give or take a few…) in the next twenty years due to socio/economic trends. The fact is, people have to live somewhere. Cities and counties are looking for ways to build up instead of out in order to preserve what little greenspace we have left. They are trying to find some sort of happy medium for building with developers so that we can a) build things that aren’t too heinous, b) meet newer, stricter, environmental standards, c) maintain affordable housing, and d) make it pencil out for the developers. Whether or not all those goals will be met remains to be seen. So yes, things are definitely going to change for us in many ways. Accepting that, it’s up to us to keep a voice in the public realm to make sure things change in such a way that we maintain the special place that is Seattle. And just for the record, I’m a Seattle native (The Few! The Proud! The Natives!) so this is a somewhat bitter pill for me to swallow, but it’s reality.

Sorry, comment time is over.