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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.