“Multifamily Code” – including townhouse design – to council

(from illustrated highlights of the new proposal; see the full version here)
6 months after it was unveiled, with a West Seattle architect on hand for the occasion, the much-watched “Multi-Family Code Update – centered on changes to the rules regarding townhouse design – has moved from the mayor’s office to the City Council. Here’s the official announcement:

Mayor Greg Nickels has sent legislation to the City Council to improve the character and design of townhouses and require environmentally sensitive building and landscaping.

“Most of us would agree that multifamily development must fit better into our neighborhoods,” said Nickels. “These regulations will help ensure that this housing is attractive, sensible, and welcoming, while also supporting our affordable housing goals.”

For many Seattle residents, multifamily development is a valuable option for housing and can provide an entry into home ownership. The proposals are the first major update to multifamily zoning in Seattle in 20 years. The changes cover about 10 percent of the city zoned for multifamily construction, from low-rise development throughout the city to high-rise residential towers on First Hill. Highlights of the
proposal include:

● Better townhouse design. This proposal adds more design standards for all townhouses, requires lower fences and more doors and windows on street sides to open up to the neighborhood and provides better access to larger garage parking spaces so they are more likely to be used. Administrative design review for all townhouses is proposed in related legislation.

● Protecting our single-family neighborhoods. This proposal affects only areas currently zoned multifamily. There would be no zoning changes in single-family areas and the proposal includes setbacks and other height restrictions that would provide important transitions between multifamily and single-family zones.

● Green construction and landscaping. Current landscaping requirements would be increased 15 to 20 percent, which would include in many cases green roofs and vegetated walls. Where additional development capacity is allowed, the development must also meet LEED™ Silver or Built Green™ Four Star construction standards.

● Affordable housing. This proposal makes no changes to height restrictions for areas zoned for duplexes, triplexes or townhouses in LDT, L1 and L2 zones. In some areas already zoned L3 for three-story apartment buildings – about 5 percent of the city’s land – the proposal would allow an additional 7 feet if the developer agrees to provide affordable housing. Some mid-rise, and high-rise residential towers on First Hill, would also be eligible for additional height only if contributions are made through the Work Force Housing Incentive program. Contributions would have to be made to affordable housing, or preserving landmarks and providing open space in the high-rise zone.

On quick review, the key points do not appear to have changed since the proposal was unveiled last summer. The version on the city website now is 277 pages; we reported over the summer that the first version was 271 pages, so SOMETHING changed. Next steps will include public hearings, and we’ll keep you posted when dates are set.

6 Replies to ""Multifamily Code" - including townhouse design - to council"

  • matt January 21, 2009 (5:24 pm)

    there is some good stuff here:

    using F.A.R. rather than more prescriptive limitations, exceptions for burying parking, green roof bonuses, shared residential open spaces for courtyards, Green Factor, dormers allowed above wall height limit.

    there is more flexibility in this proposal, and consequently we will see more creative alternatives to the Seattle 4 pack townhouses.

  • Ron January 21, 2009 (9:37 pm)

    Will they allow a goat on the green roof? Maybe in Ballard?

  • Meghan January 22, 2009 (11:11 am)

    These recommendations are a great compromise. They would surely improve the overall appearance of townhouse developments (which are here to stay, even if there is a temporary lull). And none of these would be a real economic hardship to developers.

  • painfullyaware January 22, 2009 (1:04 pm)

    Meghan…as it seems you are not a developer it makes sense that you don’t understand that there is a “REAL” economic hardship. I think the new code is a vast improvement and will help change the look of townhouses. However ADR on townhouses will increase the unit cost to buyers by at least 10%-15%…but since so many people want to see the change…i guess you are willing to pay the extra cost.

  • matt January 22, 2009 (5:11 pm)

    This is not going to add 15% to every unit in every price range.

    The scare tactic of increased construction cost is rolled out whenever regulations are put in place with the goal of improving buildings (see: life safety codes, sprinklers, insulation requirements, providing safe conditions for workers, etc, etc, etc).

    The worst townhouses are going to be affected the most, since the new code is in a large part a reaction to their deficiencies. It will be back to the drawing board for developers that have been repeating the same townhouse for the last 10 years.

    Smart developers are already willing to go through design review because they can often get a better project than the current code allows and consequently higher return.

  • Big Al (No, Not THAT One) January 22, 2009 (10:35 pm)

    Look. Better quality townhomes CAN be built at competitive prices. Just compare Portland’s townhome development with West Seattle’s “cheap cheap cheap” townhomes. The former? Brick facades. Tasteful, unique designs. They actually DO the landscaping they draw in the specs to the city — unlike here. Here, the same developers (Granger, Duffus, Cobb) build the same garbage. Pure garbage. Over and over, cookie cutter after cookie cutter. These townhomes are all the same — and the developers make WAY too much profit. To even suggest these poor developers are going to be “forced” to pass their costs on to consumers — please! That is simply a HUGE lie. With all due respect, “painfullyaware,” I do not believe you are telling us any truth. I believe you are just spreading fear based on erroneous information. If you contend what you say is true, it is easily proven: just provide proof of the costs of past projects actually done, and provide real proof of improvements under the rule changes. Just show the actual profits made, then deduct for cost estimates under the new rules. Easy. But you know you won’t do that. It’s easier to spread fear. Frankly, it is past time West Seattle stood up to require quality — and to see develppers do better, much better. If Portland can build quality for less, so can West Seattle.

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