Remember the townhouse-design changes? Public hearing tonight

We just checked, and this meeting is still on: For those who’ve been following the saga of townhouse design – which traces back more than two years – the City Council Committee on the Built Environment has a public hearing tonight on the proposed changes to the Multi-Family Code. The hearing is at the Wing Luke Museum downtown at 5:30 pm (following a hearing on an unrelated item) – scroll down this page for details. The proposal originally went to the council in January 2009 (WSB coverage here), but it’s been in the works even longer – almost 2 1/2 years. Someone who’s been involved all along the way is West Seattle architect/developer/Design Review Board member Brandon Nicholson – he was at then-Mayor Nickels’ original announcement in summer 2008 (WSB coverage here). He sent around information about tonight’s hearing, on behalf of CORA (Congress of Residential Architects) NW, with this concern:

The word on the street is that business groups will be coming out in force to oppose a specific portion of the bill that creates a new streamlined design review (SDR) process & mandates that all new townhouse projects must participate. They are asking for a set of prescriptive design standards to be used in lieu of SDR.

SDR is a process that provides citizens early notice and an opportunity for meaningful input into development in their neighborhoods. It has been carefully designed to streamline the inefficiencies inherent in the current design review process. Every attempt has been made to balance the needs of developers for speed and predictability against the needs to provide citizens with notice and a forum for input. SDR is the gate-keeping mechanism that allows designers the flexibility needed to design buildings that are sensitive to context, address the needs of the marketplace, and provide a multiplicity of housing types, while at the same time serves to check that this flexibility is not abused.

The prescriptive design standards provide no mechanism for public input, no way to account for context, and no ability to depart from the code when site-specific conditions warrant. They are a cookie cutter formulation that establishes a set of prescriptions that can be copied from one project to the next. Projects that are well designed, sensitive to context, but don’t comply with the prescriptive standards go to the back of the line, while indifferent proposals get an automatic green light.

If these issues are important to you, I encourage you to come to the meeting, write to the council, & let your thoughts be known.

After tonight’s hearing – likely within the next few weeks – the committee and then the full council will vote on the proposal, which you can read along with lots of other information linked here. If you want to go to tonight’s hearing, which starts at 5:30 pm with a hearing on South Downtown Neighborhoods, it’s at 719 South King Street (map).

2 Replies to "Remember the townhouse-design changes? Public hearing tonight"

  • Nulu November 22, 2010 (4:58 pm)

    Now that we have Brandon Nicholson’s favorable presentation of the SDR process, I would like to hear why the business groups are in opposition?

    I hazard to guess it may be related to the, “process that provides citizens early notice and an opportunity for meaningful input into development in their neighborhoods.”

    Balance the new “streamlining” against opening the notorious Seattle Process to NIMBY citizens and I can see why there might be opposition?

  • Diane November 30, 2010 (12:59 pm)

    how many people were able to attend this meeting, during the blizzard that stopped all traffic in Seattle for the entire night?
    I really wanted to go, but no way to get there
    why wasn’t this meeting postponed to another night? it is that important

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