Rule changes for ‘lowrise’ development? Public hearing @ City Hall tomorrow

Most of our reports on development are about individual projects – from buildings with hundreds of apartments, to lots where an old house is torn down and replaced with several new places for people to live. The latter type is what comprises much of what’s happening in West Seattle right now – especially in zones known as “low rise,” especially along major streets such as California Avenue SW. (That’s the light-olive-green shading in the map above – see the map full-size here.)

Once in a while, there’s a big-picture issue – like this: Tomorrow, a package of potential rule changes for development in low-rise zones goes before the City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee for a public hearing, and neighborhood activists around the city want to be sure that you know about this before it’s too late to have a say, whether pro or con.

The changes known together as the Low-Rise Multifamily Code Corrections have been in the works for more than a year, starting as an attempt to fix “unintended consequences” of changes made to low-rise zoning in 2010. Those changes in turn had resulted from concerns tracing back two years further, to 2008, mostly centered on what was then the prevalent design for townhouses.

City Councilmember Mike O’Brien leads the PLUS Committee now. You can read his summary of the current proposed zoning changes by going here. Toward the end, he mentions what didn’t make it into the final revision of the proposal, and one of those points is key for neighborhood leaders who have been working on this issue: An extra 4′ of height for buildings with a floor that’s partly underground. Their concerns about the allowable size of buildings also include wanting those “partially below grade” levels not to be exempt from a project’s “Floor Area Ratio” – explained by the city as “the amount of floor space developed on a parcel compared to the size of the property.” They also want FAR exemptions removed for “unenclosed stairs, hallways, and breezeways.” And they are concerned about how the changes will calculate out to how many units are allowed per lot – again, we’re not talking about single-family zoning here, but about multi-family zoning, so this is already land where townhouses and rowhouses are allowed, so the question is, how many units will be allowed.

One citywide group called Seattle Speaks Up collected signatures in various neighborhoods to help kickstart the revision process but now says in this letter about tomorrow’s hearing that what’s coming up for a hearing tomorrow is “a hollowed-out shell in lieu of genuine substantive legislation,” blaming lobbying by developers. The developer/builder-supported organization Smart Growth Seattle has sent its own letter asking that the entire package be scrapped, calling it “unnecessary from the beginning, born mostly of red herrings from angry neighbors.”

And then all this is also being viewed through a prism that wasn’t much of an issue during the 2010 round of low-rise zoning changes: The city’s shortage of affordable housing. The proposed zoning changes also have been reviewed by a subcommittee of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) advisory group; HALA was convened by the mayor to come up with recommendations for how to build more affordable housing. Here’s their letter about the code changes, supporting some and opposing others (the attachment it mentions is here).

If you are interested in any aspect of development, growth, and housing, and aren’t already up to speed on all this, take a look – here’s the entire text of the Council bill – and tell the City Council what you think. If you can’t be at tomorrow’s 2 pm public hearing during the PLUS Committee’s meeting (second floor of City Hall downtown), you can e-mail Councilmember O’Brien at The committee isn’t expected to vote before its subsequent meeting on June 16th.

2 Replies to "Rule changes for 'lowrise' development? Public hearing @ City Hall tomorrow"

  • Cindi Barker June 1, 2015 (10:24 pm)

    Thank you for the detailed description and summary of what’s going on. I hope people who have an opinion on this will take the time to let the City Council know what they think should be done with this legislation. I am pretty surprised that there’s been no comments, given the many other threads that express concern about what’s happening in West Seattle.

  • Brian June 2, 2015 (7:19 am)

    Thanks for this coverage, this is super helpful information to have a heads up on.
    Still waiting on the usual gallery of Concerned Citizens to pipe up with why this too is terrible for West Seattle and we’re all marching towards our doom.

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