Two years ago the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee tried to put forward the idea of changing Seattle’s rigid single-family residential zones to something more flexible, termed Residential Small Lot (RSL), that would allow duplexes and triplexes on lots where they are currently prohibited. But somebody leaked the HALA draft plan to columnist Danny Westneat and The Seattle Times in the middle of a city council primary election season and that effectively scuttled the possibility of implementing RSL city-wide.

In retrospect, we needed more deft political handling and better framing of the issue. The leak took the chance for a smooth rollout away but city-wide RSL may have still been passable at the time if politicians had stuck their necks out, and I think it’s far from dead. Mayor Ed Murray, in a knee-jerk reaction, walked away from one of the key recommendation his advisory committee was considering delivering after two years of careful deliberation. During that time rental prices have skyrocketed and the housing boom appears to be approaching its peak with no new affordable measures and mandatory inclusionary zoning (MIZ) not yet in place.

Portland, Oregon offers a model for a better policy that is easier for most citizens to get behind. Portland not only legalized duplexes and corner-lot triplexes but also banned McMansions, which is a catchphrase for huge new luxury freestanding homes. Portland still has to go through public input phase and finalize the changes, but in December the Portland City Council did vote to limit single-family homes to 2,000 square feet on 5,000 square foot lots as part of its Residential Infill Project. Pairing the legalization of duplexes and rowhouses with a ban on McMansions makes all the more plain the intent of the law: to encourage more modest housing that moderate-income people can afford. McMansions make an easy target, and rightfully so, since in built-out cities they often cause the 1:1 demolition of middle class homes for millionaire housing.

Portland already had more flexible zoning than Seattle in their respective single-family residential zones. (City of Portland)

Critics argue triplexes and rowhouses are too expensive–sometimes going for $600,000 or $700,000–and thus are not alleviating the affordability crisis. Now this overlooks just how expensive the single-family homes the rowhouses often replace have become. In my neighborhood, a well maintained single-family home often sells for more than a million dollars. It also cherrypicks numbers from some of the most in-demand neighborhoods. The benefits of taking triplexes and rowhouses city-wide is that it’d offer new opportunities in a variety of markets. An 800-square foot rowhouse in Wallingford might be worth $700,000–at least until that market is saturated–but in Lake City and Judkins Park a $400,000 rowhouse might be buildable immediately. Now this isn’t affordable in the sense of a low-income solution (without major subsidy) but it does put homeownership and more measures rents within the grasp of middle-income people at a time when more and more that’s not the case. Finally, refusing to build middle income housing will lead to those households outbidding low-income folks for what little affordable housing remains.

Rowhouses are already a part of Wallingford’s built environment like this example near St. Benedict School.

Rowhouses have a long history in Seattle, back to its original days. Here Paul Dorpat lays out some examples that show that unbending single-family residential zones are actually outside the norm for Seattle. Portland’s Resident Infill Project has focused on duplexes and triplexes, but in some cases longer rowhouses could also be quite compatible with single-family homes. In many neighborhoods, examples already exist dating back to before more restrictive zoning was imposed. Wallingford has such examples like this four-unit rowhouse. Rowhouses have made a slight comeback, too, in low-rise residnetial zones, which are mostly in urban villages. Outside of urban villages, the dominant construction pattern has been enlarging single-family homes to McMansion status.

Portland’s Residential Infill Project also allows existing homes to add a backyard cottage. (City of Portland)

A McMansion ban works by putting a maximum square foot limit on a dwelling unit, placing a disincentive on 1:1 demolitions. Rather than tearing down older 1,500-square foot homes to build mansions two or three times as big, we’ll either keep the more affordable older stock, perhaps remodeling it modestly, or replace it with triplexes that each provide moderately priced housing for three households rather than exorbitant housing for one.

The bizarre thing about housing in America is that for the past four decades the average household size has shrunk significantly while the size of the average single-family house in major metropolitan areas has climbed from about 1,700 square feet to about 2,500 square feet. In effect, the homebuilding industry has excluded lower-income people with its ever-larger designs, which they cannot afford. Often, single-family residential zoning has privileged mansion building, renewing single-family residential zoning’s exclusionary effect beyond its historical origins, and that zoning comprises a majority of Seattle land. A McMansion ban addresses that trend of supersizing homes while allowing modest, unobtrusive, and organic housing growth within mostly single-family residential neighborhoods. Seattle would be wise to follow Portland’s lead and limit new single-family home construction to 2,000 square feet while legalizing duplexes and triplexes across the city. We could even permit rowhouses in some cases to take the law further.

A Housing Solution Detached From Reality

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  1. Good discussion (is 111 comments a record for the Urbanist?) And, I love the link to the Seattle Times article with the sliding pictures of large house ‘s replacing little houses. Visually striking.

    I think it’s a mistake to imagine that opposition to large houses (“mcmansions”) would make the upzoning of SF lots more politically palatable to the NE/N/West Seattle neighborhoods that are vehemently opposed (I know less about S/SE). Maybe people make that argument in the political debate, but in practice, most would prefer a 4000 square foot house on the lot next door than three 1200 foot townhouses (even while they argue that they want to keep the 2000 sf house that’s there now).

    Someone else brought up families with children, and, indeed, I believe that’s where I feel the least comfortable with the some of the “urbanist” arguments I see — a vision of a city of young working professionals who do not have children (with, maybe, a smattering of urban families who have the wherewithal to buy 2+ million dollar properties).

    In the N/NE/WS scenario where the 2000sf house is being replaced with the 4000sf house, one family, with, maybe two cars, and two children moves in next door. In the townhouse scenario, three couples (or singles+) with maybe 5 cars moves in. The families keeps a yard, for the kids to play in, plans on living there for 10+ years, and doesn’t have parties.

    On an SF5000 block, of 20 houses, half have school age children, another 1/3 raised their children here, with some having recently left for college. There’s recent turnover of retired couples (with subdivision, or larger houses, as the lot size dictates, on lots that had 2500sf houses, unlike the modern upscale family house of 4000+ ), and there will probably be some more turnover in the next few years. It is a view area, so without upzoning, the block would be envisioning 1 million + townhouses. The block is going to oppose upzoning, until it’s willing to sell out (i.e. if it was filled with retired families), but, right now, it’s being developed as an upscale enclave for families, who aren’t looking to move out (and thus, are going to oppose an upzone, even more so if a ban on mcmansions accompany it).

    • I agree with your assessment. The north Seattle “neighborhood” folks will oppose most any upzone, but I think they might oppose it a lot less if they at least still have a possibility of a single-family home next door. Other housing types mean more renters (the horror!), fewer families, etc.

      Whether this factor outweighs the young socialists cheering on a proposal to stick it to the rich by taking away their right to build big houses…well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have my doubts.

  2. And now that I’ve pushed the comment count over 100 – hey The Urbanist! Welcome to three-digit comment threads! 🙂

  3. In addition to row house, incentivizing more cottage style development like Renew Roosevelt on 15th Ave NE & NE 65th would be great.

  4. Why does the urbanist continue to allow the same two or three trolls to hijack threads with repetitive bullshit and factually incorrect statements?

    You aren’t going to change their backwards, status quo clenching minds. And you waste hours responding to dumb and misleading conjecture. Just ban them already.

  5. Allowing more townhomes, duplexes, triplexes etc, is a good idea, but getting the existing rezones passed should be priority #1.

    The U district rezone was supposed to have passed last year, but instead there has been radio silence. Not a good sign. It’s possible the city council got more push back than they anticipated.

    I think advocates at this point need to put pressure on the city council to get the existing work done before piling anything new on.

  6. creating more row houses, duplexes, triplexes, and other multi-family housing from current SF housing will just increase prices of remaining SF housing. People are willing to pay top dollar for good SF housing in good SF housing neighborhoods.

    • Correct, but it will lower the cost of housing for non-SF homes, and will lower the cost of house per sq ft of land.

      The market will certainly protect many SF homes because those are desirable. The proposed policy simply allows for choices other than SF homes. While people may prefer SF homes, they also prefer having any home in Seattle rather than no home.

      • “…lower the cost of housing for non-SF homes…” I don’t think so. Developers buy old SF homes and replace them with new duplexes, triplexes, etc., but each of those units will cost more than the SF tear-down. I’m talking for-profit developers here.

          • As I said, for-profit developers at work. Those $4-500K teardowns get replaced with $6-800K townhouses. Profit maximizers will maximize profits.

          • I appreciate where you are coming from but I think you are really misrepresenting what is happening. Could you provide a single example of a home that would sell for $400-$500k to be lived in but was torn down to build a $600 – $800k town home. I find it implausible that a town home with less square feet would sell for more than a SF home with more square feet?

            While I hear a lot of complaining that new construction is too expensive, I don’t hear any solutions. Doug is putting forward a solution and explaining how that would work. Maybe you don’t believe him but it’s not enough to just say it won’t work. You have to also put forward your own solution.

          • I’m sure there are better examples, but right next to me – the home owner managed to get a better price, $805K, but of course that’s LR1 price. Recorded sale price of units are $820K, $815K, $739K, $696K, $760K. Had the house been a couple blocks away in SF5000, there’s no way it would have fetched $805 – structurally excellent, but ratty asbestos siding etc. Used to house two families with kids, I believe well under median income; now of course affluent 30 yr old couples and singles. Lower cost of housing? Absolutely not, and it isn’t because we just fell a little short of the amount that would be needed to make units split out of one lot a fraction of the price of the lot. Under the current growth regimen, “supply” is never going to be relevant.

          • To Benjamin and Donn:

            You’re right to point out that new housing is more expensive than old housing. Old housing is an example where you might get more square foot for less money. But if you’re comparing similar quality housing, there’s simply no way a townhome with less square footage is selling for more than a SF home with more square footage.

            If the problem is that we’re replacing old housing, I’m curious what a better solution would look like? We may be able to keep the ratty, asbestos filled house for a bit longer but eventually will either be replaced or remodeled. The question we’re trying to answer is what will we replace it with? We can replace it with large SF homes or allow more density. Doug provided his opinion. I would add that additional density could and should be coupled with MHA.

            What’s the alternative you’re proposing?

          • I’m not intimately familiar with that house’s maintenance potential, but I got a look at it prior to demolition and I’m telling you it was in very good structural condition. There’s no reason it couldn’t go a second century, and as it was it comfortably supported two families – not squatters, really nice people – and would have continued to do so with typical maintenance costs. It was a tear-down only because it was LR1, and if we’re effectively proposing to upzone all SF, there will be more tear-downs created in the same way, that are not tear-downs today.

          • Just because a building could go another century doesn’t mean it won’t be remodeled, renovated or face rent increases. The Malloy Apartments, highlighted in the discussion of the U District, are a perect example of this. Things aren’t torn down just because they’re in LR1 zones. They are torn down because the existing revnue is below the potential. This means if they legally can’t be torn down they may simply face renovation, remodeling or rent increases. This is why we get McMansions in SF zones.

            This isn’t to say tear downs and demolitions aren’t problematic. However, if tear downs and demolitions replace old, low quality, private market housing with higher quality, rent-restricted housing, and existing residents get effective relocation assistance, it can be a huge win.

          • Yes, if the house had been in SF, not LR1, it very likely would have been renovated or remodeled, and the value would have gone up. Then if you later upzone that SF block, its fate depends on whether that renovation was done. It will still be the same, less valuable properties that will be torn down for triplexes, and there will be plenty of them to choose from. The new townhouses or whatever will be the same market value in any case, equal to or greater than the housing they replace and not an option for anyone who couldn’t afford to live in SF before – I believe that’s what we’re trying to say.

          • Right, we’re generally in agreement. The current zoning does nothing to protect the affordability of older buildings which is why we’re seeing massive rent increases, the construction of McMansions and SF homes in SF zones selling for over a million. We’re suggesting there’s a more effective alternative to this status quo.

          • Well, then let’s hear it! But SF is not the cause of massive rent increases, nor are mansions the cause of expensive SF – I’m with other commenters here, might be 1%. For me, I just explained what’s going to happen to prices after an upzone: they’ll go up.

          • Doug just provided a potential solution which you disagree would be helpful. While you’re suggest upzones will exacerbate housing costs, you’ve failed to come up with an alternative. We are seeing some of the fastest price/rent increases in the country, including in SF zones that aren’t being rezoned. The status quo isn’t ok. If you’re unhappy with the proposed solutions, we look forward to hearing your alternatives.

          • Quit paying corporations to bring high paid employees here? for example. There is no solution that supports unsustainable growth.

          • Could you be more specific? How specifically are we paying big companies in a meaningful way? Why is it bad to have job growth of high paying jobs? What policies specifically would we implement?

            Could you also explain under what circumstances, if any, you would support additional density in SF zones?

          • The example we know about, I understand after Sawant’s staff uncovered it during the budget process, was a 2/3 B&O tax break for “international investment capital” firms or something like that. I.e., Russell Capital, who might have moved here anyway, but evidently we needed to pay them to make sure. I have to assume that this isn’t a unique, isolated instance of such things, but city policy is not transparent in this area and we can only guess. At a lower level, MHA upzone policies that (in contrast to the housing sales pitch) are about creating more office space, are part of the picture. These policies aren’t bad if you want every desirable neighborhood to be an affluent enclave, if you want rents that siphon extravagant amounts from people who can’t afford it, but don’t kid yourself, there’s no way to push that off by building some triplexes in SF neighborhoods.

          • Interesting. I’ll have to check out Russell Capital stuff you mention. I’m not familiar with it. I think most people I know oppose corporate subsidies. I personally would agree that it likely adds to housing costs.

            However I don’t see how creating more office space is a bad thing, especially outside of downtown. MHA and upzones don’t create office space. If more office space is being built it must mean that businesses want to locate in Seattle. That seems like a good thing? Care to expand on why you think it’s bad?

          • The University District high rise upzone is what I’m talking about. To hear Murray, Johnson et al talk, it’s about housing, but they know, per OPCD presentation to PLUZ in Nov, that residential high rises are not economically realistic, and it’s really about high rise office buildings, in connection with similar plans on the UW campus. I’ve heard things about Capitol Hill /Broadway but am not as familiar with what’s going on there. Seems like a good thing? Sure, for landlords, developers, and in general anyone who thrives on the misery around Seattle housing (and other infrastructure, for that matter.)

          • I’m not sure of the semantics here, I’m talking about office space in particular just to be clear, and lots of it, with multiple high rises. The thousands of people working in these buildings have to live somewhere, so they either commute from Everett or they out-compete someone else who wants to live here. We’re creating demand for housing far faster than we can dish it out. Adding to the problem, highly mobile tech and similar industries seem to cluster, so each one we get tends to itself bring more. Seattle will naturally grow anyway, and perhaps at a pace that we can’t support anyway, but encouraging growth at this stage is simply exploitive.

          • You’re saying additional demand is created by adding jobs in the city and the additional demand increases housing prices. It seems kind of bizarre to me to fight additional jobs in the city. If there are repercussions from additional jobs those should be addressed directly. More jobs seems like a good thing not a bad thing and the commercial linkage fee that is part of the MHA rezones are an example of mitigating the additional demand for housing.

          • It’s what I’m saying, and it’s as obvious as it can be. More jobs can be good or bad, in principle, but the situation we’re in now is self-evidently bad. The MHA fees (if they survive developer litigation) are a drop in the bucket and raise overall costs. They are somewhat laughable example of mitigating anything, but that isn’t the problem – nothing like that can do anything to address this kind of oversupply of people. Note that while we already are in trouble, with every reason to believe it will get worse on its own, I’m talking about what we’re doing to make it even worse than it has to be.

          • The MHA requirements will produce more rent restricted units than we are currently producing.

            What do you mean by an over supply of people? How do you measure when a place has too many people?

          • Imbalance between the number of people, and the resources they need. Most acutely, housing, which results in astronomical rents that suck enormous amounts of wealth out of the increasing percentage who don’t own it. This year’s newly created units will reportedly beat the previous record by a factor of two, but that balance will remain out of reach (especially if funding dries up as is somewhat likely; by some accounts MHA itself makes development less attractive.) We measure that balance by how well it works – if there’s housing that people can afford and every land use discussion doesn’t boil down to how we can squeeze more units in. If the schools have room, the streets aren’t choked, the buses aren’t leaving people behind at stops.

          • We keep doing what we’ve always been doing, if I understand your question. Numerically positive population growth isn’t the issue here, it’s the rate – change in population per unit time.

          • Rents are rising right now. So doing what we’re doing isn’t working. That’s why we’re attempting HALA.

            Also housing is always built after people start moving. It’s the demand of people moving that triggers building, so it’s not clear to me how you imagine getting housing built before anyone knows people are going to move here.

          • Hello! It isn’t working because the rate of growth is beyond what we were able to support! Will the amazing 2017 new unit count, double the previous record, meet the need? (It certainly happened within current land use restrictions, remains to be seen if it will continue after MHA.) Everyone knows people are going to move here, and housing is being built in anticipation of that, that isn’t a problem at all.

          • I really don’t understand what you mean. This is what I’ve understood so far.

            1) You don’t think we should have upzones since that will lead to increasing demand for city services, including housing and an oversupply of people.

            2) I asked how you what you meant by an over-supply of people.

            3) You indicated that this is when the number of people needing services outpaces the services available and pointed to rising housing costs as an example.

            4) I asked how you would solve this problem? My assumption is that we would solve this by encouraging more housing but I think you have something else in mind.

          • At 4, you want to know to solve the problem that we foolishly create at 1. Though not just by upzoning. Why not stop at 1 and skip all the other steps? Call it “responsible growth.” Why should we be called upon to make any sacrifice, to feed this ugly idol?

          • Are you saying we shouldn’t ever have upzones or we should stop all growth in the city? If it’s the former, I don’t see how that actually prevents growth. If it’s the latter, I find it hard to believe that eliminating growth in the city is good for the city. But even if it was how do you propose we do that?

          • Should we ever have upzones? Sure, as part of local planning process, where they make sense, as conditions develop in the locality. That has been working fine. (2X record new units in 2017, no problem.) Should we stop all growth? No – “Numerically positive growth isn’t the issue, it’s the rate.” What should we do? Be responsible – when growth exceeds our ability to support it, don’t promote more.

          • I appreciate the nuance. I think we disagree about whether or not the local planning process is proceeding as it should. I also think we disagree about whether or not we can or should accept more growth. I would say that the way we are accepting growth currently is a little irresponsible, mostly because we don’t have any inclusionary requirements. This will be greatly improved with MHA. I would also say that the benefits from the growth are tremendous. I personally think the task ahead of us is to capture more of those benefits so that they are spread out more equitably through city.

            However, I’d be interested at some point, maybe when you have more time, for you to lay out the specific situations and policies you would support that would allow growth in the city. I’d be especially interested to hear your take on when and how SF zones should allow/accept growth.

          • I don’t have anything interesting to say on that. I’m not interested in broad prescriptions for land use zoning changes, period – good planning is primarily local. Forget social engineering via land use planning – MHA won’t do anything at all for you there, nor will the other schemes. That problem is about income disparity and won’t be solved any other way.

          • Hey Donn, stepping in briefly. I find it really interesting that you are so blase about clamping down on the growth of our city economy and would recommend you take a look at the book Cities and the Wealth of Nations, written by the inimitable Jane Jacobs. I don’t necessarily agree with corporate subsidies either – I would say they are almost never necessary in a thriving city – but I would be very, very careful in jumping on “growth” as the problem. There is a real threat of regulating our own golden goose out of existence, and it’s all too easy to do. I think any solutions we can engineer to these issues will need to be carefully targeted and tweaks versus grand proclamations (and, sorry, but I also note that you did not provide any).

            Alternatively, we could just drop all zoning regulations whatsoever, which would solve our housing problems within a few years. Unfortunately I expect this would eliminate most SFH in the city within a decade or two as the unfettered market is SCREAMING for housing right now. So, let’s work carefully and thoughtfully, OK?

            Also, as you are concerned with local control of issues such as zoning, I strongly recommend you check out, starting with an article about our sister city Portland:


            I think you will find that it does not toe the line either of the average urbanist here, nor that of the “halt all growth!” mindset either. Heck, I would be pretty interested in hearing what the authors thought of it as well…

          • Picture yourself hosting a long lost relative who grew up eating weeds and occasionally field mice in Alaska. You notice that he has quite an appetite, and mention that now he’s going to want to rein it in a little lest he get awkwardly fat, and his response is “Not eat food!? Are you trying to kill me!?”

            That’s how this conversation has been striking me. Any mention of taking responsibility for moderating it to a supportable level, or just not pushing it when it’s already beyond that level, and it’s like I’m the anarchist guy with the little round bomb. I’m pleased to see though that you think it’s possible to regulate growth at all, as the alternative form of denial seems to be that it’s completely out of our control. (Not what I think – did you miss my recommendations to 1> not pay any more corporations to move here, and 2> not upzone the U district for high rise office buildings?)

            I think you’re under some illusions about zoning regulations and housing, though. Did I mention that 2017 will bring so many new units of housing that it exceeds the previous record by a factor of two? More cranes in Seattle doing this work than in San Francisco and New York combined, more than any other city in the US? Unless I missed something, without any upzones, the industry was cranking away at what must have been pretty near the theoretical limit. From Seattle Times front page apartment boom article, week ago Sunday. What will happen next? Probably taper off, but the article anyway didn’t mention zoning as any kind of factor, it’s mostly about finance (and zoning plays a role there – MHA making it less attractive – don’t ask me, I didn’t talk to any developers, ask Seattle Times, or Roger Valdez.) Zoning is not the issue it has been made out to be.

            I’m starting on the Strong Towns material, initially a little hard to pin down on policy, but interesting and I’m sure I will find much more with more reading.

          • You can never read too much Strong Towns – to grasp their core argument, start with the Growth Ponzi scheme and go from there. I appreciate their work so much I became a member… and I’m a Millennial! (“We Do Not Join” might as well be the motto…)

            As for your recommendations (which I missed), I say 1) Yes, agreed, Seattle can be its own draw to industry now without bribes and 2) Why **not** upzone the UW? If the demand is legitimate, where would be a better place to put the skyscrapers? I’d prefer them there rather than Wallingford or Fremont. Besides, the most important aspect of skyscraper design within a city is how they interact with the street on the first story – everything above that is “bonus”. I have mixed feelings about current design policies, but I don’t think the answer is “ban skyscrapers”. Judicious (and mandatory) design requirements can allow everyone to win here.

            Another aspect to the skyscraper boom is that the US government provides some benefits, namely immigration benefits, to wealthy foreigners who invest certain types of capital in physical assets. In case you were wondering why so many companies building skyscrapers in downtown have Chinese names. I am not bothered too much by this specific policy, as we get free skyscrapers out of it (which I think benefits us more overall), but check out the following podcast when you have time:


            Recently Vancouver BC, the key local recipient of the aforementioned Giant Pool Of Money, slapped a 15% tax on foreign-owned unoccupied properties, not long after their tech workers (yes, the TECH workers) sent out a distress call that they could no longer afford to live in their own city. Mild as these things go, but the signal was unambiguously received, and the Pool is hunting for new investments. Seattle is the closest city with a booming economy and plenty of new real estate to sink cash into… we’ll need all the local governmental strength we’ve got and then some if we don’t want to be San Fran El Norte. I have thought a lot about how to get the warning out – well, this may not be much, but if even one more person starts thinking about it, that’s something, no? :/

          • It’s more complicated here, I think, because in BC foreign means US+China, here foreign means Canada+China – so a tax on foreign investment here misses more of the problem. Someone with more insight into real estate investment than me needs to find a good way to encourage owner equity asset property, while taxing income property – or whatever is needed to keep prices from artificial inflation due to external investment money.

            On the University District, my point is not so much about high rise per se, but office building space. As a policy supporting UW’s ambitions, to create a second SLU scale high tech development, that has to be seen as a big investment in keeping the growth coming, when we see our fellow residents suffering from it.

          • ” unsustainable growth”

            It’s not unsustainable, obviously. There’s no ecological reason this region can’t house far, far more people than it currently does. One motivation for restricting housing growth near the urban core is to try to create the illusion that more growth is unsustainable, since it creates sprawl and all that comes with it. But that’s because we have a pro-sprawl housing policy, not because the growth itself is “unsustainable” in an ecological sense.

          • Me and a lot of other people are never going to get behind a solution that effectively makes neighborhoods off limits for people who don’t already live there.

          • Yes! The one percent caused home values to double in two years!

            Not only are the trolls annoyingly classist – but dumber than a box of rocks at that.

          • >> I’m not intimately familiar with that house’s maintenance potential, but
            I got a look at it prior to demolition and I’m telling you it was in
            very good structural condition.

            Then it would have gone for over a million. Or it would have been torn down and replaced by something worth more than that.

            >> It was a tear-down only because it was LR1, and if we’re effectively
            proposing to upzone all SF, there will be more tear-downs created in the
            same way, that are not tear-downs today.

            Of course. But you are less likely to have tear downs like that one (if, as you say, it was structurally sound and all that).

            The main reason that houses like that are being torn down is because that is the only place you can actually add density (i. e. provide more homes). Put is this way. Imagine you draw little circles around the city and say “you can only add apartments there”. Guess what? Good houses, even nice houses, get torn down, to build apartments. All the empty lots are gone within those tiny circles. What about those empty lots that sit just a few feet away? Sorry, can’t touch those.

            That is precisely what is happening. You have areas of the city with huge lots, and the opportunity for plenty of new houses to go in next to them, but that isn’t happening, because it isn’t allowed.

          • There are some very nice Craftsman homes around here, that can go for close to a million; this one was earlier, I think ca. 100 years old and not in that league. In SF, it could have gone to make a higher value, single occupant home – but likely not. That’s a specific market segment that’s conspicuous but limited. The landscape around here is not covered with mansions, though nothing prevents it but the economics. When SF is upzoned, that adds a new market segment also going after these lower value houses, and there they go. The result is more units in that area, of course, but less economic diversity, not more. I think this is RDPence’s point in this thread – it’s still a minus for affordability.

            I don’t doubt that affordable housing in SF is doomed anyway in the long term, under the current regime, but there’s another conversation here about that.

          • “there’s simply no way a town home with less square footage is selling for more than a SF home with more square footage.” Pickoven – can you provide and example of this? I think your are dead wrong. Across the city, developers buy old houses, tear them down and either put up a new, bigger house or multiple townhouses (each being smaller than the original house but newer, nicer, and more expensive). Ballard before and Ballard after is a prime example of this.

          • @benjamincline:disqus @disqus_QFGPP995pj:disqus — You haven’t said what neighborhood those are in. Since the prices are very high, I will assume the neighborhood is nicer than mine. I have seen new houses — in my neighborhood — go for close to a million. These are new big houses, mind you. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if they didn’t allow those row houses to be built, they would do the exact same thing there? If you can get 800K for a row house, then wouldn’t you be able to get well over a million dollars for a half way decent, brand new house? Wouldn’t the fact that you have less places to live increase the value?

            Put it this way. The old, ratty, but structurally sound house goes for, say, 700K. Why not more? One reason is that you can buy a brand new row house for only a bit more. Now take away the row house. What happens? The price goes up — way up.

          • I was talking about row homes in Loyal Heights, on my block. I’m also not saying they shouldn’t build them, I was merely disputing the pricing that was posted earlier. Row houses are much more affordable than 1:1 replacements.

            I was disputing this comment:

            Developers buy old SF homes and replace them with new duplexes, triplexes, etc., but each of those units will cost more than the SF tear-down.

            The only way each of the new units costs more than the tear down is is the tear down was utterly unlivable.

          • There’s a teardown on my block where they took down a 1940s 2br and replaced it with 4 townhomes. Two 2br for $550k and two 3br for $600k.

            Its pretty standard to get 4, $600-700k townhomes (though his “$800k” seems a bit high)

          • It sure is enough to say it won’t work. We can’t afford to pretend. If there is no better solution to put forward, then at some point we need to accept that there is no acceptable solution that will support unlimited growth, with acceptable cost of housing and quality of life.

          • The thing about teardowns is they are teardowns. No one lives in them anyway except for squaters and drug addicts. There are tons of older houses in Seattle which haven’t been maintained and basically aren’t suitable for human habitation.

            So, sure, technically new townhomes are more expensive than rotting houses full of rats and squatters…

            The other aspect is that townhomes are so expensive because there are so few of them. They are clearly in demand. A lot of people, myself included, prefer not to own a single family home because I don’t have kids. A townhome is a nice compromise between a SFH and a condo. You get more space and a private entrance, but don’t have to maintain a large yard. You can also get them for less than a million.

            Very few families in Seattle have kids. We have one of the lowest rates of families having children in the country. So having tons of suburban style houses with large yards makes no sense. Most of those houses right now are occupied by retirees with no kids. The rest are rented out as group housing for 20 somethings.

          • Cat5, it may come as a shock but livable, even nice SF homes are torn down every day to make way for MF development. Read Katy Sewall’s good article in Crosscut last fall. And I disagree on principle with your belief that we should redesign Seattle for families without children. That’s a trend that should be countered, not encouraged.

          • It’s grating dealing with retirees who think its up to them to decide how the next generation lives their lives, how many kids they should have, where they should live etc.

          • Grasshopper – you will become much wiser when you become older. Listen to the wisdom of the retirees.

          • Livable, even nice SF homes are torn down every day to make way for (bigger) SF development. What’s your point?

            Look, there is huge demand for housing in this city. I never thought that houses in my neighborhood would list for a million dollars. There is no view, and this is not a very special neighborhood (this isn’t Ballard, Capitol Hill, Wallingford, Queen Anne or anything like it). We don’t even have sidewalks! But the houses are big, and when small houses go for 600K or more in the same neighborhood, people will pay a bit more for something new.

            The big problem is demand. But our failure to meet the demand has everything to do with the way we’ve approached meeting it. We’ve basically said that for a very, very tiny segment of the city, we will allow small houses or apartments. The rest of the city is off limits. Only 11% percent of the land is zoned for multifamily. Roughly 10% is low rise. This is the private land that is available (this doesn’t include public land or roads, etc.). That is just a very tiny amount of land (midrise and highrise is less than 1%) that can be developed. When you severely restrict such development and have high demand, it is clear what will happen. The low hanging fruit gets picked first. So empty lots get developed. But pretty soon after that, as prices continue to rise, it becomes cost effective to do things that would be crazy in a normal market. Tear down a perfectly good two story building and replace it with a six story building. Tear down a very nice house — that could easily be converted to an apartment — because you can build a handful of more apartments instead.

            Meanwhile, for much of the city, you have the same ridiculously high demand for housing, with very restrictive rules, that leads to similarly perverse financial decisions. Rather than add a half dozen houses next to a perfectly good house, the owner mows down everything, and adds three big houses. He has built to the maximum density allowed, and since the lots are huge, built very big houses as well.

            By allowing more density in most of the city — over five times the amount allowed now — you have a lot more low hanging fruit available. Empty lots, or big lots next to existing houses get developed. This is turn puts downward pressure on all housing, and you are less likely to have tear downs. You are way more likely to have apartment conversions, along with additional housing that gets built next to old houses. The rules that exist right now might achieve the preservation that some folks want if demand wasn’t so high, but right now it is simply contributing to the problem.

          • I give up. Let’s do away with zoning entirely, and let the market decide what gets torn down and what gets built and where it gets built. I expect nothing short of that will satisfy Seattle’s noisiest urbanists.

            Maybe that will be the magic pill that solves our housing problems and provides a nice affordable home in Seattle for everyone who wants one. (But somehow I doubt that it would.)

          • I have to go back to the historic apartment boom for 2017 – again, “nearly twice as many as in any other year in the city’s history.” “On pace to see more apartments built this decade than in the previous 50 years combined.” This is your severely restricted development? Why didn’t development people interviewed by the Times mention anything about these restrictions? I’m not saying we have done a great job of meeting demand. I’m saying it wasn’t logistically possible – the industry takes time to respond, and there are natural limits to how much can happen at the same time. If we want to continue the trend infinitely, of course it will require infinite space, but actual experience as of today has had little to do with zoning restrictions.

          • @RDPence — Sorry, that makes no sense. A house is worth 500K, but a townhouse is worth 800K? Since when? Put it this way, if we don’t allow townhouses, then won’t a developer simply replace the 500K house with a single, bigger house? Except won’t the 800K house, which is bigger than a row house, be worth *more* than 800K. I’m not talking about a McMansion, either, just a house that is bigger than a row house. Why would you pay more for a row house (which means sharing a wall) than you would for a single, bigger house?

            Meanwhile, look at the big picture. Perhaps an example would help. In my neighborhood, it is very common for old, small houses to sit on really big lots. The lots are bigger than the current lot minimum, so they subdivide it. The old house gets torn down, and new big houses get built. So instead of a small house, you have three giant houses. Each house goes for close to a million (or a bit less — but let’s round up to a million). So again, three houses, three million.

            Now imagine row houses. Instead of three big houses, you build 10 row houses. Charge 400 grand for each house. Ch-Ching! The developer is thrilled He has made an extra million! Meanwhile, you’ve just added 8 additional houses to the neighborhood (instead of 2).

            So now, down the street, someone is selling a regular size house on a regular size lot. They ask 600K, but guess what? There is competition now. That is a bit much, considering I can buy a perfectly good row house for 400 grand. It doesn’t take much to see how this plays out. Over time some houses get replaced with row houses, but eventually even that doesn’t make sense. You begin to flood the market, and people really aren’t interested in paying 400 grand for a row house in Pinehurst (a mediocre neighborhood), so they pay 300 grand. At that price, tearing down a perfectly good house doesn’t make sense either. Maybe you add a house next to the other house, but that is about it.

            Speaking of which, go back to that first example. Notice that wasn’t done. I don’t know anyone who has done that. It is common in my neighborhood (SF 9600) to see additional homes being built, but they always start by mowing down the old house. So instead of adding two new big houses (to go with the small one) they tear down the old house and add three big ones. This makes sense, because a small house on a big lot just isn’t very valuable. But a small house on a small lot is. That is essentially what a row house is. So I could easily see an old house simply have rows houses (or even small, detached houses) built around it. Why not? The only thing that is preventing that right now are the regulations, which perversely is encouraging tear downs.

    • and building three 400K houses is even more progress. This isn’t likely to happen in the nicer neighborhoods, but in much of the city (places that lack sidewalks) this will definitely happen.

  7. I’m all for expanding RSL-type zoning citywide. There’s no good reason why a triplex should be banned on any lot in the city.

    What I don’t understand is why this needs to be paired with a ban on large single-family homes. The demand for these 3,000 square foot homes is relatively limited. They’re being constructed here and there on underutilized single-family lots because there is some demand for them, but I haven’t seen a wave of demolitions on any block, nothing on the scale of townhome construction in Ballard for example.

    When you look at areas where more units are allowed (such as the existing LR zones), you essentially never see “McMansions” built. It’s always townhomes or rowhouses. As far as I know there’s no law against building one huge unit on an LR lot instead of 3-4 smaller ones, but the developers typically choose to build as many units as allowed because that’s where the profit is. I predict that the same trend would continue in current single-family zones if duplex/triplex construction was legalized there. When an old, small home is demolished for new construction, you’ll typically see it replaced with a large building meant for two or three families rather than just one.

    If you propose to legalize triplexes citywide, I’ll heartily support you. If banning large houses somehow makes the proposal more popular (how? why?) and is needed to get the duplex/triplex thing passed, I guess I’ll support that too. I just don’t see why the two need to go together, or why banning large houses is even desirable.

    • There is much angst around SF teardowns – see the Seattle Times article I referenced below – so I don’t think most people would agree with you that the demand for 3,000 sq ft homes is “limited.”

      I think the incorporation of a McMansion ban into the RSL zoning is a political gambit to garner support for RSL across the city … you agree, Doug?

      • Yeah that’s pretty accurate. It’s a gambit but it’s also good policy since it encourages teardowns to be for a better reason (allowing more families to call Seattle home) rather than make opulent residences for the wealthy. The McMansion market is well served in the suburbs. I don’t think we need to cater to it within Seattle.

      • Sure, there’s angst around the demolitions, but that doesn’t make them very numerous in reality. The Seattle Times article you linked mentions that there were about 1,500 of them in the whole county in a three-year period (2012-2014), while this Seattle Transit Blog post ( cites Census Bureau statistics saying that there were 138,309 detached single-family housing units within the Seattle city limits in 2010.

        We’re talking about less than 1% of single-family homes being demolished and turned into “McMansions.” I can’t see the number growing all that much either, because the number of people who can afford one of these is necessarily limited, with a starting price of around $1 million and climbing as land values increase.

        What does seem clear is that the total pace of demolitions would increase a bit if we legalize duplexes/triplexes, McMansion ban or no, because there are a lot more potential customers for a triplex than a McMansion.

        And to Doug, I disagree with your opinion that we should tell people who have the means and desire to buy a big house that Seattle doesn’t want them, that they should just go to the suburbs. I want Seattle to be welcoming to all. Opening up single-family land to duplexes and triplexes brings us closer to that goal. Alienating rich people who enjoy urban living seems counterproductive.

        • Well, and a “McMansion” is by definition a cookie cutter large house in a neighborhood of similar houses. Anything built in Seattle on a single lot isn’t a “McMansion” its just a large house.

          That said, there aren’t many large houses going up. Mostly only teardowns in places you can’t build multiple units. People in that price range are just as likely to buy an existing 1920s/30s home that’s been recently rennovated. There are tons of those around.

        • Well very wealthy folks can buy an existing mansion, should it go on the market, or buy a very large condo if they’re into urban living. The point is that the wealthy always have more options. The burden policymakers should take up is how to provide housing for those who are not wealthy.

          And to be clear, I’m not saying demolitions are the problem. Demolitions can serve a very worthy purpose if they are making our city welcoming to many more people across income types. 1:1 demolitions that only make our housing more extravagant and elitist by building giant detached homes are a problem IMHO.

          • I agree that policymakers need to focus on housing for non-wealthy folks. I agree that our current zoning where the large single-family homes are the only option is the wrong way to go. However I’m still not convinced that banning large homes along with allowing duplexes is meaningfully better than simply allowing both types of construction, as the large homes are a relatively small piece of the overall market. There’s plenty of land for large homes and duplexes alike. That’s all I’m saying here.

          • “The burden policymakers should take up is how to provide housing for those who are not wealthy.”

            Limiting the max size of house but allowing people to “buy more SF” would be a brilliant way to do that. Wealthy folks have a choice: if you want a new house (or to expand an old one), it’s not going to be as big as you might like unless you buy more SF or FAR. Use the money to build affordable housing.

            (We’re in a 3,000 SF house. Might have lived with a 2,400 limit like Portland. But probably would have paid up.)

          • A soft cap with fees above a certain sq ft mark is an intriguing idea and it’d provide a further revenue stream for affordable housing. I wonder if it’d be legal?

        • There are a bunch of McMansions (or monster houses) going up in my neighborhood (Pinehurst). You are right, the big problem is that the lots are too big. Basically the developers tear down an old tiny house on a huge lot and then subdivide the lots to the smallest available size (usually 9600). Then they build as much as they can, and that means big houses on big lots. So you are right, if they allowed small houses, row houses, triplexes, then chances are, you wouldn’t have those things being built. There really is nothing special about the neighborhood (no views, etc.) it is just that once you have a big lot and want to build a new house, you might as well make that house big.

          But I see a couple reasons why you might as well tie the two items together. People want to preserve the old houses (like it or not). This helps do that. One of the big reasons that people have been reluctant to allow more density is that they fear a huge wave of (what many would consider to be) ugly duplexes and quads like they built in the 1980s. Of course it wouldn’t necessarily happen — it is also quite possible that you would see a wave of conversions, especially if you didn’t require parking with the new units (a big reason that so many of the duplexes and quads were ugly). But either way, this could be seen by the preservationists as a compromise. OK, we will allow more density (which probably means a few tear downs) but at least we won’t have the monster houses.

          The second reason is that eventually you might see competition from the wealthy over that piece of land. Right now we aren’t seeing that because the law restricts density too much. Just as with the Apodment law, we haven’t really seen people build luxury apartments (one unit per floor) because there just isn’t that much of a market for it (even though that, unlike an Apodment, is legal). But what if you eventually do. What if, for example, you have a lot that two builders want. The first will put up a McMansion, that he will sell to a rich guy. The second will build a triplex. If the McMansion guy outbids the other guy (which happens all the time in places like New York) then the rich guy wins. I personally wouldn’t like that, and I would bet that a city that considers itself progressive (electing socialists, passing $15 minimum wage laws, etc.) feels the same way. So by restricting the McMansion AND allowing increased density, you are more likely to increase density (i. e. help the little guy). It really isn’t that different than a law I would like to see passed — if you tear down a house or apartment, you can’t decrease the number of units with the new place. Right now that isn’t an issue (I don’t think anyone is doing that) but eventually, if we fix our laws, that could easily happen.

    • RE: “What I don’t understand is why this needs to be paired with a ban on large single-family homes. The demand for these 3,000 square foot homes is relatively limited.”

      Thinking in purely policy terms, you’re probably right. But the argument is political. Right now the anti-housing, exclusionary zoning crowd is able to disengenuously use a kind of faux left-populism ( (Plainfolk homeowners vs.greedy developers!) to get people on their side, even though their preferred SF-forever policy in fact incentivizes tearing down modest homes and replacing them with McMansions in desirable areas. This is BS, of course, but they’ve had some political success with it. Adding a (probably unnecessary in policy terms) McMansion ban might well help undermine the anti-housing crowd’s fraudulent left-populist appeal.

      • Perhaps you’re right that the proposal could be more politically successful if it bans large homes in addition to allowing duplexes. If that’s the case, I’m all in favor. I really think we need to consider this carefully though. You could just as easily spin this combined proposal as a ban on single-family homes, since it would be pretty rare for a single-family home of “only” 2,000 square feet to be built when a larger duplex could be built on the same lot.

        I think we can do very well to spin this as adding options for more types of people. Pair it with a ban on large homes (that would have little practical effect numbers-wise), and it just seems spiteful, taking from the rich to give to the poor. Again, there’s plenty of land for everyone if we just open up the regulations a bit. We don’t need to take away anything from anyone.

  8. Excellent article. We need far, far more row houses for a city our size. There’s almost nothing that exists between owning a near-million-dollar home and renting an apartment. Sure there are condos in towers, but they’re in towers because we don’t allow dense housing anywhere else. Most cities have a range of options, including tall condos, short condos, “flats” (3-story homes with separate ownership per floor), row houses, duplexes, town houses, cottages…

    We have a small handful of townhouses, a few old cottages, and a bunch of tall condos. And vast fields of (expensive) single family homes. In our city you need to be a millionaire or you pretty much don’t get to own a home. That’s a bad design, and we don’t have to accept it.

    Regarding the “ban McMansions” portion. I think this can be done a bit more gently (though I’m open to less gently if needed): homes over a certain square footage should be required to be dividable into multiple units. Require one kitchen and a front door per unit. We don’t have to require they rent it out, but the average length of ownership is far shorter than the average house lifespan, and the next owner might choose to rent a unit out later (or the same owner, once their kids move out).

    • I like the dividable requirement. In Cleveland I lived in an old duplex that was rented out to college kids as a single 6br home, and it worked great.

    • Totally support extending RSL to all SF zones. But not so sure about the restriction on house size. Think about the large houses on Capitol Hill that have evolved into apartments…or before zoning changes made them illegal, duplexes or triplexes. Besides telling a certain segment of the population we don’t want them in Seattle, I think a ban on large houses would restrict future options.

      • To say the wealthy would be unwelcome is hyperbole. Living in a new house that’s *only* 2,500 square feet isn’t exactly a punishment nor would it wall off Seattle to the rich. And wealthy folks could always buy a mansion that was built before the ban if they were so set on a huge house.

        Anyway, glad we agree on RSL.

        • I think it would be good to allow more options for shared housing in single-family zones than currently exist, and which limiting the size of houses would make impossible. For example, a multigenerational house shared by parents and a couple adult kids and their families. Or a house shared by two or three unrelated couples and their kids. I think we’ll be seeing more demand for this kind of housing in the future. Right now these kinds of arrangements are only possible in multifamily zones, which are arguably better used for larger groups of people living in the same building.

          • Portland plans to allow a 750 sq ft backyard cottage in addition to the 2,000 or 2,5000 sq ft (whichever cap they settle on) single family home which would conceivably help with multi-generational housing.

          • Allowing a backyard cottage is great and would work for some people, but it’s way more expensive to build and way less energy efficient than accommodating the extra household(s) within one building, and it does not at all allow multiple households to live in one house, as a number of my clients and prospective clients (and myself) would like to live.

          • This is a good point. As I’ve posted previously in other fora, with no change to exterior envelope (probjust adding stairs front/back) our 3,000 SF house could be renovated into 3 1,000 SF 2 BR stacked flats.

    • I think the law would essentially do that anyway. In other words, let’s say you ban McMansions, but allow row houses that are just as big. Well, there is nothing stopping you from buying all three row houses. Of course there isn’t. Now you can knock down walls and make yourself a huge house.

      Except there are two differences. One, it is a lot more expensive. You have just added three kitchens, three bathrooms, etc. Then you have the cost of converting all of that to something you might want to live in (why have three kitchens when what you really want is a huge living room?). It all adds up to a fair amount more money.

      Of course the other advantage is exactly what you said — it is easy to convert back. If you remove the appliances, chances are are the plumbing is still there, ready to go back. It is much cheaper to go back to row houses than it is to start with a huge house and then convert it.

      • There are some physical reasons this isn’t true. Row houses are separated by some serious structure. This can be anything from concrete to brick to several layers of fire resistant material (a “party wall” woot!). This is required in the code, so that one home’s kitchen fire doesn’t turn into a full block on fire. I suppose you could write code to allow panels of non-fire-rated walls and doors between units, but would need some way of requiring them to be built back in when a different family starts living there. That sounds complicated.

        Oh, and I recommend the book Town House by Tish Cohen. Not an urbanist recommendation, it’s just a fun fiction book. But in it there’s a damaged wall between two rowhouses that’s used as a passage by a neighbor’s child.

  9. Some effective curb on oversized houses would have strong support, but it needs to focus on a real problem. That real problem is not that the property is expensive – people with money will invest money in their homes and they’ll be expensive, whatever the square footage. (If we really want to take on the problem of single family exchange value, we’d better do something about speculative investment, see Vancouver BC.) It isn’t that the property didn’t become row houses – at least it’s my impression, even where these two types of development are both legal options, they’re unlikely to ever be equally valid development alternatives for the same lot, and there’s no need to tip the balance with size limits on houses.

    But for sure, an overbuilt lot is overbuilt whether it’s one unit or 6, land use standards should require whatever setbacks and coverage are necessary to preserve open space, and it does appear that those standards fall a little short.

    • Legalizing duplexes and placing maximums of square footage do not impact lot coverage ratios, so I believe those are separate issues.

      Land price and housing price are closely link. The benefit of a duplex over a single family home is it shares that land costs across two households rather than one, therefore making the homes more affordable.

      • I’m talking about mansion ban idea, not SF.2 triplex which is a separate proposition that doesn’t have any valid relation to mansions. My point is that there’s support for tighter standards that would reduce mansion overbuilding – no one likes that stuff – but if you care about that, you engage that support by zeroing in on the things that really wrong with them.

  10. As I understand the proposal, the City is expanding boundaries for several urban villages and then upzoning those expanded areas from SF to RSL. And current SF zones within existing urban villages will also be upzoned to RSL. So we will have an opportunity to see if RSL is indeed the magic pill that unlocks middle class housing opportunities provided by for-profit developers.

    • In 5 years, when the tiny proportion of land allocated to RSL doesn’t come close to meeting demand for missing middle housing, you’ll be the first to say “guess it failed guys, back to SFR we go.” RSL needs significantly more than the 8% of city land that currently allow multi family development.

      • The limited expansion of RSL zoning will be a laboratory. Will it encourage development of non-subsidized middle-class housing? In ways that don’t revolt the neighbors? If so, then I expect people will support further expansion into SF zones. And if not, then the damage is limited.

        • We’ve already learned that for neighbors, revolting is anything that differs from what was there when they bought their house. It doesn’t matter if it’s an 1980’s stucco burb or a 1880’s craftsman burb.

  11. Row houses are already legal in “urban villages”, correct? I’d assume the boxy townhomes going up everywhere are what you’re referring to, right?

    If not, what is the difference (legally or design wise) between “row houses” and what’s currently being built all over the urban village zones?

    • Rowhouses are legal in low rise zones which often make up a good chunk of urban villages. But where single family zoning exists in urban villages they are not legal.

      The difference, and it’s a key difference, is that we need to allow duplexes, triplexes, and rowhouses across much more of the city than just urban villages. Urban village land tends to be the most expensive largely because it has the most amenities nearby. Letting triplexes and rowhouses happen in other areas would help relieve the incredible pressure on the urban villages to essentially supply new housing for the entire city, encouraging more affordable housing.

      I’d hope for better designed rowhouses than we’ve seen in some of the boxier semi-recent examples. Lucky we have historic examples that are much more elegant like the one pictured above and can push for better form.

      • What caused the box form to become the norm in the last 5 years, in SF and LR1? New development standards in 2010 have anything to do with it? It’s hard to retain any credibility while selling RSL and LR1 zoning with ancient pictures, when there’s plenty of evidence on the ground about what we can expect today.

          • “Foreign”, yes. Height standards in our neighborhoods – SF, LR1 – mean one thing for the prevailing older stock, and another for boxes with roof decks. City hall comes up with verbiage like “a consistent residential character of low height, bulk and scale over several blocks”, but the reality is the transition to box form carries an effective height/bulk increase with it. People know that, and they don’t like what they’re getting. If that could be reliably addressed in the evolving RSL standard, it would make it more palatable.

          • Big difference between boxy housing made of brick and those covered in Hardie-board. No way these historic buildings could or would be replicated today. And it’s propaganda to suggest otherwise.

          • In 100 years our descendents will be tripping over themselves to preserve classic 2000-era “hardie-board” architecture. People have always looked down upon the new. Brick is the last century’s particle board.

          • 50 years is not enough time for a building to complete the novel-outdated-classic cycle. Get back to me about Marble-crete in another 50 years.

          • I don’t know what people thought about new exterior materials in the 19th century, but since then, I think they have usually had good reason to look down upon the new.

          • Kind of a side discussion to a side discussion here, in that block form has issues apart from whatever it’s clothed in … but the article doesn’t address my point. If you know of any exterior material that appeared in the 20th century and is now attractive to anyone, I’d be interested.

          • I’ll buy that. Though maybe the exception that proves the rule – it’s as much a return to the half timber style of centuries ago, and not typically an alternative to Hardie or whatever. For that, cedar shingles go well with cross laminated timber, eh? or masonry.

          • Rick–good link. See also some of the reaction to the growth of brownstones in NYC in the ’10s and ’20s–hideous, cheap, ugly, ruining the city, etc.

            I don’t actually disagree with RDPence’s aesthetic evaluation of some of the architectural trends. Unlike him, I a) don’t see any reason to assume future generations will agree with us, and b) don’t think “This isn’t aesthetically pleasing to me” is a good reason to make those things illegal for other people to own.

          • I guess I should have mentioned I also mostly agree with RDPence on aesthetics. I’m divided on a lot of the new stuff I see going up, and prefer the look of bungalows and brick apartment buildings. But you summed up my feelings pretty well. I also think it’s unrealistic to expect builders to revive 100 year old construction methods and have them be affordable (or earthquake-proof, or energy efficient for that matter).

            We all lament the departure of small, local stores, and we occasionally purchase some trinkets from them in a symbolic gesture. But when it comes to our pocketbooks and our weekly groceries, we end up at costco and safeway. Funny how if RDPence’s critiques influenced policy, it wouldn’t directly affect his own pocketbook, but it would other’s.

        • Having toured several of the above-mentioned boxes, I can assure you that their boxy-ness is the least worrying thing about them. Much more concerning is how they are designed and marketed to exactly one and no more demographics unto the end of time. Who would raise children in a box with a roof deck without so much as a fence around it to keep little ones from plunging three stories? Who would age in place in a house with concrete floors and endless staircases with sharp edges? How can you live with roommates (or children!) in a house where the master bedroom is basically part of an open floor plan, with sound echoing down all levels? Add the crummy building materials and these houses will be slum trash in a generation. Fortunately not all skinny houses are so blighted, but still…

      • Ah, ok. Thanks for the explanation.Its interesting, because back east they’re still covering everything with (veneer) brick. I would assume its not *that much* more expensive. At lease some of the boxy houses are now getting cedar sections mixed in with the flat board.

        I’d bet it’d just take one or two builders making a few in the older style and more would flip to something similar.

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