The early consensus among Seattle mayoral candidates around adding housing options in single-family residential zones excited urbanists and those looking to expand affordable housing opportunities. The six leading mayoral candidates said they’d support missing middle housing types in single-family residential zones across the city–or at least pledges to “explore” it in the case of Jenny Durkan.

Durkan and our endorsed candidate Cary Moon prevailed in the primary and will square off in the general election–the outcome could have big implications for spreading growth equitably and enacting the inclusionary zoning requirements of Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) throughout the city. Allowing middle class housing types in every neighborhood would broaden our growth, and it’d also broaden our economic boom so people who work here can afford to live here, preventing Seattle from becoming a city for only the rich. Just how the political and technocratic process of unlocking missing middle housing would play out is still a mystery. Here are a few options:

  1. Eliminate single-family residential zoning throughout Seattle. Replace with low-rise residential zoning that permits attached single family and multifamily.
  2. Expand urban village boundaries to convert more of the surrounding single-family residential zones to low-rise residential.
  3. Add new urban villages where they do no exist now, converting some single-family residential zones to low-rise and/or mid-rise residential.

One can argue “all of the above” would be best–technically they’re all recommendations from the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee–or we could pick and choose from the approaches if some of them are blocked politically. Clearly, the status quo means urban villages shoulder a tremendous share of Seattle’s growth, which contributes to growth progressing in an uneven and inequitable manner. In a recent press release, the Office of Planning and Community Development reported 85% of recent housing construction occurred within urban villages and centers:

Over the last 18 months, Seattle has added more than 10,000 new homes, with 85 percent of all housing construction occurring inside the city’s urban centers and urban villages, according to recent permitting and construction data published in the Urban Center / Village Growth Report. Seattle’s urban villages are identified in the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan as the places to guide future population growth, a policy established in 1994. The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) has found that recent housing growth is becoming even more focused in Seattle’s densest neighborhood centers.

Adding new urban villages, let alone expanding existing boundaries is a major undertaking because it requires altering the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, which in the great Seattle tradition necessitates further process. We need to start steering the ship in that direction. The 2018 amendments to be considered for the Comprehensive Plan have already been selected, so we need to get our changes together by spring 2018 to be considered in 2019.

The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) has indicated the latest batch of rezones will only include urban village expansions that were already officially considered in the 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Given the constraints, that’s understandable since implementing the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program in the multifamily residential zones across the city is the first priority–and in a somewhat tenuous phase as it tip-toes through the Environmental Impact Statement process. But as that’s accomplished, we should follow up by adding more multifamily residential zoning through urban village expansions and additions.

Expanding urban villages would implement two interventions rated “highest impact” by the committee because only multifamily housing implements MHA. (HALA Committee)

Updating The Comprehensive Plan

Back in 2015, The Urbanist endorsed aggressive urban village expansions building off Alex Brennan’s recommendation for an “Alternative 5” to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Brennan recommended Wedgwood, Sandpoint, Magnolia, and Madison Park be added as urban villages and the board added to the list Upper Fremont, “Frelard” (also known as West Woodland), Westlake, Nickerson, Interbay, and Hillman City (which will get light rail with the Graham Street in-fill station). The inclusion of an infill light rail station at N 130th St (in addition to ST2 station already planned at 147th St) puts Haller Lake and Jackson Park on the map. These are all worthy additions.

Displacement Index compared to proposed urban village walksheds. (City of Seattle)

Spurring Transit Upgrades

Adding urban villages would add momentum to transit upgrade plans. Many rail advocates were disappointed to see the Ballard Spur cut from ST3, but adding urban villages at Sand Point, Upper Fremont, and West Woodland would bolster the case to add a crosstown subway in a future measure. It’d also invite us to add a Laurelhurst urban village–seemingly unlikely given some Laurelhurstians strong opposition to development, but great transit, a Burke-Gilman bike trail connection, and easy access to the University of Washington would make for a great urban village. A light rail line connecting Magnuson Park to the Ballard Locks would span seven miles and greatly improve mobility while facilitating the kind of densification entailed in adding four urban villages and expanding the three urban villages already on the route. In short, adding these urban villages helps to get us the Ballard Spur.

Make Skimpy Urban Villages Less So

The Greenwood-Phinney Ridge Urban Village is perhaps the skimpiest. (City of Seattle)

Another inequity called out in the HALA report: some urban villages are tiny. Compare the maps for yourself (screengrabs or interactive). The shapes and sizes are not consistent across the city, and some don’t make sense. “Urban Village boundaries do not reflect logical and rational land use patterns or proximity to transit and services,” the report states. “The City should expand Urban Village boundaries to areas within a 10 minute walking distance to frequent transit.” Some of the most egregious offenders are Greenwood-Phinney Ridge, Upper Queen Anne, Wallingford, and the Admiral District. Fleshing out these skinny urban village bones is a great idea to come out of HALA.

Minimize Exclusionary Zoning

Expanding and adding urban villages helps get us to overcome our great obstacle of having only 10% of Seattle zoned for multifamily housing. The HALA report mentions this problem specifically:

Many Seattle residents and people who want to live in Seattle are frustrated in their search for an apartment, townhome, duplex or similar housing. Their opportunities are limited by the relatively small portion of Seattle’s land zoned for multifamily housing (such as apartment buildings, condominiums, townhouses, duplexes, etc). In addition, only about 10% of the parcel land area is zoned for Lowrise (LR), Midrise (MR) or Highrise (HR)5 multifamily housing. In areas of the city where new multifamily development is feasible and where demand is highest (i.e., where people want to live, based on access to amenities, transit and other livability factors), development sites are in short supply.

That 90% of Seattle’s land contributes very little to new development highlights the need to either A) to end single-family residential zoning as we know it or B) significantly add the amount of land that is within urban villages. Missing middle housing types like rowhouses and courtyard apartments are more compatible with single-family areas than some folks believe and can coexist beautifully even in sanctified craftsman bungalow land.

Missing middle housing types. (Opticos Design)

Opening up Seattle to missing middle housing types would allow a different type of developer to build, one that doesn’t have the resources of say a Vulcan Real Estate to build high-rise towers on exorbitantly expensive South Lake Union parcels but could afford to build a modest building with a dozen apartments. It’d likely entice more people to become builders and do their own part to build the middle class into the future of Seattle. The change would take the MHA program truly city-wide building affordable units in every neighborhood. It’d also give non-profit developers and Seattle Office of Housing more options–particularly when it comes to finding less expensive land to develop–allowing them to build more spaces guaranteed to low-income folks in future Seattle.

Finally, some missing middle housing type could exist within single-family residential zones if we changed Seattle’s development standards rather than the zoning itself. Right now we permit only detached single family homes, which can be quite large but house just one family. We could change those development standards to allow attached single-family dwellings like rowhouses, townhouses, and courtyard apartments. The building sizes wouldn’t necessarily be larger than the mansions we are seeing go up in single-family Seattle but instead of catering to one very wealthy family, we could cater to half a dozen middle class families on the same lot.

This is along the lines of the Ban McMansions, Legalize Rowhouses idea I proposed in January, which was based on a program Portland is implementing. The development standards change may not need to go though the Comprehensive Plan process, but it would need to go through an environmental review process, including possible preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). We’ve seen more modest changes to allow backyard cottages and granny flats tripped up by a lawsuit on the grounds the City didn’t do a full EIS. Since we can theoretically start an EIS sooner than we can get a Comprehensive Plan amendment considered, this could be an attractive route to take. The City may even be able to apply some of the legwork it’s now doing on the backyard cottage EIS to the next EIS on more sweeping changes.

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Doug Trumm is the Publication Director at The Urbanist. He joined the exodus to Seattle in 2014, leaving behind his home state of Minnesota. Volunteering with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and serving as an alternate on his local neighborhood association ignited his interest in urbanism. Reading urban planning greats like Jane Jacobs stoked that fledgling fire to an inferno. Living on disputed land between Wallingford and Fremont, he is doing his best to improve both neighborhoods.

35 COMMENTS

    • Fortunately, filtering (the process of expensive housing becoming cheaper as new development occurs) works. In a city as housing-constrained as Seattle, wealthy residents bid up pricing on mid-range housing because there literally isn’t enough high-end housing to go around. This is true at all economic levels. Build more in general, and the pressure will lift off the middle and the bottom.

      • we have had new development happening in Seattle for more than a few years. Housing prices/rents have gone up in the past few years. Bottom line, new development is expensive. The cost of acquiring, paying permits and fees to the City, building new units/houses far out weighs the cost of existing housing. Seattle is developing new apartments at above market rates, raising the average rate. Existing units rent out at cheaper rates than new units. Seattle is not building units that rent out at below market rates. We are just increasing the supply of above market rates.

        • Sigh. Really? Do you really think that the reason that prices are higher is because we are building more expensive places? Really?

          Have you followed the cost of kale. The price of kale has gone up and up, yet farmers are growing more kale than ever. Therefore, it is the farmers fault, for growing so much kale.

          Or, I don’t know, maybe it is because there is so much demand for kale.

          Come on dude, Seattle has the lowest employment in the country. We have added thousands and thousands of jobs and you wonder why housing is expensive?

          As for new apartments — of course they are expensive. Look at where they are building them! They don’t build them in my neighborhood (where land is cheap) because they aren’t allowed. There are only a handful of places where they are allowed to add apartments, and there is a bidding war for that land. The law makes things worse. Even when it is extremely cheap to build new apartments (and relatively speaking, it is) the developers have to pay huge amounts for the land. Sometimes — and this sounds crazy — they have to literally destroy perfectly good houses in the process. Million dollar houses are being thrown away to build apartments, because that is the only land available. That only makes sense when apartments are expensive, and the zoning laws (because they are so restrictive) guarantee that.

          It really isn’t that hard to figure out. Pass laws that only allow Kale to be grown in a handful of places, and see what that does to kale prices. Prices will skyrocket, of course.

          Change the laws, and you make for cheaper housing. It is true in Houston, as well as Tokyo.

          • Ross – you keep saying let the developers build what the public wants. They already do: Expensive houses and above market rate rentals. the demand is there. They want to make money, maximize their return. There is no incentive for developers to create below market rentals or “affordable housing” they will make no $’s on those deals. Two separate groups developers and renters/buyers. Too much money to be made by creating more expensive, profitable units. If a developer buys a lot, tears down a house and puts in a 4 unit townhome, guess what? He will build it and price it to attract buyers/renters to maximize his return. No developer will spend millions for low returns when they can spend millions for higher returns. You tend to want to blame 50 year old zoning regs for today’s hot housing market. Not sure where you were going with all that kale talk, kale causes gas.

    • The 6,000+ MHA rent-restricted units expected will not be. MHA units will be cheaper than existing housing.

      Getting the building typology mix that is good for society is important. Within the same neighborhood, a 800 sq ft home is almost always cheaper than a 3,200 sq ft home. We can also build 4 times as many 800 sq ft homes in the same building envelope. That’s why our building code should make that much easier and that is what this proposal is all about.

  1. I’m all for eliminating SF zoning citywide, but the opposition to doing that in one fell swoop is so big. Breaking it down bit by bit is slow. Still, progress is progress. The chunk of Montlake between 520 and the ship canal is one that seems like a good candidate to me for an upzone.

    • I”m not so sure. Yes, the Seattle Times would scream bloody murder, and some of the community councils would be up in arms – but that would be a relatively small, vocal minority.

      We’ve seen time and time again that NIMBY candidates don’t do very well in elections. Rob Johnson (District 4) and Michael Maddux (both pro-growth and density) knocked Tony Provine (anti-growth) out of the primary in 2015. The anti-growth candidates did terribly in the recent Mayoral primary.

      I think as long as removing SFZ was paired with a good education campaign that described the changes (in a simplified way) and got the word out ahead of any Suburban Times hit piece, I bet the majority of Seattle would support it.

      • I agree. I think the city — as progressive as it is — would be OK with increased density, as long as it doesn’t bring … ugliness. More than anything, that is what people fear. I know folks complain about the parking, and there is always some old (or young) coot complaining about “the renters” (with their loud parties and whatnot) but for the most part, what most people fear is ugly buildings. Come up with a proposal that suggests that the city changes, but that the result is something a bit more palatable aesthetically, and folks will embrace it. Otherwise, you just have to play the progressive/liberal card. After all, it is for the children.

        Seriously, it is. I’ve got mine. I own a perfectly good house, and I won’t move. But my kids can’t afford to live here, despite the fact that they work hard and make decent money. That is nuts, and the big reason (other than the demand that Amazon created) is our out of date zoning laws.

        • The city sure has been trying that – every time RSL comes up, they start with pictures of a charming little cottage with peaked roof and a porch, tucked into luxurious foliage. The only problem is that it’s something of a lie. No way is the usual gang of developers going to willingly build something like that, and the city is neither willing nor able to write standards to force them. This isn’t some ancient European town with an enforceable vernacular, and priority number one is to minimize developer costs (with no discernable improvement affordability, we should note.) People have every reason to fear ugly buildings.

  2. I agree with all the point you made, but there is another option still. My house is proposed to be upzoned to Residential Small Lot (at four blocks for light rail is should be upzoned farther) which as proposed is basically SF 2500. As proposed it allows duplexes, building a second house in the back yard or subdivision of a house (I believe). The city could also leave the SF zoning as is and just change what the code is to allow more. I just think that an alternate name to LR zoning might be more palatable/less politically loaded and would allow the city to better tell the story of what it is doing. It might not get us all the way, but doubling+ the density of the majority of the city could lead to way more housing. Learn more about RSL here: http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/HALA/FocusGroups/MHA%20Building%20Examples%20Residential%20Small%20Lot.pdf

    • RSL has a lot of potential politically if we sell it as you say and in practice if we can get the development standards right.

    • Yes, that would be a huge step in the right direction. I live in Pinehurst, and the lots here are 7,200 square feet (typically). So basically you would have three times as many houses, every time someone sells an old house on a huge lot. That is a big difference. Instead of a million dollar house, you have three houses selling for 400 grand each. The developer actually makes more money, while someone buys a new house for a reasonable price.

  3. Still no solutions for the middle class — families too “rich” for subsidized housing but too poor for market-rate housing. Their alternatives are in the suburbs.

    • Maybe, maybe not. Triple the number of houses in Seattle, and the middle class would probably be able to afford a place. Not the biggest house in the nicest neighborhood, but someplace like Pinehurst (my neighborhood). You could add dozens of row houses here, and they would likely be affordable, even in this market. Instead of a couple giant houses (each selling for a million) you have four houses, selling for 300 grand. If you don’t think it is possible, consider Tokyo, one of the most attractive places on earth. They manage to have relatively affordable housing because unlike a lot of places, they allow you to build tiny houses everywhere.

      • Yes – 5,000SF single family zoning allows (essentially) a 3-story, 5,250 SF residential structure…if it were legal that that could be a 6plex of 850 SF 2 BR apartments, Even in Seattle’s most expensive neighborhoods, that still ought to be within reach if the middle class. (And they’d have a yard too …max lot coverage is 35).

      • There is no magic zoning change that will compel builders to build affordable market-rate housing. They will continue to go where the profits are, which is high-end housing. Your phantom 300 grand houses won’t exist, and why should they when builders can add granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances and sell them for 600 grand?

  4. Many parts of this proposal make sense. I am concerned though about retention of existing, high-quality, historic (pre 1950) housing stock. A lot of modest but well-designed housing could be lost with the elimination of all sf zones. Some of the newer buildings–even just 20 years old–are already looking shop worn and simply aren’t of the same quality as older stock. The historic stock is also a huge part of the character of Seattle neighborhoods. I’d prefer a more finely tuned approach than blanket upzoning. I’d also like to see both carrots and sticks to address architectural design (a can of worms, I know, but boy there is some ugly stuff being built–at ALL price levels).

    • The older stock that is high quality should command higher rents/prices, so it may be less likely to redevelop than shoddier post-war construction that will have depreciated more. Additionally, exemplary architectural examples would already qualify for historically designation to preserve them by that route. This may be necessary even if we don’t change the zoning to prevent a tear down for a modern mansion. There still maybe be some opportunities for historic homes on larger lots to add backyard cottages.

      • True enough re: possibly commanding higher prices, but sadly preservation by landmark designation can’t be counted on for any measurable benefit. Preserving isolated examples of architectural significance is okay as far as it goes, but typically doesn’t address the more vernacular examples that prevail in n’hoods such as Wallingford. Designation also doesn’t ensure preservation (stronger protection though at local vs. national level). The recent Mapping Historic Ballard project documented a wealth of architecturally and historically significant homes that aren’t even on the City’s inventory–though that may be changing. Still, with the landscape of housing set to change dramatically in the near future, it would take a massive commitment to document, recognize, and protect this valuable inventory before it is bulldozed. Some of this attrition of older homes is also due to market demand and taste for more contemporary styles and more square footage–even though a typical 1910 bungalow is often an eminently livable 1500 to 1800sf. Complicated.

        • Right, but the current zoning law doesn’t preserve those houses either. It is perfectly legal to bulldoze the house, and put up a modern (bigger) house. I’m sure we can both think of numerous examples of that happening around town. Meanwhile, the houses that happen to exist within the very tiny borders that allow density are likely to be torn down, just because it is the only place where they can be built. They can’t add density where it would be way more cost effective (old lots and run down houses) because it isn’t legal. These two market forces combine to squeeze out the old houses. It is pretty easy to see what is happening:

          1) Rent is really high because most of the city is off limits for apartments.
          2) Since rent is high, doing what appears to be ridiculous is now commonplace. Million dollar houses are literally destroyed to clear land for an apartment that really isn’t that big.

          The solution is pretty clear. Attack the problem from both ends:

          1) Allow apartments all over town. This will lower the cost of rent.
          2) Change the law to preserve existing houses. The law right now isn’t doing what you want it to do (preserve a lot of houses). So change the law, and seek more preservation.

          I think you could get a lot of people behind this kind of movement. Call it “Add density, but keep the houses”. Allow houses to be turned into apartments. Allow new houses to be built next to old ones. But change the law so that it isn’t so easy to tear down a house — in the entire city. There are a lot of people who hate monster houses. In most of the city, this is where the houses are being lost. I don’t have the numbers, but my guess is we’ve lost more houses to new houses than we’ve lost to apartments.

          A combination like this could be very popular. Crafted well, and you would end up with a lot more density at an affordable price, while keeping most of the houses you like.

    • I can appreciate good architecture, but I have a hard time telling someone that they can’t live here because “the house they build for you won’t be as pretty”. Seeking to preserve existing housing with restrictive zoning, makes a specific choice to prioritize buildings over people. I can’t abide that when so many people are struggling to pay rent or find permanent housing in Seattle.

      It’s important, too, to remember that selling homes to developers is a voluntary and individual decision. The only people who sell are the ones who *choose* to. By keeping restrictive zoning in place, you are taking the decision away from the people who *own the home in the first place*. Those falling-down older homes are clearly not good candidates for preservation. The current owners lack either the will or the way to keep them maintained. Why not give new construction the chance to redevelop to better purpose?

      I think you’ll find that the homes that most destroy the “character” of a neighborhood (by being in poor repair and poorly kept up) will likely be the first to go. Development may actually have the chance to benefit everyone, by keeping neighborhoods up-to-date, meeting density goals to allow more people to live here, *and* giving lots with falling-down homes a new lease on life.

      • Andrew, I completely agree with you that it makes no sense at all to save falling down buildings. In fact, our family redeveloped just such a property and replaced the delapidated 1910 house with a new one + ADU. However, in my earlier comment I was talking about high-quality, well-designed older homes. I can’t tell from your remarks whether you’re implying that ALL older homes are “falling down,” but if so, I would have to disagree. Prior to the property we redeveloped, we lived in and renovated three pre-1940 houses, all sound and worth the investment with excellent resale value. The smallest was 950sf; the largest 2150sf. Two could accommodate ADUs while maintaining architectural continuity within their respective neighborhoods. There is still a lot of life and value in much of our existing housing stock, and it is extremely wasteful (economically and resource-wise) to demolish housing of that quality. I don’t think we need to choose between architectural quality and affordable housing; both are possible. I strongly support ADUs and DADUs, though I have reservations about both on one lot with an existing house (essentially triplexing all sf lots). I’d like to see those handled on a case by case basis.

        • Thes best hope for preserving those smaller older homes is almost certainly essentially triplexing all lots – and making that as easy and fast as possible. There’s effectively a race between folks with large budgets for whom those smaller older homes are teardowns and multiple families with smaller budgets whose only shot at competing for the land is 2-3 homes per lot. (Under current zoning and ADU/DADU policy, the outcome is a fait accompli – folks with less are effectively shut out.)

          • Well said. That is basically happening all over my neighborhood. It is ridiculous. Old houses are being replaced by big houses because they sit on huge lots. But instead of building a half dozen row houses, or an apartment, they build three huge houses. It is not in the least bit in character with the neighborhood, but it is legally the only reasonable alternative.

            As for the houses that Cheryl rightfully is worried about losing — you are absolutely correct in terms of the remedy. A combination of loosening the density laws along with stricter preservation laws would result in retaining more houses, but allowing more people to live in them (and new houses to be built next to them). After all, if a house really is a gem, chances are, it is very close to filling the lot (that is how much of Seattle has been built) and close to the height limit. It just doesn’t make financial sense to tear down the entire (nice looking) house when you can’t add significantly more space. It makes way more sense to convert that house to an apartment (via ADUs) while adding density where it is much cheaper to do so (on old lots and worn down houses). Right now we have the worst of both worlds though, as developers do tear down nice houses, because they sit in the only place where you are allowed to add density.

        • Just wanted to say right off – thanks for the thoughtful and constructive dialogue!

          I’m glad to hear you’ve been involved in renovating and updating housing stock in the city! In fact, I think that the different choices you made on different properties serves as a good example for the point I was trying to make.

          You reasonably evaluated properties on a case-by-case basis and chose independently to save 3 and demolish 1. I believe that most developers, large and small, are working from the same principle as you. A good friend renovates homes in Rainier Valley – updating kitchens, opening up interiors, and refurbishing them to make good, livable homes. She has to find good candidates to do so, and would likely avoid purchasing units that were “too far gone” – it wouldn’t be economically feasible to restore them. Meanwhile, the builder of my current townhome purchases dilapidated homes on good lots and builds dense housing where there wasn’t any, but he’d never be able to pay the prices that my renovator friend pays – he wouldn’t make any money!

          Long story short, I think that this selective preservation of good homes can still happen – *is* happening – *without* stronger restrictions in place. Upzoning just allows developers more freedom to put units to better use, where they might have been previously restricted by arbitrary lines in the sand – like the SF homes one block off Greenwood, as the article mentions.

          For what it’s worth, I’m also strongly in support of the expansion of ADU/DADUs in the city, as you mentioned. I can’t wait for the Queen Anne lawsuit that is holding up O’Brien’s bill to be settled so we can get to work making more homes available to people in the city!

    • The best way to preserve old housing stock is to pass laws that preserve those houses. Right now the law doesn’t do that. It is perfectly legal, in most cases, to mow down a classic 1925 house. In its place you can put up a new, bigger house. In every single neighborhood, this is legal. That is why houses are being torn down all over the city and the law does nothing to prevent it.

      On the other hand, once they are torn down, the law (in most cases) mandate that the new house be placed on a huge lot (7200 square feet in my neighborhood) and that the house hold only one family.

      I can sympathize with preservationists. Unfortunately, the law does not preserve houses, it simply preserves low density. It doesn’t preserve the character of the old neighborhood either. In most cases, the old neighborhood was not wealthy, but middle class, if not downright poor. Pinehurst (my neighborhood) was not a neighborhood of wealthy individuals — it was (and still is) the neighborhood you live in if you can’t afford to live someplace nicer (i. e. someplace to the south, where you have more parks and sidewalks). Yet there are literally million dollar houses being built here, because once the developer is told they can’t build anything smaller (e. g. row houses or apartments) they figure they might as well build close to the lot size, and that means a huge house.

      There is simply no correspondence between anti-density laws and housing preservation. Quite the contrary. Allow more density in every neighborhood, and the big houses will simply be converted to apartments. This is common in the U-District, for example, but has become less common throughout the city, because we only allow density in a handful of places. It is the same phenomenon that leads to seemingly ridiculous new apartments. A two story apartment is torn down and replaced by a three story one. It would make way more sense to build a 3 story apartment on an old lot, but most old lots hold houses, and you simply can’t do that.

      These are two different things, but they get conflated, and they shouldn’t. Fight all you want for preservation — I see your point and in many cases, I’ll stand by you. But even if you are successful — even if you preserve every single house in the city — there is no reason why only one family should be able to live there. Nor is there any reason why I can’t build a house right next to it.

  5. Seattle is a built city. No sweeping changes to the zoning code are going to make Seattle look like Barcelona or Vienna or Berlin. Maybe a disaster will occur that will enable our grandchildren to rebuild the city in such a way, but I hope that doesn’t happen. Baring disaster, we will be reshaping Seattle on pretty much a lot-by-lot basis. That should be the focus of discussion.

    • And I believe that was the focus of this discussion.

      Broad zoning changes allows more incremental changes all across the city rather than concentrating dramatic changes in a handful of neighborhoods. I just don’t see the justification for freezing single family zones in amber. If you want gradual change in single family areas implementing reforms over a wide area may better accomplish that by dispersing development over a wider area. Focusing all the development in narrow zones is more likely to fuel both more real estate speculation and a more frenetic pace of redevelopment at the neighborhood level.

      • I still believe in planning, not simply turning all SF zones into MF. The higher the development density, the greater the services and amenities within a short walk. I would pity the tenants of an apartment complex where a 10-minute walk got them nothing more than a bus every 15 minutes. (And BTW, a 10-minute walk is only 0.4 miles, not 0.5. Per the MUTDC)

        Yes, there should be more urban villages (and micro villages, like 15th Ave S. & S. Oregon) and they should have higher density in the middle tapering to lower density and then to SF. The wedding cake model. Capitol Hill urban center should’ve had mid-rise near the Link station, not just 5/1.

        • I agree – we pay a city planning department – they should be doing planning. And instead of upzoning huge swaths of land all at once we should upzone on a case by case basis. And we should charge developers impact fees along with requiring parking. This would help single family owners living in upzoned areas so they won’t be taxed out of their homes. Also, it would ease property owner tax burden for infrastructure like larger sewer lines and increased electrical grid plus road and transportation improvements that are all required when our city grows.

  6. I don’t particularly dig the idea of excessive number of townhouses. We’d only be kicking the can further down the road. When Seattle gets in the next housing shortage, every single improvement we make today makes it harder to tear down housing to densify, both politically (like how people oppose SFH tear-downs today, but more intense because there’s more people living on the same footprint) and economically (if a teardown does not make economic sense, it won’t happen, meaning if we build a 3 story bldg today, perhaps a 5 story building could have been there instead in the future, but now those units are lost forever). People hate them, but 5-over-1 housing is the most cost efficient form of development, in terms of cost/sqft, and it can leave SFHs alone so future densification can be easier

  7. Rezoning huge swaths of land to multi family all at once exacerbates the price increases and not charging impact fees for things like increasing sewer lines, water supply lines and electrical grid capacity plus making road and transportation improvements also increases living expense because property owners taxes increase to pay for all this. Developers have not been paying their fair share and the city planning department has not been planning for the required water, sewer, electrical and transportation improvements that are needed. We’re creating a taxation system that will make it impossible for people to become property owners.

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