Ten urban villages’ boundaries are expanding in the latest batch of Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) rezones, but by the city’s own logic many more should expand soon. The city justifies its urban village boundary expansions with proximity to frequent transit nodes, and many more nodes are popping up as the city upgrades more and more lines to the frequent transit standard.

Over the course of crafting the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezone plan, Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) developed the principle of expanding urban village boundaries to ensure they stretched at least as far as a 10-minute walkshed from each village’s respective Frequent Transit Node(s). Frequent Transit Nodes were defined as light rail stations or the intersection of two frequent bus lines.

The catch is OPCD locked in those Frequent Transit Nodes at the start of the process two years ago. As luck would have it, that was before investments from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) came online, adding several additional frequent transit lines. The bus-to-Link restructure also bumped up frequencies on some routes. The Seattle Municipal Code defines Frequent Transit Service as “transit service headways [time between scheduled bus arrivals] in at least one direction of 15 minutes or less for at least 12 hours per day, 6 days per week, and transit service headways of 30 minutes or less for at least 18 hours every day.”

Frequent transit lines are designated with the thicker lines. RapidRides are red. (Oran Viriyincy)

Urbanizing Greenwood

RapidRide has been in the Frequent Network since implemented. Routes like the 5, 7, 8, 36, 40, 44, and 48 also met the definition back in 2015. Since the multiyear MHA journey began, Routes 45 and 62 have joined the ranks of frequent service, others later this year will, too. Those frequent network additions would have important ramifications for urban village boundaries.  The crosstown 45 cutting across the grid gives Greenwood a Frequent Transit Node–two in fact–with the intersections with Route 5 and RapidRide E. Adapting the Comprehensive Plan appropriately to meet this reality would put some meat on those skinny urban village bones.

Greenwood and Aurora-Licton Springs Urban Villages with two frequent transit nodes and 10-minute walkshed approximated by dotted diamonds around them. The light gray area is all single-family zoning. (City of Seattle, with edits by author)

Expanding Fremont and Wallingford

It would appear the principle of boundary expansions from frequent transit nodes didn’t get followed in all instances. Some exceptions are by design; OPCD intended to exempt for environmentally critical areas (e.g., steep hillsides or watersheds) from urban villages and has a preference to maintain industrial lands. Other cases seem to have just fallen between the cracks. Wallingford and Fremont don’t get boundary expansions from its Frequent Transit Node at Aurora Avenue and N 46th St where the RapidRide E and Route 44 intersect. This node happens to be at edge of each urban village, somewhat complicating matters.

Wallingford and North Fremont now have four frequent transit nodes with the intersection of the 5, RapidRide E, and the 62 with the 44. The two nodes on the left existed when the MHA process started. (City of Seattle, with edits by author)

As you can see above, the frequent transit node principle would dictate that North Fremont turn into a true urban village instead of an implied one. Wide swaths of single-family zoning exist near the frequent transit node at the intersection of Phinney Ave N (Route 5) and N 46th St (Route 44). The addition of Route 62 to the frequent network would support widening Wallingford Urban Village boundaries, particularly toward the east. The Seattle City Council should make these changes to the Comprehensive Plan at the next opportunity.

Putting Bryant, Laurelhurst and Sandpoint on the Urban Village Map

Northeast Seattle, which is currently pretty light on urban villages, got a handful of frequent transit nodes thanks to the U Link Bus Restructure and that suggests adding them as urban villages. Bryant, not yet an urban village, has a frequent transit node at N 65th St (Route 62) and 35th Ave NE (Route 65) and another at Sandpoint Way NE (Route 75) and 40th Ave NE (Route 65), which also puts Laurelhurst (and the much-debated Talaris site) in the walkshed of a transit node. The intersection of Route 62 and Route 75 give Sand Point a frequent transit node at N 65th St and Sandpoint Way NE. Alex Brennan and our editorial board noticed the relative paucity of urban village in Northeast Seattle in 2015 and recommended adding more.

Bryant and Laurelhurst are served by frequent transit nodes but are not urban villages are dominated by single-family zoning. (City of Seattle with edits by author)

South Seattle

South Seattle has fewer frequent transit nodes created by buses since southern crosstown routes do not meet the frequent definition. The light rail stations do qualify as nodes though and the MHA maps suggests the urban village boundaries will be extended in station walksheds. West Seattle does have some frequent transit nodes including Westwood Village (where the C, 21, and 120 all meet) and 35th Ave SW and SW Avalon Way (where the C and 21 meet). Though partially in urban villages, boundaries should be extended from these nodes to the full 10-minute walkshed.

South Seattle has less frequent crosstown service because the Duwamish Valley gets in the way. (OPCD)

Some routes are on the cusp of meeting the frequent transit definition. Route 32 could meet the standard with some amplification, as I made the case before. There’s also a case to be made to upgrade Route 50 as a frequent crosstown route for South Seattle. Route 2 is also close. As Seattle adds service hours, more routes will join the frequent transit network creating more nodes. More and more of the city should be zoned for multifamily density–by virtue of new and expanded urban villages–as that happens. Urbanists should make the case for these expansions and new urban villages as the Seattle City Council takes up the Comprehensive Plan. Getting them on the docket would ensure we more equitably spread growth across the city and avoid single family enclaves within frequent transit walksheds.

Broaden the Boom: How to Rezone Single-Family Seattle

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  1. Getting Urban Village in NE would be great! Making this a bit sleepy part of Seattle more dynamic. Around 35th Ave between 65ht and 85th the last few years already quite a few single family houses have been replaced with apartments or rowhouses slowly transforming the look and feel of this street. A nicely done project (of course very subjective) is on 65th st between 32nd and 33th ave. This is of course not an affordable project.

    • Affordable housing is a squishy term. 1BRs there start at $1350 which is significantly more than the rent cap for an MHA unit ($1080 for a 1BR). Plus these market-rate (but relatively moderately priced) apartments could see big rent hikes, while MHA units would be insulated. In other words, it’s a spurious comparison. https://www.apartments.com/100-roy-st-apartments-seattle-wa/8rrnf42/

      It’s too bad this building has to be torn down to build a slightly larger one, but that’s how it goes when so little of this city is zoned for apartments. Developers are going to snap up what little opportunities there are.

      • The problem is the MHA unit might be far away from the downtown core. What do you have to say about that?

        Also, I don’t buy that “so little of the city is zoned for apartments”. I live in Ballard and I don’t have exact data but at least 30 apartments have been built in the last 5 years, many of them large. All of them say “Now Leasing” – that tells me it’s not affordable housing. Many of those replaced something that was affordable. So HALA Displaces!

        • Cool logic. Let’s just look at signs and assume things.

          So many apartments go up in Ballard because so much of the zoning capacity has been focused there. So few other urban villages have zoning to entice 30 apartment projects. Expand urban villages and add new ones are the relative pressure on Ballard would be less. If MHA had been in place when Ballard was redeveloped, every project would have contributed to low-income housing stock. As it stands many are participating in MFTE and contribute moderate-income units. The logic that blames HALA for pre-HALA shortcomings is obviously circular and wrong.

        • There’s lots of zoned MF capacity in SE Seattle, but builders aren’t that interested — neighborhoods not sexy enough, not “cool” enough. So we gotta rezone those SF neighborhoods adjacent to the trendy places. Somehow I don’t think this is sound planning process.

          • Sorry that this idea upsets your sense of righteous inertia. Why not allow missing middle housing everywhere? What’s the harm? Too many poor and middle-income people among the lucky owners of $600,000+ assets?

          • Good one – accuse us of being racist – shut down the conversation – you don’t like hearing any opinions contrary to yours do you?

          • There’s no logic in assuming zoning changes would result in significantly more “missing middle” housing. Private money is profit maximizing, and development profits are all in high-end housing. More expansive upzones would result in more demolition of what passes for affordable housing, replacing it with more high-end stuff.

            I wish there was a zoning “magic pill” that would do as you suggest, but it’s just not there. Vaporware (or is that term passe now?)

          • The data says that detached single family zoning leads to the most expensive housing. Teardowns happen either way. Single family teardowns tend to be for million-dollar mansions. Rowhouses and small apartment buildings (missing middle housing) both house more people in smaller footprint but also serve a broader market. Plus, single family homes do not contribute to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund via MHA, but multifamily housing does. https://www.theurbanist.org/2017/08/31/map-week-high-cost-single-family/

          • The “missing middle” in housing is not an issue of unit size, it’s an issue of unit price. We need housing for people who are too “rich” for housing subsidies, but not rich enough for what the market is providing. That’s the missing middle, and there is no rezoning magic that would cause developers to forego profits in order to build for that middle market.

          • Unit size and lot size determines price. Mandate one home per 5,000 square foot lot when land prices are as high as Seattle’s and you guarantee expensive housing only the upper class can afford. It’s math not magic. Missing Middle is also a group of housing typologies that have historically been what middle income people can afford in cities. They make great neighborhoods, IMHO. http://missingmiddlehousing.com/ https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bdb305b8168949eff42ff22e91c30cca133efc61654c4e62fc11591758771c39.jpg

          • We get some of that modest-density MF in existing LR zones, and almost none of it is affordable to that missing economic middle I cited above. Developers go where the most profits are, and that’s high-end housing — regardless of density.

    • I was heavily involved in neighborhood planning in the 90s and observed it was quite democratic. People generally supported their neighborhoods’ plans, often challenging the “top down” planning mode City Hall. Just because you didn’t get your way doesn’t mean the process was undemocratic.

      • 96% of Seattle’s population had no say in the process. It was heavily swayed and influenced by homeowners who gerrymandered themselves out of urban villages while putting a bull’s eye on existing multifamily development.

        It was anti-tenant. And severely anti-democratic.

        • No people, no group were excluded from having their say in the neighborhood planning process of the 90’s. Tenants were not excluded (I myself was a tenant in those days). I’m curious which neighborhood you were involved in back then, that would give you such a tortured view of what went on.

  2. The 10-minute walkshed is fine, but that distance is 0.4 miles, not the 0.5 miles used by the city to redesign urban village boundaries.

  3. RE: upgrading the 50 as a south-end cross town route. In Metro’s Long Range Plan, it’s never considered for frequent service (most riders heading to West Seattle will probably take Link and xfer @ ID Station). But the plan proposes a new frequent cross town “route 1039” from Brighton to White Center/Delridge via Georgetown. Unfortunately, that won’t come on-line until after 2025. Probably 2031 when Graham St. Station opens. IMO, route 1039 is more important for south-end mobility than the Graham St. Station by itself. http://www.kcmetrovision.org/plan/service-map/

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