On Wednesday, the Seattle City Council met to discuss possible amendments to proposed parking reform legislation. Councilmembers and City staff walked through an extensive list of draft amendments and how they might work if adopted. The discussion builds upon three previous meetings on the topic of changing the city’s parking regulations.
Kicking off the meeting, Councilmember Rob Johnson expressed excitement and moral purpose for the topic. “For me, an important value statement for us is recognizing the irony about how much of the city has very expensive house and very free parking,” he said. “And I think for us it’s important to recognize that parking is an important part of affordability, and we should be working hard to try to reverse those trends, making parking more expensive and making housing less expensive.” Councilmember Johnson went on to note that parking requirements can directly affect the costs of goods and housing while incentivizing driving and pollution.
Summary of Proposed Amendments
Councilmembers on the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee have already developed a variety of possible amendments to the base legislation. The drafted versions could change prior to the next meeting where votes on amendments will take place. But the draft amendments as presented at the meeting would do the following:
- Amendment A: Councilmember Johnson is sponsoring an amendment that would expand a proposed provision to require unbundling of parking from leases. His amendment would require all new multifamily developments with rented or leased units to unbundle the cost of off-street parking from a rented or leased unit. His amendment would also lower the threshold for unbundled parking from commercial spaces leased or rented to 4,000 square feet or greater. The proposed legislation would set the threshold at 10,000 square feet or greater.
- Amendment B: Councilmember Johnson is also sponsoring an amendment that would remove an exemption for carsharing parking spaces. Under the proposed legislation, up to three carsharing spaces would be allowed in surface areas between a building and street in certain commercial and multifamily zones. Councilmember Johnson has proposed the amendment in order to maintain a more attractive pedestrian environment and promote better urban design.
- Amendment C: Councilmember Lisa Herbold is sponsoring an amendment that would maintain the proximity that off-street parking associated with a use must be located. Current law requires off-street parking to be within 800 feet of the site upon which the associated use is located. The proposed parking reform legislation would increase that to a quarter-mile (1,320 feet).
- Amendment D: Councilmember Johnson is sponsoring a more specific definition of “frequent transit service” instead of relying primarily upon a Director’s Rule from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). Several options have been put on the table for changing the approach to defining frequent transit service since the existing practice has arguably created deep uncertainty for development proposals. His amendment would be a departure from the avenue that SDCI has considered and would make several changes to realize this objective. His definition would make “frequent transit service” to mean a scheduled service that has headways at least meeting the following: 1) average headways of every 15 minutes in each direction with no hour having less than three trips per direction on weekdays between the hours of 6am and 7pm; 2) average headways of every 30 minutes in each direction with no hour having less than one trip per direction on weekdays between the hours of 7pm and 12am; 3) average headways of every 30 minutes in each direction with no hour having less than one trip per direction on weekends between the hours of 6am and 12am; and 4) allow overlapping routes to be considered in the calculation of frequent transit. This recognizes that people may be fine with lower frequencies during midday weekdays and weekends while living car-free or car-light lifestyles. Councilmember Johnson’s amendment would further define “frequent transit service area” as “an area within 1,320 feet walking distance of a bus stop served by a route with frequent transit service or an area within 2,640 feet walking distance of a rail transit station as shown on a map adopted by a Director’s rule.” The effect could increase the extent of frequent transit service areas, particularly around light rail and commuter rail stations. SDCI would be required to adopt a map, by rule, identifying areas that qualify for parking reductions under the frequent transit service definitions.
- Amendment E1: Councilmember Johnson is also proposing an amendment that would fully exempt affordable housing units (i.e., rent- and income-restricted units for households at or below 80% of the area median income) from parking requirements. The existing Land Use Code specifies different amounts depending on income circumstances and the proposed parking reform legislation would change the numbers and thresholds.
- Amendment E2: Councilmember Johnson is proposing an amendment specific to the University District. Existing regulations apply differently to the neighborhood based upon geographical designation. In certain areas, properties have two designations and in the proposed parking reform legislation SDCI would apply the higher parking requirement standard between the two designations. Councilmember Johnson’s amendment would maintain the current practice which could mean lower parking requirements where the overlap of designations occurs.
- Amendment E3: Councilmember Herbold is proposing an amendment that would impact properties zoned commercial and multifamily within a quarter-mile of the Fauntleroy ferry dock. Properties within a quarter-mile would not be eligible for reductions in off-street parking requirement even if they are in a frequent transit service area.
- Amendment F: Councilmember Herbold is also proposing an amendment that would modify conditioning authority under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to allow parking mitigation in certain instances. Under existing law, where projects are subject to SEPA, parking mitigation cannot be made a condition of approval for developments within an urban village and in a frequent transit service area. Councilmember Herbold’s amendment would change this to allow for parking mitigation to be a condition of approval in those areas if 85% or more of on-street parking is being used or would be used by approval of the development, as determined by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). Her amendment would also add a new parking mitigation option to the list of choices available to SDCI, which includes options like increased parking ratios, incentive programs to reduce single occupancy vehicles, and parking management plans. The new option would allow SDCI to deny occupants of a new development access to Restricted Parking Zone permits.
- Amendment G: Councilmembers Johnson and Mike O’Brien are sponsoring an amendment that would provide more direction on the design of long-term bicycle parking. The amendment would allow SDOT to develop, by rule, guidance on providing a “variety of rack types to accommodate different types of bicycles.”
- Amendment H: Councilmembers Johnson and O’Brien are also sponsoring an amendment that would direct SDCI to develop a discretionary process to allow modifications to bicycle parking requirements for light rail facilities. Future code amendments would follow from the effort. Under the proposed parking reform legislation, new light rail stations would need to provide a long-term and short-term bike parking spaces at certain percentages equal to peak morning ridership. Recognizing that not all stations are created equal, the discretionary process might adjust that number from station to station to better match demand.
- Amendment I: Councilmember Johnson is sponsoring an amendment that would provide a reduction in bicycle parking ratios in multifamily developments when the number of parking spaces exceeds 50. For bicycle parking required above 50 spaces, a developer would only need to provide half the ratio. So for instance, if a residential development would ordinarily need to provide 100 spaces, it would actually be eligible for a reduction to 75 spaces.
- Amendment J: Councilmembers Johnson and O’Brien are sponsoring an amendment that would exempt required bike commuter shower facilities in office developments in commercial and industrial zones from floor area ratio calculations.
- Amendment K: Councilmember Herbold is sponsoring an amendment that would allow off-site bicycle parking up to be located further away from the site of a new development. Existing regulations only allow off-site bicycle parking to be located 100 feet from a site with a nonresidential uses. The proposed parking reform legislation would increase this to 600 feet. Councilmember Herbold’s amendment would go further by allowing such bicycle parking spaces to be located up to1,320 feet off-site, including for residential uses.
The next PLUZ meeting is scheduled for March 21st where councilmembers will consider adoption of amendments and passage of legislation out of committee.
Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.