Midweek Video: Seattle 2035 Public Hearing

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If you happen to have an hour and a half on hand, take a peek at the very thrilling and intriguing public conversation on Seattle 2035. Last Wednesday, the City of Seattle held a public hearing to listen to the perspectives of residents and stakeholders on the four alternatives the City is exploring for growth between now and 2035.

Event today: Lake2Bay Design Reveal

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The Lake2Bay Coalition is working on multiple projects for improving the public realm within Belltown, SLU and Denny Triangle. One of the projects is focused on creating a better pedestrian connection from Elliot Bay to Lake Union.

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Work has been ongoing and later today landscape architecture firm Walker Macy will reveal the first design concepts:

When: Thursday, June 4, 5:30PM

Where: Olympic Sculpture Park Pavilion

Before you attend: Get a free ticket

(Refreshments will be served)

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 8: Tim Burgess Interview

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Tim Burgess

Article Note: The Urbanist is publishing a series of interviews with a selection of 2015 Seattle City Council candidates. In June, we will release our endorsements.

Tim Burgess is running for a third term on the Council in Position 8, an at-large seat. Currently serving at the Council President, he says he’s motivated to do things that change people’s live and has the track record to show it, including the recent voter-approved pre-k measure and a residential safe haven ordinance for young girls forced into prostitution. A bit of a wonk, he likes finding issues, listening to experts, researching, and finding solutions. With at least a third of the Council turning over, he wants to be a “steady hand” going forward.

What would you do to make housing affordable to everyone in Seattle?

First and foremost, we need to produce more units—but the market alone won’t ensure enough affordable housing. State and federal programs largely cover low-income housing, so he believes we should concentrate on providing workforce housing at 30-60% area median income (AMI). To do this, he believes the City needs to give private developers a “nudge” with policies like the linkage fee that office helped kick off. He also believes we can’t put undue restrictions on different types of housing, freeing the market to provide alternatives.

At-large Seattle City Council Positions 8 & 9.
At-large Seattle City Council Positions 8 & 9.

How does planning, transit policy, and development affect racial, social and economic inequalities in our city? What policies and efforts can we make to combat these inequalities?

Burgess believes these policies have huge impacts on inequalities. He pointed to light rail running through Rainier Valley. The City only recently up-zoned areas around the stations, which he believes should have been done when the stations were first built so neighborhoods could take advantage of the density and growth. Similarly in Ballard, we didn’t invest in transit to match aggressive rates of growth. Infrastructure needs to keep up with growth in order to serve our neighborhoods.

He also talked about the importance of place in fostering safety and economic security. Since crime is concentrated and largely rooted in specific areas, he believes children need opportunity to move to a better neighborhood to succeed.

Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Do you think that this target is achievable? Why or why not?

Vision Zero is achievable by 2030, if not sooner. Deaths are almost always preventable with better design of our transportation corridors and strong enforcement of traffic laws. He believes that Seattle has historically enjoyed low collision rates because of our enforcement against jaywalking and crossing against the light. Enforcement creates a norm of behavior. Matched with marketing and public information campaigns, we can achieve Vision Zero.

How best should the city accommodate the next 20 years of growth?

Burgess framed himself as an advocate for greater density. He talked about fighting for the up-zone in Roosevelt and how we could have done better with South Lake Union. He said height isn’t an issue for him—he’s been to cities around the world and seen how successful they can be with tall buildings.

The bottom 30-40 feet of a building remain the most important in creating inviting, safe pedestrian environments. The City will need to use its tools to flatten economic disparities; a good city can’t be made up of the very poor and very wealthy. He wants more development around high-frequency transit, more ADUs across the city, and believes we have an opportunity for redevelopment around Aurora to 145th.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

He’s excited about the increase in Metro service beginning in June, and is looking towards finishing SR 520, the Viaduct replacement, and Mayor Murray’s Move Seattle levy. He isn’t concerned about the cost of Move Seattle, but he wants to look into revenue sources beyond the property tax.

He mentioned bringing back a remodeled employee head tax—a policy that he repealed during the recession. He believes the tax never actually incentivized employees to take modes outside of their own vehicles, since employees rarely even knew about the tax. If brought back, it should function as a congestion fee, taking into consideration job location and the congestion levels in that area.

Read our interview with another District 8 candidate, Jon Grant.

Off-Street Parking Regulations Aren’t An Equalizer, They’re A Segregater

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Infographic on the cost of urban parking via Reinventing Parking. Click for a larger version.
Infographic on the cost of urban parking via Reinventing Parking. Click for a larger version.

Seth Goodman of Reinventing Parking shared some nuanced perspectives on the negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of off-street parking requirements in article yesterday. Backing up those perspectives up, Goodman provided two very useful diagrams to show how off-street parking requirements build cost into development and at what cost this is passed onto future residents.

Goodman highlighted the common message that urbanists keep reiterating: off-street parking requirements add a lot to the cost of development and that’s reflected in rents. But Goodman also explained how that’s unfair to low income households and that removing regulatory requirement isn’t an adequate place to end the discussion. Here’s Goodman in his own words:

Everyone pays the same amount for parking whether she or he walked, rode transit, carpooled, or drove alone, but rarely does anyone see that price itemized on a receipt. As a result, most people are unaware of the heavy financial burden they bear for the sake of parking. The above graphic takes a look at one area where parking adds significantly to a household’s expenses: Rent.

So how much does one parking spot add to an apartment’s rent? There is no single answer to that question. Construction costs are affected by local soil conditions, zoning requirements, site constraints, regional differences in construction costs, and the type of parking to be built. On the other hand, the rent needed to justify an initial capital investment varies according to local property taxes, financing costs, resident turnover and delinquency rates, et cetera. The graphic attempts to present the range covered by these variables while providing numbers that might be considered typical for structured parking in the United States.

Monthly cost for one parking stall via Reinventing Parking. Click for a larger version.
Monthly cost for one parking stall via Reinventing Parking. Click for a larger version.

Goodman zeroed in an even more poignant issue that even urban social and affordable housing advocates often gloss over: parking requirements aren’t an equalizer, they’re a segregator. Goodman illustrates this in a simple way:

The effect of each parking spot on affordability is significantly higher in urban communities than suburban ones both because the land occupied by parking is more expensive in urban areas and because building structured parking is many times more costly than paving surface lots. This reality affects the ability of lower income households to live in urban areas since parking costs roughly the same to build whether an apartment is luxury grade or modest. An $18,000 spot might not have a noticeable impact on the rent of a $300,000 unit, but it would definitely be noticed by someone renting a $75,000 unit.

Just as down-renting negatively affects low income households in procuring affordable units due to inflated prices, added costs resulting from off-street parking requirements can put housing options out of reach. They don’t give lower income households more accessibility, they deliver substantially less choice and drive low income households to places with less accessibility.

But reducing off-street parking requirements isn’t enough, Goodman says. Jurisdictions need to go further if they’re serious about eliminating unnecessary and unjust costs for prospective residents.

Even when minimum off-street parking requirements are eliminated (and on-street parking is properly managed), the practice of bundling parking with rent may persist. It is imperative that cities find a way to separate rent for cars from rent for people either by encouraging or mandating that parking be rented separately.

If you’ve got an eagle eye, you may have noticed that Seattle sits in the $250 range for monthly off-street parking costs. Imagine how much more affordable units could be with out them.

Licata Proposes Alternative Funding for Move Seattle Levy

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Transportation Levy to Move Seattle
Transportation Levy to Move Seattle

Hours before a public hearing on the Transportation Levy to Move Seattle, Councilmember Nick Licata has released his alternative plan for funding the bold citywide transportation investment program. Licata’s plan differs from the one pitched by Mayor Ed Murray by using a mix of funding sources while still meeting the $930 million target in the Move Seattle manifesto. Licata is proposing an increased commercial parking tax, a new employee hours tax, and transportation-related impact fees on new development while the size of the property tax levy would be reduced.

The commercial parking tax would be raised 5% and the employee hours tax would levy $18 per employee that drives to work annually; Licata estimates that his plan would raise a combined $230 million alone between the two taxes. Licata will prepare separate legislation that will specifically address the commercial parking and employee hours tax.

New development over the nine years would kick in another $100 million through newly imposed impact fees. Meanwhile, Seattle residents would also directly help contribute to the Move Seattle program through a more modest levy anticipated to raise $600 million.

For comparison purposes, Licata’s proposal would be a 64% levy increase over the soon-to-expire $365 million Bridging the Gap levy. The Mayor’s plan, on the other hand, would represent a 146% levy increase. Licata says that his proposal would save the average homeowner a substantial amount over the Mayor’s proposal. Today’s median housing price is $450,000, which would translate to a 2016 tax bill for the average homeowner of $176 under Licata’s levy plan versus $277 under the Mayor’s. Homeowners of median valued units will pay $136 in the current year for the soon-to-expire Bridging the Gap levy.

In a statement, Licata said “I believe this balanced package is the surest approach to reaching the $930 million in needed transportation funding identified by the Mayor, while maintaining affordability in Seattle.”

A public hearing on the Transportation Levy to Move Seattle will be held tonight by the Select Committee on Transportation Funding beginning at 5.30pm. The Council will meet in the Council Chambers located at City Hall.

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 8: Jon Grant Interview

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Jon Grant
Jon Grant

Article Note: The Urbanist is publishing a series of interviews with a selection of 2015 Seattle City Council candidates. In June, we will release our endorsements.

Jon Grant is running for the at-large position 8 seat on the Seattle City Council. He was recently the Executive Director at the Tenants Union of Washington State, which advocates against increasing rents and displacement of renters. He helped push Seattle’s 2012 rental inspection ordinance that checks if units are up to code. Among support for the proposed affordable housing linkage fee and increased height limits, which would have an environmental benefit by allowing more people to live in Seattle, his campaign platform includes police reform and campaign finance reform.

What would you do to make housing affordable to everyone in Seattle?

Jon started by saying there is too much influence by the real estate industry at City Hall. He used the example of the South Lake Union rezone’s in-lieu fee for providing affordable housing, which was lowered to $22 per square foot from the originally proposed $85 per square foot. He said that instead of incentivizing affordable units, it should be mandatory. He supports increasing the City of Seattle’s public housing levy, perhaps even tripling it, but said that will still not be enough. He said avoiding displacement is not just the job of the public, but also that of the private sector.

At-large Seattle City Council Positions 8 & 9.
At-large Seattle City Council Positions 8 & 9.

How does planning, transit policy, and development affect racial, social and economic inequalities in our city? What policies and efforts can we make to combat these inequalities?

Thinking broadly, Jon said that residential segregation was the biggest issue not solved during the civil rights era of the last century and that it is still evident in Seattle. He discussed the example of rethinking how low-income and minority groups can better benefit from the light rail system. He said the City needs to adopt an anti-displacement stance, such as through buying property near future rail stations and changing zoning to disallow big box stores near stations. He said a balance needs to be struck to ensure investment in transit benefits everyone.

Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Do you think that this target is achievable? Why or why not?

Jon said the plan is achievable if people fight for it. He supports the implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan towards this effort. He also supports the proposed Move Seattle levy for transportation projects, but said Seattle relies too much on the  property tax. He said the employee head tax, rescinded during the economic recession, removed a revenue source of $20 million per year; with the economy recovering, he suggested reviving it as one option for funding transit service and other transportation improvements.

How best should the city accommodate the next 20 years of growth?

Jon referred to a recent study by the Department of Planning and Development on areas where residential displacement is likely, and said those areas should be more carefully planned for. He said new growth should continue to be concentrated in urban village. He said a conversation needs to be had with homeowner associations, community organizations, and developers on accommodating new housing in single family zones.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

Jon answered that the new Metro transit service being funded by Proposition 1 is of citywide importance. Jon also favors proposed projects that will increase access to light rail: the Graham Street station that would be funded by Move Seattle, and planning for a future station at NE 130th Street. He said the linkage fee needs to be implemented before future stations are completed so the value of new development can be captured.

Read our interview with another District 8 candidate, Tim Burgess.

N 45th St Apartments

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Perspective from N 45th St looking southeast.
Perspective from N 45th St looking southeast.

Wallingford is a hotbed for new development with more than a dozen large-scale development projects in the planning and construction phases. Most of this activity has been centered on the neighborhood’s prominent thoroughfares of Stone Way and N 45th St. One project that will soon add new residents and businesses is N 45th St Apartments. The proposed project, located on the corner of N 45th St and Woodlawn Ave N, will provide 48 residential units and 3,600 square feet of street-level commercial space. Leading the project design is b9 Architects, a Seattle-based architecture outfit.

b9 Architects went before the Northeast Design Review Board for the final time last night to share their updated development proposal. The architects showed off a very polished product that took a bold approach to design. Quality materials focus on corrugated metals, Inca Mission and Ebony brick, steel, wood panels, and other black metals for coping. The design places a strong emphasis on large fenestration. Portions of the building see window placement in columnar-fashion from floor to floor while others see a variation in the rhythm of window placement. To add variety in the project design, the architects have chosen to use the extremes of color to breath life into the building. Dark blacks and charcoals will be balanced out by deep orangish-red bricks. In highlighting height and floors, dark painted metal will be located at floor lines around the building.

Meanwhile, the less noticeable and prominent residential structure located on the south side of site will be markedly different. The scale is much smaller given its three-story height and slim width. But, it will stick with the dark and light theme: wood panels will be painted a blackish color with grey paneling while a yellow door will set the building apart. Additionally, corrugated metal with a golden color could be used as a siding. Unlike the main building, the roofline will not be flat; instead, a slanted roof will help differentiate it in order to make it stand even more apart and meld into the single-family residential area.

Interior perspective from the fourth floor.
Interior perspective from the fourth floor.

The project is made possible by the combination of five contiguous lots. Today, these lots consist of six structures: three on N 45th St and three on Woodlawn Ave N. The three structures on N 45th St are historically commercially-oriented, although one is already vacant. Two of the commercial buildings remain in use by Sutra, an organziation known by many locals its for wellness programs and healthful food. The latter three structures on Woodlawn Ave N are all residential in character: two are single-family units and one is a duplex. Once construction approvals are granted, all structures will be removed to prepare the site for redevelopment.

Wallingford zoning map.
Wallingford zoning map.

From a zoning standpoint, the site is relatively unique because it is highly split zoned–due in large part to the assembly of the five lots. The northern three-quarters of the site is zoned as NC2-40 (with the north 30 feet designated with a Pedestrian Zone overlay) and the southern one-quarter zoned LR2. NC2-40 zoning allows 40-foot structures with a mix of uses while LR2 is primarily residential and tops out at 30-foot heights. (The Pedestrian Zone designation requires developments to pedestrian-oriented retail on the ground floor and restricts the placement of driveways.) The architects have made a good effort at meeting the intent of these zones and maximizing development potential. At the same time, the design is sensitive to the single-family characteristic present just south of the site. The architects have focused the greatest height, bulk, activity, and mix of uses toward N 45th St and ensured that they taper off as the project progresses south. The rhythm of these progressive changes in use and style essentially match the underlying zoning.

The main building will rise four stories and play host to a mix of residential and commercial uses. 40 apartment units be located on all four floors while two commercial units (2,400 square feet and 1,200 square feet, respectively) will be situated on the ground floor and front onto N 45h St. Floors 2 through 4 of the building will each be arranged with 12 apartment units (six along N 45th St, six on the south side) split by an open air courtyard. The courtyard will form the second floor and a bridging system above will give residents on the third and fourth floors access to their units via stairs and an elevator (see image above). Indeed, this will create a unique on-site open space experience for future tenants. Meanwhile, the first floor will contain a residential lobby and six units on the south side of the building.

Improvements to the pedestrian realm.
Improvements to the pedestrian realm.

The southern building will be three stories and have a basement floor. The grade of the site will allow the basement units to be partially daylighted. Each floor will consist of two units, totalling eight units. Access will be via common stairs for the units, but no direct access will be provided to the main building. Residents of the structure wishing to access the main building will have to walk over to the lobby entrance on Woodlawn Ave N.

As part of the project, physical changes will come to the streetscape. The sidewalk will be widened on N 45th St to 11 feet at its widest point. A small building projection will reduce this width to 9 feet, but still provide a comfortable streetscape for pedestrians. New street trees and a planter strip will be added to mix so as to give shade and wind protection while greening up the space. At the northwest corner, the building will be slightly recessed from Woodlawn Ave N so that an exterior terrace can serve the street-level commercial space. Presumably, this commercial space will be a restaurant use and enable the terrace to become a sidewalk cafe.

With the proposed streetscape improvements, Woodlawn Ave N will become much greener than today with more space dedicated to landscaping and street trees. The sidewalk will be rebuilt, but it will also be much more modest in width than the N 45th St segment. Given the low foot traffic on Woodlawn Ave N now and anticipated in the future, the narrower width is reasonable. Together, these streetscape improvements will help soften the project’s transition to the single-family area beyond.

Perspective from Woodland Ave N looking northeast.
Perspective from Woodland Ave N looking northeast.

A parking garage entrance will be provided from Woodlawn Ave N where residents and building services can access the basement. The architects chose this location so as not to impede N 45th St and to give the primary frontage continuous commercial space. The project gives a strong preference to bikes, but car parking stalls will still number 20. Two storage areas will be dedicated to bikes, which come in addition to a whole wall for hanging bike racks. Plans indicate that the building will be able to accommodate 48 bikes. Meanwhile, the applicants have requested a blessing to reduce the required number of large parking stalls. The land use code calls for 35% of parking stalls to be sized for large vehicles, but the applicants are shooting for 100% of the spaces to be compact or medium sized (excluding one parking stall for ADA). Residents will have access to the basement garage via common stairs and an elevator.

The N 45th St Apartments will be a welcome addition to this part of Wallingford in large part because of the careful considerations by the design team. Solid architectural choices have been made in building scale, materials, and modulations while street uses and programming focus on the people-oriented nature of the N 45th St corridor. Together, these basic understandings of place lend the project to success and likability. Keep an eye out on this corner of Wallingford for change in the near future.

If you have a desire to learn more about projects in Design Review, check out the Design Review Meetings website or Seattle In Progress.

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 4: Rob Johnson Interview

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Article Note: The Urbanist is publishing a series of interviews with a selection of 2015 Seattle City Council candidates. In June, we will release our endorsements.

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Rob Johnson

Rob Johnson is running for Seattle City Council in District 4. He is the Executive Director at Transportation Choices Coalition, a statewide organization aiming to increase access to transit, walking, and bicycling options. He managed the ‘Sound Transit 2’ ballot measure in 2008 and co-chaired the steering committee of Seattle’s Proposition 1 in 2014. He is campaigning on the citywide issues of multimodal transportation infrastructure, housing affordability, and public school access and joint programming. He has a degree in transportation planning from the University of California Los Angeles.

What would you do to make housing affordable to everyone in Seattle?

Rob listed off a number of ideas like raising density limits, especially in the University District. He said that this needs to be balanced by ensuring not all new units are priced at market rates. He supports building affordable housing around public transportation nodes, especially light rail stations. Another option is building public housing on surplus public lands; a specific example may be the City of Seattle’s acquisition of abandoned properties in the Roosevelt neighborhood, where the current proposal is to build a park. Rob also said the City’s housing levy should be increased, and to use some of that funding to help private landowners bring their units up to codes in exchange for limiting some of them to low-income tenants.

How does planning, transit policy, and development affect racial, social and economic inequalities in our city? What policies and efforts can we make to combat these inequalities?

Rob said Seattle has a history of redlining that is still evident today, such as with differences in tree canopy coverage between wealthy and poor neighborhoods. Noting that the only at-grade portion of the Link light rail is in the disadvantaged Rainier Valley, he said other public investments should be made with a race and social justice lens. He questioned whether that might mean the new council district system will result in district residents demanding equal shares of the City budget. Rob said establishing policies on infrastructure equity will help make spending decisions easier in the long term.

Council District No. 4
Council District No. 4

Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Do you think that this target is achievable? Why or why not?

Highlighting the controversy over a line on a map for bike lanes on NE 65th Street, Rob said the vision is only achievable if a citywide conversation is held and roadway space is reprioritized. He said educating people about safety, speeding, and actual traffic counts is needed to make that happen. Another factor for businesses is that people walking and bicycling are known to spend more money at local businesses than the fewer people parking. Rob said Seattle has a lot of streets and that aggressive leadership is needed.

How best should the city accommodate the next 20 years of growth?

Rob pointed to the Seattle Planning Commission’s report on transit communities as the best approach. Along with increasing density around transit hubs and corridors, he said transit needs to be prioritized on city streets to encourage people to use it and manage congestion.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

Rob said the Brooklyn light rail station is key because it is driving the conversation about density in the University District. He noted that the core of the neighborhood is the only place the City is currently considering allowing for buildings taller than six stories; he said he expected the final upzone proposal to max out at 200 feet. He opposes the idea of placing a plaza on top of the station.

Read our interview with another District 4 candidate, Michael Maddux.

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