Community Post

Multifamily Code Update Debates Heat Up

The Mayor is expected to submit his final Multifamily Zone Update to City Council Committee by the end of June. It will likely be a major topic of community discussion and debate for the near future.

The Central Area Neighborhood Plan (CANP) Stewardship Land Use, Open Space and Housing Committee met on May 19, 2008 at Madrona Shelterhouse

The meeting was attended by 11 people representing Madison Valley, Madison Miller, Madrona, Squire Park, and Jackson Place neighborhoods.

The group had an intense and opinionated discussion of proposed revisions to the Multi-family Land Use Code. Our discussions relied on two items: First, a document by DPD “Multifamily Code Update Examples of New Development” dated October 9, 2007. Second, attendance by two of the participants at a presentation and deliberations by the Seattle Planning Commission regarding the “Draft Multifamily Ordinance” dated December 3, 2007.

The above documents are available at:

Minutes of the May 8 Seattle Planning Commission Meeting are available at:

The presentation at the meeting is at:

Some of the key points of the proposal are:
1. Current L1 and L2 zones will be renamed LR1 and LR2. The current L3 and L4 zones will be combined into a new LR3 zone.
2. LR1 and LR2 zones will no longer require only ground related (townhouse) designs, but could include flats.
3. Private Open Space Requirements are reduced.
4. Parking Requirements are reduced in LR1 and LR2 zones.
5. The LR3 lot coverage will be calculated using Floor Area Ratios and density limits will be abandoned.
6. Building height will be increased by 5’ in LR1 and LR2 zones. Building heights in the LR3 zone will be the same as the current L3 zone, except that a building including affordable housing may have an extra floor.

There continues to be a great deal of discussion on the need for affordable housing for families; some wanted developments that can include multi-generational residents, but we need to ensure family sized units. It has been noted we lack of good open spaces and accessible garages in the current designs. Parking is a contentious issue. Ideas such as incentives for shared car parking, a moratorium on new townhouse construction and neighborhood design review of all projects were mentioned.

Currently, bad design is incentivized by the zoning code because, once a design is approved for one location, it will get through the permitting process more easily for other locations. Some thought that the proposed revisions would allow improved design.

But, most do not think that the proposed changes would address the problems of developments in the Central Area and that we would like a more dramatic set of changes that focus on increased livability. There is support for the idea that what is needed is not a rehash of a bad code whose revisions made that code worse, but rather a stop of the review process of this code and a new effort to write a new code which would be modeled to produce new housing types, i.e. bungalow courts, row houses, etc., that are well designed and fit in the existing environment.

June 2nd Councilmember Clark invited representatives from Portland, OR to present their design competition process both at a full Council briefing and at a special meeting of the City Council’s Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee. Portland took an approach of holding Design Competitions for certain housing types, establishing the ‘winners’ as pre-approved plans, and then modifying their zoning code. Portland’s presentation can be viewed in the second hour of the podcast that you can play from the following link:

In addition, Councilmember Clark is inviting the community to attend a Social Community Meeting: “Townhomes – Can the Patient be Saved”, on Saturday, June 7, 10 a.m. – noon at Capitol Hill Arts Center, 1621 12th Ave. The panel will include: representatives from the Seattle Planning Commission, DPD, a neighborhood organization, a developer and an expeditor who works for developers. CANP Stewardship and it’s Land Use, Open Space and Housing Committee hopes and encourages as many people from the Central Area attend this and as many other meeting(s) relating to this issue as possible.
For the next CANP Stewardship Land Use, Open Space and Housing Committee meeting all are invited to come and bring: a picture of a horrid multifamily development and a picture of great multifamily development from your neighborhood so we can all continue the discussion.
Next Meeting of the CANP Stewardship Land Use, Open Space and Housing Committee:
Monday June 16 at 6:30 PM
Madrona Shelterhouse, near the corner of 34th and Spring
For more information contact: [email protected]

0 thoughts on “Multifamily Code Update Debates Heat Up

  1. These are often on lots as large as, and have as much impact on neighborhoods, as the developments that DO go through review.

    The West Seattle bloggers are upset about the word UGLY, and townhome buyers are offended. This may affect our ability to get people to understand why this is important. Many SF homeowners will feel like it does not matter to them. Happy townhome owners are offended by how we are positing the issues.

    Anyway I did respond this way:

    Its not about aesthetics. I don’t use the word UGLY. I live in a townhome. I lived in rowhouses and condos back east. I love and support high density multifamily living. It’s about good or negative neighborhood urban design. I feel compelled to comment here as designs previously approved for West Seattle were built across the street here in my Madison Valley neighborhood by a developer from West Seattle. My personal thoughts about how the outside decoration is neither here nor there (although I will note that the design review board in my area seems to spend more time on exterior materials than on traffic pattern issues).

    The problems: Hidden buildings and entryways which affects neighborliness and safety. This will especially be an issue as the housing market tanks and we see more of these homes being rented out. Overbuilt lots because they round up. Houses below now with flooding in their back yards and basements. 12 cars on the street where there used to be 4 because the garages are inaccessible. None of of the homes are laid out effectively for a family to live in, and I believe strongly that we need to keep the idea of FAMILIES in multi-family housing as this may be the best way to have actual regular working people able to stay in Seattle. A beautiful old cherry tree at the end of the parking strip was torn out totally unnecessarily — by the way angering the city arborist but there is no recourse.

    I am worried because this same builder is hot to buy another two properties south of these developments. Not a bad guy at all, just follows the current rules. But, I can’t feature 20 more cars parking on my street, no children, and areas invisible from the street where who knows what can go on.

    Our neighborhood input? — We get to send ‘comments’ to some black hole when the big white board about proposed subdivision goes up.

    And, there are more than a few unscrupulous builders out there. There is alot of question whether many of these buildings will hold up. Irony is some of the most well designed and built are by the Seattle Housing Authority.

  2. See the LSM website, for their Commentary, which graphically illustrates and addresses many of the multi-family problems; the 3X Capacity report; and the Citizen’s Agenda which also proposes workable improvements.
    LSM will be presenting at the annual Seattle Community Council Federation workshop on Saturday, June 21, 10a.m. at the Brighton penthouse, 6727 Rainier Ave South.
    For more information about the Seattle Community Council Federation go to .

  3. I have read the articles and signed up for the Livable Seattle list some time ago. Have not recieved any updates. Is the meeting on June 21st open to the public, or is a more of a retreat? I don’t see an announcement on the blog… Thx