Well Scott alluded to it, and as I have been deeply involved in the debates that are raging, I figure I will just bite the bullet and offer my perspective…
Please don’t be entranced by the arguments that use the ‘idea’ of Transit Based Development, confabulating it with the real need to have housing for all income levels, that are being used to promote a specific amendment to the Growth Management Act, HB1490/SB5687. The outcomes of this legislation will tear apart the delicate fabric of a consensus developed in regions and communities around the state for the creation and preservation of sustainable communities. The many folks who have envisioned sustainable communities, created Neighborhood Plans to build them, become trained as community planners, and who have a great investment in the Growth Management Act (including folks who made it happen in the first place) were marginalized out of the process of developing this bill and are being characterized by proponents as NIMBYs, anti-poor people (which is funny because a lot of them are poor), or just plain anti-sustainability.
Seattle actually already has a Station Area Transit Oriented Development chapter in the Land Use code: http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~public/toc/23-61.htm Many of our neighbors are currently updating plans for the Light Rail Station areas now. They expect it be dense, they also expect economic development and they expect to be able to stay in their neighborhoods. Many of them oppose this bill.
Don’t get me wrong. GMA can sure use some fixing. And, I tend to agree when people promoting the bill say that this is not really ‘about’ Seattle. It’s about every city and town in the state. While I choose to live in Seattle, I also choose to respect the fact that every city or town does not develop the same way.
This bill will set a groundbreaking precedent of stepping right over local responsibility for zoning laws, and in return will not provide equity in housing and will produce increased sprawl.
There is a difference in what needs to be done in state law, and what really is best done by local jurisdictions if you want any local control over your life. The state level is best at enabling legislation, standards, addressing concerns across the board, addressing inequities among regions and different populations, establishing processes, money with strings attached, and did I say money with strings attached.
I want a GREAT Transit Oriented Development law. I want local jurisdictions to have to include chapters like Seattle’s in their Land Use codes. Transit Oriented Development is not defined by a number. Do not be confused by the sentence everyone is arguing about: ‘The allowed net density for these transit oriented development areas must be fifty dwelling units per acre.’ The term ‘allowed net density’ (a single term or concept) is the result of a calculation of all the zoning (allowed) of land, less land used for roads and infrastructure (netting out). The bill does have a required density number that must be zoned for -50.
A number of people have calculated that up zoning would be required in Southeast Seattle to meet that magic number of 50. This is in an area that is still under built. Up zoning means higher property taxes. Up zoning well before anyone wants to build is stupid because it invites speculation, absentee landlords and all of the wonderful things I’ve seen in the blocks around where I live. It’s not guaranteed that Light Rail will bring a bunch of development. I’ve seen it NOT happen in many other cities, even in the boom times. But, there is no impact assessment planned before the sponsors plan to shove this bill through.
Other states have Transit Oriented Development laws. These laws define transit stations specifically: a place where three or more bus lines come together, a light rail station, a ferry dock, etc. This bill has some specifics, a bunch of exclusions, and misses mentioning many places that could be considered transit stations. Ironically, many real mass transit stations are excluded precisely because of the fixed density number. Other states may also define what governmental entity determines that a place is a transit center: local planning district and an agency of the state. And, they do mandate something: that communities plan using accepted – and there are accepted – Transit Oriented Development practices. They include density, diversity of uses, and design to support walking and bicycles, and promote use of mass transit. They differ depending on the role a transit station is expected to play in the regional economy: employment center, downtown, city neighborhood, stadium, airport, suburban center, etc. The density number is an outcome of regional and local planning, not a magic number. None of the other state laws, nor does our local code, define specific density.
The housing components should absolutely not be tied in with a definition of TOD and they possibly should not be part of GMA at all. The people of the state need to establish standard measures, and rewards and benefits for all regions so we provide equity in housing in all jurisdictions. The state needs to give tools to local government in the form of enabling legislation. But, the people of Seattle need to do our own work to get elements of replacement and inclusionary zoning for the whole city added to our Land Use code. It’s offensive to me that a duplex with two lower income families was replaced with 4 townhomes and one of those townhomes was not made available to a teacher or other working person making below 60% of AMI. I am not in a Transit Station area and I am not even in the Urban Village, but I am served by bus lines within a few blocks in every direction. This law does not provide a framework for housing equity throughout our city. That reality underlies many of the objections we are hearing from our neighbors in the impacted areas.
Centralia has a rail station. It’s a little town with not much there. People commute by train to Olympia. Should Centralia be mandated to be zoned at an average net density of 50 homes per acre within a half mile of the station? What’s the effect of that? Since it’s unlikely anyone will be building anything soon, the effect will be a rise of property taxes on a bunch of people who, from my view out of the train window, are not well to do. It probably won’t change the rate of development, though. But, should Centralia establish Transit Oriented Planning and Development standards? You bet — if the state law actually set out the framework properly. Not this bill.
Cities like Spokane would probably never build light rail, given the conditions in this bill. But, the bill does provide a loophole that will create more suburban sprawl because by slapping up a ‘Transit Center’ (the bill does not define what such a beast is) and running buses often on a dedicated road, a suburban town could allow developers to build out on the edges of the urban/rural boundaries and call it a Bus Rapid Transit station area. Expansion of developed areas is now slowed by a concept called concurrency. But, call it a transit center, zone for an average density of 50, include low income housing and you have a little satellite suburblet where you can stash all the poor people if this law passes.
You can read the whole hodge podge of a thing for yourself: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=1490&;year=2009 Look especially at Section 9.