Community Post

Multi-family code update could affect big chunk of CD

Last night there was a public hearing at city hall to gather public feedback on a proposed update to the city codes for multi-family development.

You might ask “What is multi-family development?”

  • Typically the places where you see townhouses and small apartments
  • 7% of all land in Seattle
  • A big chunk of the Central District

The rewrite of the multi-family code came about after more townhouses started to pop up in recent years. Many people disliked their design, in clusters of 4, 6, or 8-packs, their tall front fences, and the way they didn’t seem to fit into the pre-existing space.

As we told you last fall, architects looked at the issue and said that we’re basically getting what we asked for. Current zoning codes, last written in the 80’s, are prescriptive in what multi-family developments must have:

  • Big setbacks and limits on structure width & depth force multiple structures into a group in the middle of the property
  • Height limits and bonus for sloped roofs encourage craftsman-esque rooflines
  • Ground-level open space requirements create tiny fenced front yards
  • Off-street parking requirements result in first floor of most structures being devoted to garage, organized around a central “parking court”

As Huge Ass City reported yesterday, the proposed code updates will add more flexibility in designs, allow some height increases, and remove strict parking minimums. It will also add a new design review process for townhouse developments.

The proposal has its share of critics here in the neighborhood. An email sent to a Madison Valley email list cites issues with increased run-off, easier up-zones, and lack of community input.

What is wrong with the Council’s Lowrise Amendments

  • keeps townhouse problem of unenforced access requirements, adds toothless design review
  • focus on “flexiblity” radically eliminates yards, shared inner block open space, natural infiltration of storm water, and ability to contribute to the urban forest on private property
  • new version with entirely new concepts vetted for all of one month 
  • contradicts the Comprehensive Plan goals and policies: principles of urban village strategy,compatibility with surrounding patterns, predictability, and environmental goals; incomplete, improper piecemealing of review of all related changes; 
  • rushed, no time allowed to test if standards are balanced, nor to analyze and disclose impacts.extremely complex,claims is to simplfy, yet increases the sets of standards from 5 to 15.
  • rezones without required involvement of neighborhoods and notice to property owners
  • predicated on unvalidated assumption that increased density increases affordability
  • prematurely removes parking requirement in designated neighborhood business districts without any fiscal plan for Comprehensive Plan’s transit links,
  • in addition, removes mitigation of parking problems under SEPA, even in centers with usual draws and no fiscal plan for Comprehensive Plan’s high capacity transit. e.g. Uptown/Seattle Center

Wondering whether these changes affect your immediate area? Here’s a handy map to tell you. The blue areas are Lowrise Multifamily areas that would be subject to the new requirements. (Orange areas are Neighborhood-commercial):

View Central District Zoning in a larger map

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