Community Post

Is Seattle ready for row houses?

Aubrey Cohen of the Seattle P-I asks in a recent article…

Dense Seattle neighborhoods could start looking a lot more like those in cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia, under a proposal the City Council is set to take up later this month.

The plan would let developers build row homes right up their neighbors’ side lot lines on in townhouse zones, similar to classic older homes in many other U.S. cities. It’s one of many changes aimed at making townhouse development more diverse, attractive and sustainable.

The City Council’s Committee on the Built Environment this week unanimously endorsed the plan, which the full council could take up as early as Dec. 13. The changes would apply to the approximately 8 percent of the city zoned for townhouses, but wouldn’t impact single-family zones.

Read the rest in the P-I.  Note the quotes from Squire Park’s Bill Zosel.

0 thoughts on “Is Seattle ready for row houses?

  1. I love row houses. They are some of my favorite things about neighborhoods in St. Louis and Chicago, NYC, etc. I have often wished that the terrible townhouse ‘architecture’ that permeated Seattle in the last 10 years had been approached in more of a row house style. One of the new developments on Broadway, while gigantic and a bit overwhelming, has some of the homes along the side street that are designed with a row house type feel to them and I really like the scale and how it interacts at street level.

  2. People who live in the Central District’s lowrise zones should understand what this means to them.

    There is upzoning: LDT to LR1, and, L1 to LR2 if you are now L1 in an Urban Village. This, coupled with removal of parking requirements for Urban Villages, can possibly result in over-densification when green building bonuses are used.

    Some simple examples will best illustrate this problem:

    o A 5000 sq ft lot zoned LDT in an Urban Village is now limited to 3 units and would be flats or townhouses with legal access provided perpendicular to the street. The proposal would force use of the certified green bonuses to retain 3 townhouse units, but could allow 3 rowhouses each with an accessory unit above, yielding 6 units – a 100% increase in unit density. These rowhouses do not need a side yard, so the building will be right on the adjacent property lines.
    o A 5,000 sq ft lot zoned L1 in an Urban Village previously would allow 3 units, most typically townhouses with their own parking. Now as an LR2, if built green, the project could include 12 small apartments (~500 sq ft) with no parking provided – a 400% increase in units.

    While the idea of rowhouses sounds appealing, most of the development that occurs in these zones is single lot infill. The streetscape patterns will perhaps seem strange with the possibility of older homes set back from the street and new rowhouse infill bumping up to the sidewalk and the neighbors’ property lines.

    What has not happened with this legislation is for neighborhoods to look at what is the appropriate type of infill, whether waiver of parking requirements makes sense, and to where higher unit densities make sense. Especially since these densities can be achieved if the project is ‘built green’ – a cost that can be less than $10K per unit.

    People who live in these zones – and the Central District is heavy with them – should be aware that there is the possibility that development next door could bring more neighbors and cars on the street than what was allowed before…

  3. Check out Paul Dorpat’s column in the Sunday Times (today) for some beauties on Western at the turn of the century.

  4. More neighbors – YEAH! Seriously. Would love to see more density and people walking around. More cars – not so much, but only because I am really hoping for better public transportation and businesses in the neighborhood so I don’t have to trek to downtown or Cap Hill.

  5. it is an awkward balance. if seattle had more alleys to allow access to garages or parking in the back this would be a better solution. i kinda miss alleys (my block doesn’t have one).

    to be honest, my single family house is already surrounded by infill homes, so it’s not going to change my situation. i think it’s easier to accept changes when they, literally, aren’t going to be next door.

    and i still love the architecture of rowhouses.

  6. I agree—not enough parking!! They just put a Zone on my street due to the light rail, so my visitors can only park for 2 hours at a time. I am lucky enough to have a parking space and that is one of the reasons I purchased my Condo, but I had to purchase this Condo in South Seattle. My agent told me that you pay an additional $50,000 in Capitol Hill just to get a Condo with a parking spot. I work in the Central District and drive around the blocks trying to find a parking spot every day as it is.

  7. Thanks J.P.R. for pointing out the possibility that these 5000 sq ft lots can accommodate up to six units per lot, in a pleasant row-house urban development.

    With an average number of inhabitants/unit in Seattle being fewer than 2.25/unit and an average of 6.5 units/acre of our current zoning, we will need to more than double the number of units in the CD to achieve the current nationally recognized threshold to sustain public transportation of 40 people/acre. Being able to add a potential of 5 more units with a pleasant row-house development, in a few infill lots is what we need. Hopefully this influx of folks will justify more frequent bus service—100 years ago trams traveled our streets every 3 minutes, today we feel fortunate to have a bus every 15 minutes. And there is of course the argument that the increase in number of units will make housing more affordable here.

    Finally, I’m uncertain as to what will be strange about “Streetscape patterns” which have older houses set further back than current and future houses. It seems like this sort of front yard fluctuation is the norm on our street, so I guess 22nd Ave is strange… we’ve been called worse.

  8. I agree with LizWas that its easier to fathom for us single family residence folks who aren’t faced with dealing with it right next door. I bet its even harder for those of us who have bought the ugly older brother, but less mature, townhome. The townhomes throughout the city that have been built in the last 10 years are in large part a lackluster response within the constraints of the present Land Use code for the need (talking REAL estate here folks) for MORE DENSITY or more real estate AREA. Translating that to more units does not and should not equal an equal parking and resident issue. While there will be problems from these developments, they by no means bring problems where there are none, or in any definitive way can we say bring worse or more problems to a neighborhood. For example, if you have 12 college students or dropouts living in a rented SFR vs 3-6 families of 3-5 persons in a 6 unit rowhouse development you have a lot more people, but likely less cars and the collection of individuals are going to invest in the neighborhood where none did before. And likely there will be single professionals who would live in a row-house development as well, and likely would not need a car, and would also be more likely to be available to invested in the community, as they don’t have a 5000sf lot to care (or not care) for. I feel this legislation is 10 years late. But better late than never, Seattle. I like people, and I think we need more of them in less of a house, and with less cars : )

  9. How is denser people and fewer cars a bad thing?
    Leave your car, come to the city, walk to work, use transit! :-)

  10. At the city office where you get your parking permit window sticker, you can also get 1 or 2 rearview-hang-tag guest permits so that your guests can also park on the street for longer than 2 hours at a time.