City Council needs more time to study new rules for townhomes, apartments

Good news and bad news for people tired of ‘ugly-ass’ buildings on Capitol Hill. The City Council has halted proceedings on Seattle’s multifamily code update to give consultants time to run scenarios examining the proposed legislation for loopholes. The good news is that the process should help eliminate holes in the code updates and make for a better process that includes a restructured design review process. The bad news is it’s going to take even longer to deliver the new rules.

The nearly 30-year-old code is outdated, and the Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Neighborhood Committee (PLUNC) hopes to turn the massive 277 page update proposal into a code that works for a modern Seattle. According to PLUNC Chair Sally Clark, the delay is due to the lack of legislation for bringing Administrative Design Review into the code, a safeguard against possible abuse of code loopholes and an integral part of low rise zoning code. Clark said the Council plans on performing several exercises as well, involving real designs to experience the code in action and help comprehension for all parties involved. “We need to step back and take a new approach, as the narrative approach has not worked well for Council members or community members,” said Clark at Wednesday morning’s PLUNC meeting. Clark hopes the exercises will give the council a better framework to understand the implications of the code change than the ‘narrative approach’  — in other words, less talk, more study.

David Neiman, a member of the Congress on Residential Architecture’s (CORA) Northwest Chapter, is a strong proponent for updating of the code. According to a recent CORA blog post, Neiman expressed his view on the MFC delay, saying “It seems that nobody on the Council feels comfortable enough with their understanding of the legislation to buy off on the idea that it’ll do more good than harm.” However, Neiman is positive about the pause in legislation, saying the bill would not have passed without further investigation of its downsides.

CORA is sending a brief to the City Council that lays out a possible design for the exercise that the Council has planned, and contains recommendations on which aspects of the bill should be investigated.

The city’s multifamily code is a set of laws regulating structures like townhomes and apartment buildings. To read more about the proposed changes, visit the Department of Planning and Development’s Multifamily Zoning Update site.

Lucas Anderson is the Seattle Editor intern for the network

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