Regulatory Reform debate continues as Hill community members speak out against ‘corner store’ zoning

The City Council’s land use committee Wednesday morning wrestled with the ongoing shaping of Seattle’s Regulatory Reform legislation that could be especially important to Capitol Hill’s transit-heavy development zones. The committee weighed a set of options for two of the stickiest elements in the plan — enabling the introduction of small commercial uses in certain lowrise and midrise zones in the city and the elimination of parking minimums required of developments in areas near “frequent transit service.” The stickiest issue — related to how the city implements state environmental requirements for development — has been pushed to another committee meeting later this month.

A speaker against Regulator Reform

Capitol Hill community members speaking during the committee’s public comment period prior to the session Wednesday morning were nearly uniformly opposed to the bill.

“We don’t need shops with neon signs on every street and right in front of our doors when we come out,” said one.

“What I’m really confused about is why is there this idea that we need to co-mingle commercial use with residential use,” said another. “My husband and I chose to live in a quiet pocket next to a dense environment.”

One more asked the Council committee to butt out. “I appreciate you coming into the neighborhood so you can help us out. But we really don’t need you,” she said.

Many speakers complained that there have been no community meetings on Capitol Hill or in other areas of the city regarding the legislation.

Committee head Richard Conlin said it was his belief that the concerns — and the benefits — of the reform are being overstated “I have to say, I think it is going to make some modest changes that I think will be generally positive,” said Conlin. 

“I don’t think it’s going to have much noticeable impact.”

The memo below includes this map of where parking minimums would change and lays out the options being considered for how the reform package could change commercial zoning in multifamily zones as well as the latest set of options being considered for changing parking minimums. Proposals for a more efficient approach to SEPA requirements will be discussed on May 23rd. Options include increasing restrictions on elements like odors produced by commercial operations.

While the discussion of SEPA, small commercial zoning and parking minimums have drawn the most attention, the bill would also introduce increases in the size of projects that automatically trigger the design review process and changes in requirements for commercial space in some zones as well as a laundry list of small changes that are hoped to streamline the development processes in the city.


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12 thoughts on “Regulatory Reform debate continues as Hill community members speak out against ‘corner store’ zoning

  1. Both the reduction of the parking requirements and allowing corner stores into more residential neighborhoods. Some of us like living on the hill precisely because of the intermingling of commercial and residential uses. This also makes it much easier to not have to use a car most of the time.

  2. I agree! I love Top Pot and my coffee. I work for a small company that has been on Broadway since 1946. I can proudly say that I have NEVER been in a Walmart and have no intention of ever going. I walk to everything in my vibrant and beautiful neighborhood. I have lived here for 30 years all over the hill and wouldn’t live anywhere else!

    What I have a problem with is the SNEAKY way in which the Mayor and Council have gone about enacting these changes. Virtually no community involvement whatsoever. The Mayor (quite probably due to the heat he is feeling right now) has scheduled two town hall meetings recently but the PLUS committee itself has held no public hearings that I know of. Nothing in the mail either. This package of reforms is a BIG and intricate deal. The community deserves a say in what is going to happen where they live.

    Lastly I will say that this is a 100 percent developer driven thing. It’s not like any of us were sitting arouhd complaining that we needed more businesses right down the street. All of these reforms are just a free pass for developers. Period. You only have to look at the Mayor’s Roundtable of advisors to see that this is true.

  3. period. If you feel that living in a residential area is not providing you with the services and opportunities you need within walking distance (on Capitol Hill?! Really?) then you have a lot of options for living in mixed zones, such as Broadway or Madison or 15th – even Downtown. Why should the amenities of a residential area be sacrificed for a political agenda? This proposal is being billed as a modest change for diversity and economic opportunity – the only economic opportunity is for the Bellevue developers; open this door to them and they will come through it. Ask yourself why there are so few neighborhood residents on the PLUS committee. Ask yourself why nearly half the members are developers or have ties to development activities…

  4. How many 7-11s do you really need? How many grocery stores? I mean really… There are so many stores and coffee shops already all over the hill.
    I believe Top Pot is in a MIDRISE area, not a low-rise residential area. It has the density to support it, so that people don’t need to drive.
    But don’t confuse the lowered parking requirements with freeing up the blocks for developers. One thing I greatly fear is the lack of regulation for what sort of parking can be built. The cheapest and ugliest parking solution is to put parking above the retail like at Trader Joes on 17th/Madison. This kills the street activity below, and gives a rather shabby, cheaply built, and low-income look to the building. If built next door you you, you coluld be looking into a 24/7 illuminated garage, or looking at a blank concrete block wall.

  5. JRF you are spot on. I have lived on Cap Hill off and on for the past 47 years. I can walk to nearly anything be it the hospital, for coffee, a cocktail, groceries, or even funeral. But at the end of the night, I can return to a quiet residential street, free of neon sign, drunks, and industrial odors. If we wanted to live in an area that these reforms promote, we would have moved to the U-District with its lack of parking, retail sprawl, and unruly street life.

  6. One of the things that galls me about this proposed zoning change is the images of cute corner stores and cafes that are used to sell it “Wouldn’t you want a Volunteer Park Cafe on the next block down from you?” Well maybe, but there’s nothing I’ve seen in this legislation that (a) limits the number of businesses per block — you could have corner stores and stores next to that and every block of Capitol Hill could be lined with businesses; (b) controls the quality of the business or the storefront. So while we can all think of cute little restaurants based in converted houses, the more likely possibility is that it would give developers the green light to build mixed-use buildings whose retail spaces can never quite be filled. I’m thinking of that building at John & 15th that has never really filled its retail space, to say nothing of the overturn of brick-and-mortar businesses on 15th and Broadway over the last several years. We’re not lacking for commercial space or proximity to it on Capitol Hill. This is a giveaway to the developers, not a benefit to the communities.

  7. Take it from somebody who rarely drives, always walks, and loves the fact that people in Capitol Hill ALREADY have the choice to live in tall structures above commercial spaces if the want, or along quiet residential streets if they so prefer. This measure isn’t about having that choice (we already do), but about taking that choice AWAY from those who’ve put their roots down in the quieter parts of the hill. If this passes, every neighborhood on the hill EXCEPT the ones where houses routinely sell for well over a million bucks (hmmm…) will now have it’s zoning changed to allow businesses in EVERY structure in the zone.
    Did we, the residents of the hill, ask for this? Has anyone on the hill gotten a mailer from the city notifying them that the character of their neighborhood was about be dramatically changed? Has the Planning Committee at the City Council made any meaningful effort to reach out to our community before trying to impose this measure on us? Do they show much indication of having given a damn about what we thought while they were crafting this proposal? Do they appear to give a fig about the fact that Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan considers commercial uses to be fundamentally incompatible with residential living, and that it appears to expressly forbid them to do what they’re doing unless it’s amended? Have they given out honest and accurate information to the media about this plan?
    The answer to all those questions is NO. Any community with an ounce of self respect would be up in arms about the way this has been handled. How about you, Capitol Hill? Gonna just take this one lying down?

  8. This introduction of commercial uses is being billed as a modest return to old-time corner stores, a leg up to small business and all sorts of happy, wonderful things, benefitting everyone. Mostly the developers – they will use these changes to their advantage, no matter what cost to the neighborhood. How about several small businesses on the first floor of a new row of town homes – a strip mall without parking?

  9. I couldn’t agree more. I personally think that they should leave things as they are. Our neighborhood is hot hot hot! If anything we should demand as much or more from developers here. They aren’t going to go away considering how the city is growing and how much $$ is to be made.

    Besides that we already have increased height restrictions and a bunch of other things in favor of developers recently passed. The increased height changes the “scale” of new buildings. People are already upset about the scale of new buildings going up in the neighborhood but because of the changes they can be built anyways. Regardless of what the neighborhood thinks or wants.

    It is all just a developer give away as far as I am concerned!

  10. Allowing more corner stores is a great idea but Seattle’s recently misguided thrust toward density for density’s sake is a deal with the devil and we are getting crappy development and decreased mobility out of it. However dense the downtown core triangle stretching from Queen Anne to Capitalist Hill to the ID becomes, maintaining regional mobility requires a household vehicle for most residents. This is due to our topography, weakly visioned urban planning, and suck ass regional public transit – not because people don’t want to walk a block to support their local international corporate storefront. Seattle needs to take urban development lessons from San Francisco and Chicago, not Manhattan. Cars and public transit, urban family dwellings and industrial/commercial space can all co-exist just fine with a high quality of life. The city, especially Capitol Hill, is fast becoming a wasteland of bland mid- to hi-rise developments anchored by chain stores in the name of increased density. Don’t give developers an inch changing codes, they’ll take the whole block.